Sunday, October 15, 2017

Classics: A Review of And Then There Were None By Lauren Ennis


We are often assured that justice is blind and that bad karma will eventually come around to punish all wrongs. Justice and karma have rarely stalked the guilty with the brutality that awaits a group of unsuspecting sinners in Agatha Christie’s classic thriller And Then There Were None. First published as a novel in 1939 And Then There Were None remains the world’s bestselling play, which has been adapted several times for both the stage and screen. This week’s review will feature the latest version of the classic thriller released by the BBC in 2015. Just one viewing of this three episode series will be sure to do for seaside vacations what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach.

There was blood and a single gunshot, but just who shot who?
The story begins in 1938 with a group of strangers arriving at the ominously remote Soldier Island off the Cornish coast at the behest of Ulrich and Nancy Owen. The guests are surprised to learn that their hosts have yet to arrive, and unnerved when it becomes apparent that none of them have actually met the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Owens. Matters quickly take a turn for the sinister when a record plays accusing each guest of a different murder. When the guests begin dying in increasingly violent ways it becomes undeniable that there is at least one killer on the island who may be hiding in the guests’ very midst.

While numerous adaptations have preceded it, the BBC miniseries is particularly notable for its successful merging of period detail and modern grit. The costumes, makeup, and sets immediately draw viewers into an era gone by as viewers settle into lush period detail. Similarly, the expert writing and acting bring viewers into the tormented psyches of both the ill-fated guests and Britain on the verge of the Second World War in a way that makes a stay at Soldier Island equally terrifying for both characters and viewers. Within the series’ first frames the atmosphere evolves from ominous to suspenseful as the guests realize that there is something sinister behind their supposed holiday, and viewers are lured into Christie’s web of murder and intrigue. The script, which refuses to shy away from the violence and vice that permeates the drama, provides the story with a modern edge that keeps viewers engaged in the action and ensures that the classic tale remains both frighteningly fresh and largely faithful to its source material. For a who-done-it that will keep you guessing until its final reveal, there’s none quite like And Then There Were None.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale of a fateful trip
Agatha Christie’s shadowy world comes to vibrant life thanks to the uniformly excellent work of the cast who aptly portray the dual nature of characters who are not all that they seem. Douglas Booth personifies boyish charm in his role as reckless playboy Anthony Marsden. Miranda Richardson perfectly captures the haughty hypocrisy of morality crusader Emily Brent. Sam Neil aptly portrays both the outward bravado and inner torment of General MacArthur. Toby Stephens captures the toll that fear and guilt have taken upon Doctor Armstrong. Anna Maxwell Martin earns viewers’ sympathy in her role as conflicted maid Mrs. Rogers. Noah Taylor aptly portrays both butler Mr. Rogers’ professional servility and domestic tyranny. Burn Gorman is endlessly engaging as undercover investigator Detective Blore. Charles Dance conveys the world-weariness of Judge Wargrave, who has seen humanity at its worst after decades on the bench. Aiden Turner captures mercenary Philip Lombard’s roguish charm and unrepentant callousness with equal skill. Maeve Dermody portrays secretary Vera Claythorne with an intelligence and depth that leaves viewers unable to look away from her performance.

Part murder mystery and part exploration of human nature at its darkest, And Then There Were None remains one of the greatest thrillers of the stage and screen. Through it’s by turns lavish and ominous visuals the BBC series brings viewers into a society staring into the abyss. The superb writing and acting bring depth to what easily could have been a by-the-numbers mystery, and ensure that even the most modern of viewers will find plenty of thrills. For a mystery that you’ll be dying to unravel look no further than And Then There Were None.

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

5 of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons

5 Of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons
By: Brian Cotnoir

     It’s October, that magical time of year.  The leaves are changing colors, the air is ripe with the smell of pumpkin spice and apple cider donuts, and everyone is so excited to start binge watching their favorite horror film and dress up as their favorite horror movie icons for Halloween.  Yes, pretty soon the streets will be crawling with people dressed as everyone from cult icons Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers to the more modern day Mr. Babadook and Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and it got me thinking: why are these characters considered so iconic, but others are relegated to obscurity and cult underground status?  What makes a Horror character so Iconic?  Is it the number of films they appear in?  Is it the number of people the kill?  Is it how they kill?  Or is it just a pure nostalgia factor?  Well for whatever reasons they may be, every year it seems we give credit to the same Horror Icons, and leave others hung out to dry, so today, I’m here to tell you who I think are 5 of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons, and why I think you should watch their movies this Halloween instead of the clichéd classics.

