Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Classics: Battle Royale of the Supernatural Romances By Lauren Ennis

Since the beginning of time, humanity has been equally fascinated and frightened by the question of what happens after we die. While there are countless theories and religious dictates on the subject, by far the most cinematic answer is that those of us with ‘unfinished business’ will become ghosts until we are worthy of moving on to the ‘other side’. Numerous films detail the horrors that occur when the worlds of the living and dead converge, but many other, more complex, films chronicle supernatural encounters of a very different nature. The 1940’s hits The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Portrait of Jennie offer viewers artistic and romantic takes on the traditional ghost story that have continued to influence the perception of spiritual contact for decades. While both films are immensely enjoyable, the question remains which ghost truly is the better house haunter, mystical muse, and phantom friend?

Is there any sight sweeter than a boy and his ghost?
1.      BEGINNINGS OF BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIPS: Both films begin with their protagonists facing difficult transitions in their lives. In Jennie Eben Adams (Joseph Cotton) is an impoverished painter who is contemplating giving up his dream of becoming an artist, while in Ghost newly widowed Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) is attempting to achieve some independence in male dominated Victorian society. Eben takes his work to a local art gallery where the curator, Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore), informs him that while his work is technically accomplished ,it lacks the emotional impact necessary for him to become a true artistic success. Just as he is about to give up painting for good, he meets the ethereal Jennie (Jennifer Jones), a little girl who appears far more mature than her years and distinctly out of touch with modern life. Over the course of several sporadic encounters with the mysterious Jennie, Eben learns that her life eerily parallels that of a young woman who had died years earlier. Although he begins to suspect that there is something far more unusual about the girl than her personality quirks, he continues to look forward to and depend upon the companionship that their meetings provide him. Unlike Eben and Jennie, Lucy and her ghost, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) begin their acquaintance with full knowledge of their unusual situation.  The pair also differs from Eben and Jennie in that their relationship begins as an instant antagonism rather than friendship when Lucy purchases the curmudgeonly spirit’s house without his consent. Equally stubborn, the two are forced into a reluctant truce when it becomes apparent that neither is willing to give up the house or able to drive the other from its premises. While Eben and Jennie’s initial meetings are more unique than the battle of the sexes between Lucy and Daniel, the initial age difference between them places audiences into the awkward position of rooting for a romance to occur between a grown man and an adolescent girl. As a result, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir takes the title for the more relatable and appealing relationship.


2.      MUSINGS OF THE HEART: In both films the protagonists are provided with an intriguing combination of artistic inspiration and romantic tension courtesy of their ghostly companions. After their initial sparring, Lucy and Daniel eventually reach a begrudging mutual respect for one another. Their tentative peace is threatened, however, when Lucy’s vicious in-law’s arrive and demand that she give up her new home to return to the restrictive life she left behind in London. It is then that Daniel begins to show signs of his true feelings for Lucy by scaring away her in-laws and pretending that he simply doesn’t want to cope with the bother of adjusting to another, less respectful, tenant. Although grateful for his help, Lucy explains that she still might be forced to leave the house after all, as the investments that made up her husband’s estate have fallen through, leaving her unable to pay her rent. Rather than rejoicing at the possibility that he could be rid of this latest intruder, Daniel instead proves himself to be a true friend to Lucy by providing her with an artistic outlet that is an equally excellent source of income. He recounts his memories of his racy and adventurous life to Lucy and together the pair collaborate to turn the salty tales into a novel. The novel goes on to not only be published but also a bestseller that provides Lucy with more than enough income to both buy the house and continue to raise her daughter (Natalie Wood) alone. Through their collaboration, Lucy and Daniel begin to see one another as equals and start forgetting that they are on opposite sides of the spiritual divide. As a result, when Lucy is courted by a womanizing children’s writer (George Sanders) she meets at her publisher’s office, Daniel instantly becomes jealous and does all that is in his power to thwart the romance. Upon seeing the distress that his actions cause Lucy, however, he realizes that he cannot go on expecting a living woman to tie herself to a truly dead-end relationship with a deceased man.

Gene Tierney ain't afraid of no ghost!

Eben faces a similarly difficult yet fulfilling relationship with his source of inspiration, Jennie. With each passing meeting, Jennie continues to appear several years older than she was during the visit that came before and insists that she is ‘growing up in a hurry” for Eben’s sake. As Jennie continues to appear to him with greater maturity, he begins to view her as a person rather than an abstract source of inspiration. As a result, Eben slowly realizes that he does not feel the same friendship for Jennie that he had when she appeared as a child and that he now regards her as a love interest and possible soul mate. His feelings for Jennie bring a newfound passion and purpose into his life which manifest as greater depth and emotional impact in his work. As their romance progresses, the quality of Eben’s work continues to improve until there is no longer any question that he is in  fact a talented and driven artist. Before he can complete his greatest work, Jennie’s portrait, Eben is faced with the disturbing fact that Jennie’s appearances are drawing dangerously close to the age at which the living Jennie Appleton reportedly drowned in a hurricane. He is then forced to face the possibility of not only losing the woman he loves, but also his ability to produce the work that she has inspired.