1.) Daniel Robitaille a.k.a. Candyman from Candyman

This film that is very loosely based off the short story “The Forbidden” by another Horror legend, Clive Barker.  The story follows a Grad Student named Helen who is doing a thesis on Urban Legends and one of those legends in particular—the legend of the Candyman—has her very interested.  According to the legend, the Candyman was a slave named Daniel Robitaille who fell in love with a white woman and once their love was discovered he was chased out of town, had one of his hands cut off and replaced with a rusty hook, and then was covered in honey and stung by like a thousand bees, and then to top off this worst day ever they lynched him too.  So apparently, if you look in a mirror and say Candyman 5 times and then shut off the lights and turn them on again real quick (I may be messing up that whole origin story), Candyman will appear and gut you from groin to gullet.           Candyman is definitely a villain who has a lot going on: part scary man with the hook for a hand, part Bloody Mary, and part made of bees!...I don’t know if the rest of you are afraid of bees, but I am so that makes him way scarier.  I will say that the films sequel “Candyman 2: A Farewell to Flesh” gave him a more stable background story than the original film, but nonetheless he still intimidating.  Played by Actor Tony Todd with his deep voice and swarm of lethal bees, definitely gives off an ominous presence.  The first time we actually see the Candyman is in a parking garage in the middle of the day.  This is one of the few times I can recall a Horror movie character being revealed in the daytime rather than at night.

2.) Pumpkinhead from the Pumpkinhead films

Yeah, I know so many people just think he’s a knock-off of H.R. Geiger’s Xenomorph creation from Ridley Scott’s “Alien”.  Who cares?  It’s awesome!  Not only was the creature created by Special Effects Genius Stan Winston, but Winston also directed the film as well! Pumpkinhead is great movie monster.  He’s a creature who gets resurrected by a witch for people who want vengeance against people who have wronged them.  Another thing that I think is cool about Pumpkinhead is he doesn’t just get resurrected and then goes on the killing spree and then returns to his slumber once it’s all done.  If you call for Pumpkinheads help he’s going to make sure you experience and witness the killings (telepathically at least).  That way you know the deed has been done almost like a Hellaraiser and E.T. hybrid.

3.) The Entity’s from It Follows

So this film has only been out for around 2 years so it would make sense why not many people would consider them, but there’s also another valid reason...you can’t actually see them, so yeah, it’s kind of hard to be afraid of something you can’t see. These creatures don’t even have an official name, so I’m just referring to them as The Entities.  So the entities are like the world’s scariest S.T.D.  They follow a person, appearing taking many different forms and they only appear to the person they are trying to kill, and the only apparent way to make them leave you alone (temporarily) is to have sex with another person, and then they will be in pursuit of that person until they are killed and then it gets passed on back to the person who gave it to them.  I may have done a terrible job trying to explain them, but yeah, it’s still pretty scary.  How do you fight against something that only you can see and can take the form of anything around you?  It could be your best friend, a random stranger, an animal, or some other bizarre creature.  How do you know what’s real and what isn’t.  The constant fear and paranoia is enough to want to drive a person to contemplate suicide.

4.) S. Quentin Quale a.k.a. Dr. Satan from The House of 1000 Corpses

So the plot of Rob Zombie’s cinematic debut starts off with group of young friends trying to find the spot where a group of locals in the town of Ruggsville, Texas hung Mr. S. Quentin Quale, or as he’s known in those parts Dr. Satan.  Quale was trying to create a Super-Race of Humans out of mentally ill patients at the Willows County Mental Hospital, and well we don’t actually get to see Dr. Satan till almost the very end of the film.  When we do see him, he’s even more terrifying than we ever could’ve imagined.  The reason I think people forget about Dr. Satan is because of his lack of screen time, and the horrible things he does are pretty mundane compared to the acts of violence enacted by the Firefly family, who own the land where Dr. Satan enacts his experiments in an underground catacomb.

5.) Jame Gumb a.k.a. Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs


Did you know that Hannibal Lecter isn’t the main villain in the 1991 Award Winning Horror classic “Silence of the Lambs”?  Because a lot of people seemed to be confused about that.  Hannibal isn’t the one Agent Starling is pursuing; he’s already incarcerated when she first meets him, she actually goes to see him to get advice on how to catch the films real villain, Buffalo Bill. Lecter is in the film for less than 20 minutes, yet he is the one most remembered from this film, and not the psychotic transgender serial killer who likes to wear suits made out of women’s skins and pretend he’s a lady.  To me Buffalo Bill is way more terrifying than Hannibal.  Think about it, to be eaten by a cannibal, you have to already be dead.  You’d put up one hell of a fight if someone was trying to eat you, so your death would be quick and (probably) painless so the cannibal can get their munch on.  However, Buffalo Bill needs to keep his victims alive for weeks, tormenting them and torturing them psychologically and emotionally, and in the end he’s going to take their skin.  Yeah, I would say that Buffalo Bill is way scarier.  Plus I feel bad for the actor who played him, Ted Levine.  It seems like everyone in this film got an Academy Award, but him.  He wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  I think Mr. Levine got cheated. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Classics: A Celebration of Cinderella By Lauren Ennis


Fairy tales have delighted audiences for hundreds of years. Perhaps no fairy tale maintains the enduring popularity of the original rags to riches tale Cinderella. Despite, or perhaps because, of its simplicity, each generation has not one, but several, variations of the tale to choose from. While each of these adaptations holds its own charms, all of them share the same enduring message that regardless of how dark today might be, with kindness and hard work there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow. In honor of this classic tale this week’s spotlight will be turned on not one but three of my favorite adaptations of Cinderella at its most charming, romantic, and ultimately inspiring.
If the shoe fits, wear it!

Cinderella 1950: For a traditional take on the fairy tale there is no beating Disney’s 1950 animated adaptation. The film was Walt Disney’s personal favorite in the studio’s canon, and for good reason. With dazzling visuals, endearing characters, and an iconic score, the film epitomizes all that audiences continue to adore about Disney films. The film is largely faithful to the original tale and includes such staples as the wicked stepmother, the charming prince, and the magical fairy godmother. While this version may not break new ground in the retelling of Cinderella, it does bring the story to life in a way that reinforces its hopeful central message. The film’s only real drawback is its gross lack of focus upon the prince, who is relegated to a plot device rather than developed as a three dimensional character. Fortunately, the film’s supporting characters and leading lady more than make up for what its hero lacks. Disney’s Cinderella remains an ideal role model through her kindness, patience, strong work ethic, and refusal to either give in to self-pity or give up hope. While she make lack the girl-power of the studio’s later heroines, her optimism in the face of constant adversity provides an inspiring example of resilience. Over half a century after its debut, and Disney’s Cinderella continues to remind us all to get better, not bitter, and that with hard work and patience the dreams that we wish can come true.
Move over, Disney

Ever After: 1998’s Ever After provides Cinderella with a feminist flare by transforming the fairy tale into a historical drama. In this film, Cinderella is a 16th century orphan named Danielle De Barbarac who is forced by her stepmother to live as a servant in her own home before she eventually wins the heart of the prince of France. That premise is where any resemblance to past adaptations of Cinderella end. In this retelling, which the prologue presents as the ‘real’ story before embellishment gave way to legend, the only magic is that which is found in the human heart. The film keeps the story firmly within its historical setting and highlights the daunting social and gender barriers that Danielle must overcome before reaching her happy ending. The greatest pleasure in viewing this film is watching its spirited heroine maneuver around the restrictions of her era by using the very qualities that Cinderella is commonly criticized for lacking; independence, gumption, and grit. Despite the script’s emphasis upon her more modern traits, the script wisely puts equal emphasis upon Danielle’s traditional Cinderella qualities including her generosity, kindness, and patience. This multi-faceted portrayal makes her a heroine that audiences, much like the prince cannot resist. One of Ever After’s most unique features is the depth with which Prince Henry and his relationship with Danielle are portrayed. While he is charming, he is also very much a man of his time and social class. As a result, when he meets the very ahead of her time Danielle debates and arguments ensue that ultimately lead him to question the norms that he’s always taken for granted. It is through this intellectual and emotional journey that he becomes just as complex and compelling a character as his leading lady. The many interactions between the pair lend both credibility and chemistry to their romance that the majority of Cinderella stories sorely lack. The film also imbues its supporting characters with such depth and nuance that the entire cast of characters possess their own motivations and flaws that make them believable, if not always likable. While it may lack such fanciful elements as fairy godmothers and coaches made of pumpkins, Ever After weaves a Cinderella story that is cinematic magic.
Always arrive in style