The entire premise of Portrait of Jennie is Jennie’s ability to inspire Eben and motivate him to become the artist he was meant to be. While the success of Lucy’s book proves to be a crucial plot point, her literary pursuits appear to be little more than a footnote in her story when she reflects upon her life at the end of the film. Similarly, Jennie emphasizes Jennie’s artistic value in Eben’s life while leaving it up to viewers to decide whether their romance was real or merely a mirage created out of his own artistic block. In Mrs. Muir, Lucy and her now grown daughter, Anna (Vanessa Brown), reminiscence about their supposed imaginings of the ghostly captain and the comfort that his presence brought to their lives. This conversation reveals the lasting effect that Daniel’s interactions with both women had upon their lives, while also proving that Lucy continued to think about and be influenced by her phantom friend long after his departure. Jennie’s influence proves to be the catalyst to Eben’s illustrious career, while Daniel’s relationship with Lucy is revealed to be a real and lasting love that reaches beyond death. Neither film can compete with the artistic or romantic influence of the other’s ghost, making this one a draw.
An uncanny likeness


3.      FINAL FAREWELLS? In an effort to ensure that Lucy truly lives her life to its fullest, Daniel deceives her into believing that their friendship was all part of an elaborate fantasy that she created and disappears from her life. Similarly, following Jennie’s disappearance at the site of her drowning Eben is forced to question whether Jennie really existed beyond the confines of his imagination. At the end of Mrs. Muir, however, it is revealed that Daniel’s visits were real when Lucy dies of old age only to wake up and find Daniel’s spirit waiting to usher her soul to the other side. This ending allows the film to answer any questions that viewers might have and provides a comforting conclusion that encourages audiences to retain their faith in romance and life after death. Rather than settle for a conventional Hollywood ending, Jennie instead leaves the question of whether or not Jennie really existed for viewers to decide for themselves. While this open ending may prove frustrating for some audiences, it also credits viewers with the intelligence to interpret the story for themselves, providing the film with a more mature tone. For its unconventional ending that defies Hollywood expectations, Portrait of Jennie wins the final round for most intriguing ending, leaving the overall score at an even tie. Please give your opinions of each film and which you prefer in the comments!

A pair that even death can't part

A 2-4-1 Special of "Chucky"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A 2-4-1 Special of “Chucky”

By: Brian Cotnoir

Well here we are at the conclusion of Brad Dourif Appreciation Month.  I hope that many of you have found a newfound admiration for the acting talents of Mr. Brad Dourif.  I’ve decided to wrap this theme month by taking a look at two films in which Brad Dourif reprises his most famous role of serial killer Charles Lee Ray aka “Chucky”.  If you asked me to classify the “Child’s Play” Franchise in a genre, I would list it under “Beginner Horror”.  If you ask most full grown adults if they found “Child’s Play” to be scary, I’m guessing 99% of them would tell you know, but I know so many people who saw these films as a kid and were beyond terrified of this homicidal doll.  I remember seeing a trailer for “Bride of Chucky” when I was 8 and being scared of it.  I do believe that “Child’s Play” film series does hold a special honor; that honor being that if you’re under the age of 10 this film is a Horror, and if you’re over the age of 10 it’s a Dark Comedy, so this film has a lot to offer to a wide group of people.  When I decided to dedicate a month of my blog to Brad Dourif, I wanted to include Chucky, but I didn’t want to only review the “Child’s Play” films so I decided to review what I consider to be Spin-offs of the Franchise: “The Bride of Chucky” and “The Seed of Chucky”.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

     “Bride of Chucky” is a different take on the “Chucky” story.  Unlike, the three prior “Child’s Play” films that were marketed as Horror Films, “Bride of Chucky” is more of a Dark Comedy then a horror, which is a nice change of pace.  In the first three “Child’s Play” films, the story is pretty much the same:  Chucky tries to break the Voodoo curse that has trapped him in the “Good Guy” toy doll by killing a young boy named Andy (played by Alex Vincent in the 1st two films, and Justin Whalin in the third film).                                             
However, Andy is not the protagonist of “Bride of Chucky”.  In fact, Andy doesn’t even appear in this film at all.  The film’s main focus isn’t even on Chucky, but rather a new character named Tiffany (played by actress Jennifer Tilly).  Tiffany is a macabre obsessed fan girl who wants to resurrect Chucky and help him find a human body to transfer his spirit into so they can get married.  However, Chucky reveals to Tiffany that he has no intentions of getting married, and so Tiffany refuses to help Chucky become human again.  Chucky ends up killing Tiffany and transfers her soul into a toy doll using the same voodoo curse he used to transfer his own soul.  The only way that they can become human again is to use an amulet (that Chucky was buried with) to become human again.  And then the films focuses on the whacky hi-jinks that ensue on their cross country journey.                                            
Aren't they adorable?
     This film is a straight dark comedy.  Brad Dourif reprises his role as the voice of Chucky.  You can just tell that Dourif is having a blast with this role, and he has gone on record saying that “Bride of Chucky” is his favorite film of the Franchise.  Then you have the wonderful acting and voice talents of Ms. Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany.  What makes Tiffany’s character so enjoyable is that I can totally see her character existing in real life.   For some strange reason or another—that I don’t think I’ll ever understand—people have this unhealthy fascination with serial killers.  Many female fans claim to be “in love” with these killers, and Tiffany is a perfect example.  She’s so bubbly and flirty and is just a really fun character to watch on film.  Not to mention we get the hilarity that is the on screen puppet sex scene between Tiffany and Chucky.  Besides Dourif and Tilly we get wonderful acting performances from stars such as the late John Ritter, Katherine Hiegl, and Alexis Arquette, who plays an actual boy in the film!                      
    “Bride of Chucky” is wonderful Dark Comedy.  Not only does it pay homage to the “Child’s Play” franchise, but you can also see subtle acknowledgments to other great 80’s Slasher flicks as well, including “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Friday the 13th, and “Hellraiser”. If you are a fan of the “Child Play” films then you will definitely enjoy the surreal and hilarious antics “Bride of Chucky”.

Seed of Chucky (2004)

“Seed of Chucky” was released six years after “Bride of Chucky”.  However, unlike its predecessors it is a straight comedy.  The film has two main plot points that—at times—feels like two separate films going on simultaneously.  One plot revolves around Chucky and Tiffany’s child Glen/Glenda discovering who his birth parents are and reuniting with them.  Upon, reuniting with his parents for the first time since his birth, Glen/Glenda is appalled to learn that both of his parents are psychopathic murderers.  Since Glen/Glenda does not have either of his parents homicidal tendencies he does all that he can to try to convince his parents to stop murdering people.     The other story revolves around Jennifer Tilly trying to rebuild her career and distance herself from her role in “Bride of Chucky”.  She is trying to score the role of the Virgin Mary in a biblical epic that is being directed by Redman.  However, Chucky and Tiffany decide to kidnap Jennifer Tilly and Redman and want to use their bodies as the new vessels for their spirits.  In a way the story involving Jennifer Tilly is like the plot to “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, and it’s kind of surreal to see Jennifer Tilly playing herself and doing the voice of Tiffany in scenes on camera.                               
And you thought your family was weird?
    “Seed of Chucky” has some quirky celebrity cameos like its predecessor.  However, most of the shock in “Seed of Chucky” relies on gross-out humor, rather than violence, and it’s really not appealing or funny: including the running gag of Glen/Glenda wetting his/her pants.  It wasn’t funny the first time and it wasn’t funny the previous three times that it followed.  I don’t think “Seed of Chucky” comes anywhere close to being as good or enjoyable as “Bride of Chucky”, but I’d still say it’s a lot better than “Child’s Play 3”.

    So there you have it: I hope you all enjoyed “Brad Dourif Appreciation Month” here on “Confessions of a Film Junkie”.  If there are any other films featuring Mr. Dourif that you think I should have reviewed please let me know in the comment section, and I’ll be sure to check them out.    

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Three Reasons That The Princess Bride Is An Inconceivable Classic: By Lauren Ennis

With each passing year, trends in books, film, and television rise and fall with new twists on storytelling alternating with returns to traditional favorites. One of storytelling’s most agelessly appealing genre’s, the fairytale, provides the backdrop for one of modern film’s most timeless comedy classics; The Princess Bride. Based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman, the film takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to classic conventions in a way that still remains as innovative and entertaining now as it was upon its initial release in 1987. This week’s review will focus upon analyzing what it is about this offbeat adventure that continues to make audiences laugh, gasp, and believe in the power of true love.

Remember, true love doesn't happen every day
1.      FUN FOR KIDS FROM EIGHT TO EIGHTY: One of the film’s greatest draws is its ability to entertain children and adults in equal measure. The film begins as a traditional fairy tale about the star-crossed love of haughty Buttercup (Robin Wright) and humble farm-hand Westley (Carey Elwes). Early in the story, the unnamed grandson (Fred Savage) in the opening framing device complains to his grandfather (Peter Falk) that the story better not be a ‘kissing story’. Almost as soon as the complaint is uttered, the tale takes a turn into a completely different direction and morphs into a thrilling adventure populated by swordsmen, giants, miracle makers, and corrupt royals. As the film goes on, the romance and adventure become intertwined in a way that satisfies fans of both genres. The dual tones of the film allow the story to alternate resonating themes such as love, friendship, and redemption with bouts of action and humor that will keep kids interested as well as their parents. The film also combines both dry wit and straight comedy in such a way that children will remain engaged with the obvious gags while their parents enjoy the more mature quips and ironies. As a result, the film is able to maintain a balance between light entertainment and heartfelt drama that is able to entertain audiences without sacrificing any of its wit or substance.


2.      FOR EVERY THRILL THERE IS AN EQUAL AND SOMETIMES OPPOSITE LAUGH: While the film expertly maneuvers between romance and adventure it is also equally effective at combining comedy with drama. For instance, when Buttercup is kidnapped as part of an elaborate political conspiracy, the intensity of her plight is offset by the constant bickering amongst her captors. Similarly, Westley and Buttercup’s trek through the fire swamp is a constant juggle between the drama of the dangers that they face and the comedy of the offbeat way in which they cope. Throughout its running time, the script makes a point of acknowledging the histrionics and lack of realism that too often bog down both love stories and fantasy films and uses them to its advantage. By playing up the pitfalls of both genres, the film avoids taking itself too seriously and the risks of seeming clichĂ© or melodramatic that often come with doing so. Through its mixture of comedy and drama, the film manages to recount a compelling quest that also serves as a superb genre spoof.

Three of the friendliest kidnappers you'll ever meet

3.      IT STILL MANAGES TO PULL ON THE HEARTSTRINGS: Perhaps the greatest strength of this consistent crowd pleaser is the way that its emotional pull continues to hold up after numerous viewings. Although the film is best known for its comedy and action, The Princess Bride is at its heart a timeless tale of good versus evil and human bonds triumphing over material gains. It is the love between Westley and Buttercup that propels the story’s action and it is that same bond that provides the film with its emotional core. Behind each laugh and each fight scene there is always the true love that is inspiring the protagonists in their journey. Of course, as in all of the best love stories, the romance between the leading man and lady is one that requires sacrifice, faith, and loyalty. Through the protagonists’ constant ordeals, the story reminds audiences of the trials that all relationships undergo as well as the companionship and understanding that make them worth all the while. The story’s bonds between its male characters are equally crucial as Westley relies upon the help of his enemies turned allies Fezzik (Andre The Giant) and Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) in order to complete his quest. The mismatched Fezzik and Inigo highlight the value of friendship and loyalty as the two manage to play off of each other’s opposing skills and personalities to both reach their individual goals and help each other in the process.
      One of the film’s most powerful messages is its interpretation of the classic axiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. This notion is most obviously emphasized by the grandson’s initial rejection and eventual enjoyment of the book The Princess Bride but is also utilized throughout the film’s plot. For example, while Inigo and Fezzik initially appear to be bumbling villains they later prove themselves to be worthy allies and heroes in their own right when they join forces with Westley. Similarly, Buttercup trusts the vile Prince Humperdink without realizing his true duplicity, but despises  the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ before it is revealed that he is actually her  beloved Westley in disguise. This recurring theme serves as a reminder to both the characters and audience to value people for who they are rather than what they appear to be. Through its emphasis upon these core concepts, the film adds emotional depth and valuable lessons to its already entertaining narrative. Through its inconceivable combination of laughs, thrills, and timeless life lessons The Princess Bride is a true classic that provides all the family entertainment that you could wish for.

P.S. Never match wits agaisnst a Sicillian when death is on the line

A review of "Fading of the Cries"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Fading of the Cries”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Brad Dourif has been in a lot of good films, from his acting debut in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  However, even the most talented of actors is bound to appear in a bad film every once in a while.  Films like the one I am doing a review of today “Fading of the Cries”.                                                        
I would describe “Fading of the Cries” as a multi-story action movie, because even though the three main stories tie in together, the film itself does not have much of a central focus.  The main story of the film revolves around a girl named Sarah, whose life is in danger because she put on an ancient mystical necklace that her Uncle left her before he died.  As soon as Sarah puts on the necklace she awakens the spirit of a necromancer named Mathais (Brad Dourif).  Mathais uses his evil powers to cast a spell over the town and send an army of (nocturnal) demonic creatures after Sarah.  Sarah is helped out by a mysterious sword wielding boy named Jacob.  Together, Sarah and Jacob are off to destroy the Rune of Syarlian (the proper name for the necklace) and stop Mathais from bringing a thousand year reign of darkness.         
I have no idea what the hell she's supposed to be.
Okay, where do I begin with this film:  First thing that’s wrong with it is it has too many stories going on for just one film.  One story is a flashback of Sarah’s Uncle Michael moving into his new house after his wife and daughter are killed by a drunk driver.  It goes over how he found a mysterious book that was left behind by Mathais many years ago and how he used it to summon Mathais and gain some of his powers.  His story is largely told through journal narration/exposition, and it’s actually the most interesting part of the film.  I would have liked this film so much better if Michael was the primary focus of the film instead of his niece Sarah.                               
He really is "not quite Brandon Lee"
     Sarah’s plot to the film is very weak when compared to her Uncle’s plot.  She just plays the weak female character that has to be rescued from these zombie-like creatures that feast on human flesh and can only function in the night time for some reason.  The reason she is being pursued by Mathais and the creatures is because she is in possession of the Rune of Syarlian.  Sarah is protected by a mysterious katana wielding fighter named Jacob, or “not quite Brandon Lee” as I kept calling him throughout the film.  Jacob isn’t much of a hero in the film.  He carries around a sword, but he only knows like 3 moves, so he can’t really be all that effective.    
You two are the worst Movie heroes ever!
     The third plot to the film focuses on Sarah’s younger sister, Jill, and their mom Maggie. Nothing of significant importance or interest happens in their story, and there screen time feels like they’re just there to diverge from Sarah and Jacob’s plot.                                         
    Brad Dourif’s character, Mathais the Necromancer of Light is a pretty generic movie villain.  He doesn’t really do anything memorable or astonishing in the film, he’s just the villain.  Also, it really annoyed me in the film that they kept calling him a Neh-krahm-ancer, instead of a Necromancer.  He introduces himself as Mathias and refers to himself as “The Necromancer of Light”.  However, every other character in the film calls him a “neh-krahm-ancer” and it really irked me throughout the film that no one could call him by his proper name.                               
Everyone makes mistakes Brad, we won't hold this one against you
    “Fading of the Cries” also depended too much on computer-generated effects’.  There are times in the film where the CGI looks nice, but for the most part it’s pretty obnoxious.  The film does contain a few actors in make-up playing the creatures, but there are literally thousands of CGI images of them to make Mathais army seem much larger and more terrifying.  It is a cheap effect and it is also a lousy effect.  The CGI did not help this film at all.                                            
     I cannot bring myself to recommend this film to anyone; even though it contains the awesomeness that is Mr. Brad Dourif.  It’s sloppy, it feels rushed and it not a really a visually appealing film.  With the exception of Brad Dourif and Michael’s background story, I found nothing about “Fading of the Cries” to be particularly entertaining.                                          

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Classics: A Retrospective of Shirley Temple By Lauren Ennis

The face that even FDR couldn't resist
The 1930’s were a time of great hardship and sacrifice in which people around the globe were forced to struggle each day in order to survive. During the bleak atmosphere of this decade, cinema stood out as a shining example of the joys that still remained possible, if only within viewers’ imaginations. While many films of this era strove to remind viewers of the nobility of sacrifice and eventual payoffs of hard work, many others sought to provide viewers with an escape into a simpler, more innocent time and place. One of the most successful stars of this era was a mop-topped little girl who knew how to bring out the sparkle in even the dreariest of surroundings and the hope out of the even the hardest of hearts; Shirley Temple. Between 1932 and 1949 Temple was featured in forty-three feature films and fourteen short films, many of which she received top billing for. Today, she is remembered as much for her ability to avoid the common vices of former child stars as for her acting talent, and is considered a true Hollywood success story.

Shirley Temple was born on April 23, 1928 to homemaker Gertrude Temple and banker George Temple in Santa Monica, California. Almost as soon as she could walk and talk, her mother began encouraging her to perform and she was enrolled in the prestigious Meglin’s Dance School (the same performing school where Judy Garland received her start in entertainment) in Los Angeles at age three. During her first year at Meglin’s, she was spotted by casting agent Charles Lamont of Educational Pictures. Although she was still a shy child, Lamont saw Temple’s potential and cast her in the satirical short series Baby Burlesks. While the series was scrapped after its few films were criticized for being exploitive (its child actors mocked pop culture by utilizing adult attire and dialogue), Temple was provided a contract with Educational Films that led to her being featured in a series of advertisements and bit parts in feature films. Following Educational Films’ declaration of bankruptcy in 1933, she signed with Fox Films and was cast in her breakthrough film, Stand Up and Cheer the following year. By 1934, she had starred in three feature films and was honored as the first child actor to receive a Juvenile Oscar for her performance in the 1934 comedy-drama, Bright Eyes in 1935. For the next two years, she starred in a series of family friendly films that proved to be equally successful critically and commercially.

While Temple was a consistent box-office draw throughout her childhood, her career began to decline as she matured into adolescence. In 1937 she became embroiled in a libel suit when British writer and critic Grahame Greene accused her films of being too provocative for a nine-year old actress, and suggested that Fox Films was profiting from films that promoted pedophilia. Both Fox Films and Temple’s parents sued for libel and won, providing Temple with a substantial settlement that was placed in a trust until she reached age twenty-one. Rather than use the settlement funds for her own benefit, she chose to donate the funds to charity where it was put to good use as the basis for the building of a youth center in England. Following the trials of the lawsuit, Fox realized that it would need to adjust its scripts in order to accommodate Temple’s age. Although she was listed as one of the top stars to ‘deserve their salary’ in the Hollywood Reporter in 1938, her films received mixed reviews throughout the late 1930’s, leading her parents to buy out her contract in 1940.

She spent the remaining years of her film career under contract at MGM Studios. MGM initially hoped to recapture her childhood success by casting her in the Andy Hardy films opposite fellow juvenile actors Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. After screentests proved that she would be incompatible with the song and dance pair, Temple was removed from the franchise and spent two years out of the limelight. During her semi-retirement, she pursued academic and extracurricular activities and assumed the life of an average teen. In 1944, producer David O. Selznick signed her to a four-year personal contract and cast her in the war-time hits Since You Went Away and I’ll Be Seeing You. Despite the success of both films, Selznick became distracted by his efforts to promote the career of his girlfriend (and later wife), actress Jennifer Jones, and left Temple’s career largely unattended to. After a series of mediocre roles in the mid to late 1940’s Temple decided that she had gone as far as she could with her acting career and officially retired from films in 1950.

While she worked on several television products throughout the 1950’s, Temple put her talents to greater use in the political arena. During the 1960’s, she became actively involved in the Republican Party and ran for Congress in 1967. Although she lost the election to the more liberally minded Republican, Pete McCloskey, she was appointed as a representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly by President Richard Nixon in 1969. She continued to pursue a successful career in politics throughout the next three decades and was appointed Ambassador to Ghana (1974-1976), first female Chief of Protocol of the United States (1976 to 1977), and United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989 to 1992). In her adult life, she successfully transitioned from child actress to career woman as she championed conservative causes for three decades while simultaneously serving on the board for nine corporations.

Proof that growing up does not require drugs, nude scenes, or a shaved head
Unlike many child stars, Temple maintained a stable and productive personal as well as professional life. She met Army Air Corps sergeant John Agar in 1945 and the couple were married two years later in 1945. The marriage produced one daughter, Linda Susan, who was born in 1948. Temple filed for divorce from Agar in 1949 and received custody of Linda. She met her second husband, US Navy Intelligence officer Charles Alden Black in 1950 and the two were married later that year. The couple had two children, Charles Alden Jr. and Lori, and the marriage lasted fifty-four years until Black’s death from complications related to bone marrow disease in 2005. Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972 and was forced to undergo a radical mastectomy in 1973. She used her fight against cancer as an opportunity to raise public awareness, announcing that she had undergone a mastectomy via television and radio and conducting an interview detailing her illness with McCall Magazine. She died on Monday, February 10, 2014 of natural causes at age eighty-five. She reportedly died at her Woolside, California home surrounded by family.

Whether in her optimistic performances or political crusades, throughout her two careers, Shirley Temple Black was a woman who worked towards making the world a better place. While many former child stars lash out in attempts to prove that they are ‘grown up’, she instead chose to take the truly adult approach and went on to pursue personal and professional ambitions outside of acting. Although she maintained a positive outlook on her childhood success, she refused to let herself be defined by an image that she had long since outgrown, and successfully forged her own path independent of the ‘mop-top’ persona of her Hollywood years. She remains a reminder that child stardom does not have to be synonymous with adult despair and a positive role model that today’s stars could learn from.  

A true class act

A review of "Last Kind Words"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Last Kind Words”

By: Brian Cotnoir

We continue “Brad Dourif Appreciation Month” here on Confessions of a Film Junkie, with a look at the film “Last Kind Words”.  “Last Kind Words” was a film released in 2012 and follows the mysterious adventure of a teenage boy named Eli (played by Spencer Daniels) who moves to the backwoods of Kentucky with his parents to work on a Farm run by Waylon,        an old friend of Eli’s father (played by Brad Dourif).  Eli is a quiet young man, who likes to keep to himself; very few people are close to him except for his mother and his best friend Katie.  One day while exploring the forest behind his new home he comes across a beautiful and mysterious girl named Amanda.  Over the course of the film Eli and Amanda develop a close intimate bond, but Amanda isn’t like the other girls. (SPOILERS!) As the film progresses we learn that Amanda is the deceased sister of Waylon and Eli’s father’s former fiancĂ©e.   We find out that Waylon hung Amanda when she was 17, because she was going to run off and elope with Eli’s father.  The tree Waylon hung her from has some mysterious powers that keep her spirit trapped to the land, and she wanders the forest looking for new companions.  Eli learns that the only way to set Amanda’s spirit free is to cut her body down from the tree limb.  Eli does not want to lose Amanda, but he complies with her request when it has been made apparent that her soul is in a great danger.                
   This isn’t a terrible film, but the plot is pretty predictable.  After Eli’s 2nd encounter with Amanda where she just seemed to disappear into thin air, I kind of figured that she was probably a ghost, and yeah you can easily figure out what happened to her.  There is some mystery and build up in the film, but not much of a payoff.      
Brad Dourif rocking that sweet handlebar moustache
   Brad Dourif is wonderful as the neurotic villain Waylon.  Like many roles that Dourif has played before Waylon is a paranoid and constantly let’s his anger and other emotions blind his common sense.  However, unlike other roles Waylon is more subtle.  He is cold-blooded killer; he shoots and kills his father when he was a boy on a hunting trip, he murdered his sister for wanting to run off and get married, and he even kills Eli’s father when he confronts him over his sister’s disappearance.  After every kill, Waylon tries to justify he’s brutal actions to himself and to everyone he questions his actions.  Waylon also shows signs of incestuous feelings towards Amanda.  Waylon does not just love her, but he is actually in love with his sister. Although, I cannot recall a point in the movie where Amanda tells Eli that Waylon raped her, it is heavily implied that she was raped before Waylon killed her. It’s safe to say that Brad Dourif is hands-down the best actor in this film and one of the more interesting characters too.       

Spencer Daniels as our nothing resembling a hero
     Let’s look at the films protagonist, Eli.  Eli is just an incredible bore and one of the biggest jerk-off’s I’ve ever seen in a film.  Actor Spencer Daniels never breaks from the low monotone voice throughout the film and looks so bored in this film that it’s impossible for anyone watching this film to not catch his second-hand boredom.   The character he is playing is also a complete tool.  He is visited throughout the film by his best friend Katie; she is cute, spontaneous, and adventurous and she is totally into Eli, to the point where they are both drunk and she asks him, how come he never tried to kiss her before.  Eli takes this open invitation and wanders out into a field where he proceeds to fall asleep...alone!  Idiot, you have a pretty girl who is throwing herself at you and you’d rather spend more time with your DEAD GIRLFRIEND whom you just met a week ago?!?!?!  You sir, deserve to die a virgin.  So even though Amanda is just a ghost, and he can’t be with her physically, when he is presented with the opportunity to go skinny dipping with her ghost (which I have no idea how that’s even possible), he looks away as she removes her clothes and then has her do the same as he changes...Again, YOU DESERVE TO DIE A VIRGIN, LOSER!  That’s not even the dumbest thing he does in this movie.  When Amanda’s spirit is endanger of being hurt by Waylon’s (he committed suicide), he cuts down her body from the tree: meaning he will never get to see her again.   Shortly after, he set’s Amanda’s spirit free he does the only logical thing he can think of and hangs himself from the tree—thereby trapping his spirit to the land, until someone comes to cut his body down...God, Eli is a detestable character.             
I think her character should have been called "Hot Amanda"  
     Now let’s look at the two women in Eli’s life.  Amanda is an old-fashioned Southern girl.  She doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the film—I mean she doesn’t actually help Eli with anything—she’s just there to look hot.  Her character seeks company from strangers, and that’s really all I have to say about her.  Katie has been Eli’s best friend since they were 7-years-old, and even though he sees her only as a sister, Katie has amorous feelings for Eli.  She is very adventurous and daring.  She sneaks booze from her parents and even takes her moms car without permission.  She cares for Eli and tries to convince him to run away with her.  After, being shot down by Eli enough times, Katie decides the best thing for her to do is run away and never look back.  She was an enjoyable character, probably the only other one besides Waylon.                    

Poor Katie, she is forever in the friend zone
    So yeah, “Last Kind Words” is an okay film, but it’s not a film I would rush to Netlflix to check it out this minute.  If you’re a fan of Brad Dourif, I think you will enjoy it, other than that, I can’t think of any group of people I would recommend this film too.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Classics: A Review of Almost Famous By Lauren Ennis

"I've met you, and you are not cool"
On Sunday, February 2, 2014 Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City Apartment. Hoffman’s death has been determined to have been the result of a heroin overdose, though it remains unknown if the overdose was accidental or intentional. He is survived by his partner of fifteen years, Mimi O’Donnell and their three children. Throughout a career that spanned over twenty years, Hoffman played a variety of intense and complex roles, specializing in morally ambiguous and emotionally tormented characters. Although he only won a single Oscar in his career, many considered Hoffman one of the greatest, if not the greatest, actor of his generation. In tribute to the late and great Philip Seymour Hoffman I’ll be reviewing the film that first introduced me to his work, the coming of age classic Almost Famous; a fitting tribute that features Hoffman’s character passing on the torch of experience and knowledge to the next generation much in the same way that Hoffman’s legacy will now be passed down to a new generation of actors.

Adolescence is a time in which we struggle to discover who we are and who we want to be. It is a time in which we still possess the idealism to entertain delusions of grandeur as we continue to hope for a future of excitement, fortune, and fame. Director Cameron Crowe portrays a unique take on the adolescent quest for meaning and identity in his 2001 drama Almost Famous. In the film, Crowe uses his real life experiences as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970’s as the basis for a tale of a sheltered teen coming of age amidst the drugs, sex, and egos of the early seventies rock scene. The film explores the power of music as a motivator, inspiration, and companion throughout the various complications and successes of life at this crucial age. This film is a must see for the young and young at heart who are all too familiar with the opposing desire to stand out and need to belong that characterize the adolescent experience.

The story begins as eleven year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is introduced to the power of rock and roll by his older sister, Anita, (Zooey Deschanel) as she prepares to move out of their family home to pursue a career as a stewardess. The story then flashes ahead to William’s senior year of high school as he devotes himself not to friends and girls, but instead to the single minded pursuit of all things rock. He receives his big break after sending his articles from a local underground newspaper to rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and is given his first paid assignment covering a Black Sabbath concert. As an underage journalist with no notable credits to his name, William is quickly dismissed by backstage security but manages to find an even more tantalizing story when he encounters the opening band, Stillwater. With the help of the band’s groupies (scratch that, Band Aides), led by the enigmatic Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), he gains access to the band and is invited to accompany them on tour. Although he realizes that the band is using him as a means to obtain easy praise and free publicity, he quickly finds himself caught up in the glamour, excess, and camaraderie that makes up Stillwater’s world. While on tour, he is forced to confront the gritty reality of the music industry as he interacts with the assortment of stars, businesspeople, and hanger-ons who compose it. Through his varied experiences with the band, William learns about life, love, and ultimately himself.

The greatest draw of the film is its refusal to glamorize the rock and roll lifestyle. While William is faced with the temptations of fame, sex, and drugs during his journey he also learns the devastating price that they come with. He realizes that fame does not always bring the happiness that it promises as he observes from a professional distance while the pressures of new found fame take their toll on the band’s relationships and judgment. One standout scene features the band’s conflict over guitarist Russell’s (Billy Crudup) rise to the center of the band finally coming to a boil with the arrival of the band’s new T-shirt. Rather than acknowledge that the shirt is an insult to the other band members, who are presented in a fade behind his front and center image, Russell instead insists upon placing his image first, and agrees with the band’s money hungry agent that the shirt should remain as is. The tensions between the band members continue to rise until a climactic near plane crash in which each member airs their grievances, certain that death is imminent. The scene reveals the underlying issues between each band member and the ways in which their search for fame has compromised their relationships, values, and goals. After safely landing, the band is forced to confront their conflicts and decide how best to continue following their dreams without crushing each other’s spirits in the process.

One big dysfunctional family
The film similarly reveals the self-destructive effects of sex and drugs upon the tour members. Throughout the film, William nurses an infatuation with lead groupie Penny Lane, whose supposed maturity and free spiritedness he admires. While he views her as a symbol of liberation, she is actually a slave to her own loneliness and insecurity, which she tries to alleviate by sleeping with various rising and established rock stars. William soon learns to see beyond her invincible facade, however, as he observes her pathetically continue to pursue Russell’s affections even after he trades her services to another band in exchange for fifty dollars and a case of beer. Similarly, William attempts to fill the void left by his unrequited love for Penny by participating in an orgy with the band’s groupies, which only leaves him feeling more confused and displaced. He finally learns the full consequences of the band’s ‘free love’ philosophy when Penny attempts suicide after Russell rejects her and returns to his steady girlfriend. William also witnesses the dangers of drug use when he spends a night monitoring Russell after the latter takes drugs with a group of fans and nearly kills himself jumping off of a rooftop. Through these eye-openening experiences, William is ultimately forced to confront the dark side of rock as he comes to realize that the self-destructive behavior of his music idols is far from glamorous.

The film does not contain a weak performance as the lead and supporting cast members all present top form performances. Patrick Fugit provides the film with its essential core as the inexperienced William, capturing his character’s appealing combination of maturity and innocence. Kate Hudson expertly walks the fine line between seductive woman and vulnerable girl as the enigmatic Penny and Billy Crudup and Jason Leigh lend accuracy and depth to their respective performances as Stillwater’s guitarist and lead singer. Frances MacDormand and Philip Seymour Hoffman nearly steal in the film in their hilarious turns as William’s loving but domineering mother and cynical mentor.

Almost Famous is a true coming of age classic with a rock and roll soul. The film presents an honest and heartfelt account of life amongst the diverse misfists that make up music at its finest. Through its portrayal of William’s cross-country journey, the film relates a coming of age tale that is able to relate a powerful message about friendship and art without reducing itself to sentiment or stereotypes. Through its combination of superb storytelling and excellent acting the film is wholly deserving of the title ‘famous’.

Famous people are just more interesting.

A review of "Death Machine"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Death Machine”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Welcome one and all to the start of “Brad Dourif Appreciation Month” where we will be taking a look at films starring the acting talents of Mr. Brad Dourif.  Hey, you want to know what one of my favorite things about this blog is?  Every now and then I select a film to watch that I think is going to be a total lost cause, and it turns out to be really good and enjoyable.  And I’m not talking about “a film so bad that it’s actually good”, no I am talking about films that I sincerely enjoyed and consider to be good films.  Film’s like the one I’m reviewing today.  “Death Machine” is a Sci-Fi-Action-Adventure that I would describe as a Fanboy Action film that combines elements form “Alien”, “RoboCop” and “Diehard”.     
“Death Machine” is set in the “near future” of the year 2003 and the world is up-in-arms over the controversial human experiments being performed by the CHAANK Corporation, a weapons manufacture.  The corporations new Chief Executive, Hayden Cale, is investigating a mysterious malfunctioning project that has left dozens dead and injured.  The companies CEO and other top officials try to keep all knowledge of the failing project kept secret, so Cale turns to the company’s top Weapon Designer, a mysterious man named Jack Dante (Dourif).  Dante is peculiar person who has an unhealthy infatuation with Ms. Cale.  It isn’t until the horrific death of CHAANK Corp’s. CEO, Scott Ridley, that Dante’s employment is terminated by Cale.  Cale’s timing could not be worst as CHAANK Corp. is invaded by a group of Eco-Terrorists, known as the Humanist Alliance, who are bent on destroying CHAANK’s Headquarters so that they can no longer make destructive weapons.  Dante leads the group of terrorists to Vault 10, where he unleashes his most destructive weapon ever: a death-machine that feeds off of peoples fear.  Now it’s up to Hayden Cale and the head of the remaining members of the Humanist Alliance to stop the death machine and escape with their lives.                                                      
What is it with Villains and watching cartoons???
     There are a number of things that make this a great film.  Let’s look at the story first.  Before making “Death Machine” the films writer and director, Stephen Norrington, worked as a special effects artist on the film “Aliens”.  This film makes numerous references to the “Alien” franchise such as naming characters after references from the “Alien” films, such as Weyland and Yutani  The film also pays homage to the film directors that inspired Norrington, such as naming some of his characters Jack Dante (a reference to Joe Dante), Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, and Scott Ridley (a reference to Ridley Scott, director of “Alien”).  What a wonderful way to pay homage to some of your greatest heroes and influences.                      
Our Villain and his creation :)
Now let’s look at the characters:  Without a doubt the star of this film is Brad Dourif’s character Jack Dante.  He is a weapons designer and master computer hacker that has many character traits that resemble that of a total sociopath.  When he’s not busy designing weapons or looking at pictures of naked ladies, he is wandering around CHAANK Corp, observing peoples mannerisms and performing his own form of psychoanalysis on them.  I am absolutely convinced that Christopher Nolan had to base some of his Joker character from “The Dark Knight” on Dourif’s performance.  There are some similarities between Dourif’s role of Jack Dante and Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker:  Both characters are sociopaths, when a gun is pulled on them both characters grab the gun by the barrel and instruct the person holding the gun to go ahead and pull the trigger, both characters want to “turn order into chaos”, both characters use a pencil to make a terrifying point about their insanity!  Hell, there’ even a quote in this film about how “the needs of many, outweigh the means of a few”.  The similarities are just a little too uncanny to be a mere coincidence.  Christopher Nolan had to have seen this film and somewhat based Ledger’s Joker off of Dourif’s character.  Brad Dourif is just so good in this film and really gives one of the best performances of his career.       
Man, you gonna die!
    As for the other characters, they’re all pretty enjoyable as well. Actress Ely Pouget plays the role of the films heroine Hayden Cale.  Hayden Cale is pretty much the same character as Ellen Ripley from the “Alien” Franchise.  She doesn’t play the role as good as Sigourney Weaver, but she still does a decent job.  Actor John Sharian plays the role of Humanist Alliance leader Sam Raimi, and at the beginning of the film he kind of reminds me of Robert De Niro from “Taxi Driver”, but once he puts on the Project HARDMAN suit to battle the death machine he becomes more like RoboCop, and he also does a great job with his role. Richard Brake plays the role of CHAANK Corp. CEO Scott Ridley, and his performance is just so over-the-top in this film that it’s hilarious.  I honestly think that Brake is trying out-Cage, Nicolas Cage in the film he’s that over-the-top funny.
Hayden Cale and Raimi taking on the Death Machine w/ big guns
    Now, let’s talk about the Death Machine.  Early on in the film we only get to see death machine through Point-of-view shots.  Towards the end of the film we actually get to see the death machine, and its okay.  I mean it’s nothing spectacular to look at it, but it does have the equipment to do what its name suggests.                                          
    I definitely recommend that you check out the film “Death Machine” is you find that you are not able to enjoy this film for its story and great acting, then you can at least appreciate it for its Fan-boy homage’s and quirky character references.  It truly is a hidden gem among forgotten Sci-Fi-Action/Thrillers.