Cinderella 2015: The greatest rival to Disney’s animated adaptation is its live action remake from 2015. Like its predecessor, the film is largely faithful to the source material and revels in the original tale’s more whimsical elements. The remake does improve upon the 1950 film, however, through the additional focus it places upon both Ella’s life with her parents and the prince. While these additions do not impact the events of the plot they do provide vital insight into both Ella and her prince that adds depth and nuance to their budding relationship. The film also wisely relegates less screen time to the supporting characters, allowing the central characters time to grow and develop. The film’s visuals verge on eclipsing those of the animated film through well-executed CGI effects as well as costumes and sets that are truly a feast for the eyes. This film also diverges from its predecessor in that it abandons the studio’s signature songs in favor of traditional storytelling. Despite their differences, the heroine of the 2015 film follows in the footsteps of her predecessor and inspires today’s audiences through her own resilience and her steadfast belief that a brighter tomorrow will arrive if only we have courage and be kind.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Classics: A Review of Gigi By Lauren Ennis


Musicals of the 1950’s were one of the major studios greatest weapons in their war against television. While these films contained stunning visuals and iconic musical numbers, they were all too often all spectacle and no story. One 1950’s musical stands out not only for its emphasis upon its story, but also for its controversial subject matter; 1958’s Gigi. Marketed as a family-friendly romantic comedy, the film chronicles a young girl's coming of age in turn of the century Paris as she prepares to enter…the corrupt life of a courtesan. Easily one of the most inappropriate and outlandish films that I’ve reviewed, Gigi is a film that will live on in viewers’ memories, for better or worse.

You want me to what?! With who?!
The story begins in 1890’s Paris as fifteen year-old Gigi (Leslie Caron) is groomed by her aunt and grandmother (Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans), both retired courtesans, to enter the family business. Although Gigi has been prepared for this role her entire life, she continuously rebels against her family’s expectations by maintaining her tomboyish habits and refusing to pay attention to her lessons. Meanwhile, her best friend, playboy Gaston (Louis Jordan) is leading the high life of parties, champagne, and affairs with the city’s most sought after courtesans. When he learns that his latest mistress, Liane (Eva Gabor), has begun an affair with her skating instructor he throws himself into the city’s most debauched pleasures in an effort to soothe his wounded pride. Despite his best efforts, however, his meaningless pursuits do nothing to fill his empty life, and he finds no joy except in his visits to Gigi and her grandmother. Just as he realizes that he possesses feelings for Gigi, however, she prepares to make her debut as a courtesan, leading to a conflict between lust and love.

Although it is refreshing to see a classic musical that lends proper weight to its plot, this focus only makes the story’s disturbing content all the more obvious. Even as the characters rely upon innuendo and insinuation there is no question that the film is attempting to relate a tale of underage prostitution in an entirely inappropriate manner. While many films have focused upon prostitution and too many have glamorized the sex trade, few films endorse prostitution with the brazenness of Gigi. The film’s opening scene features Gaston’s womanizing uncle Honore (Maurice Chavalier) joking about his hobby of “collecting pretty young things” before launching into the truly cringe-worthy ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’. Although the song’s lyrics about little girls growing up to become enticing young women would be enough to draw ire, the fact that it is sung by an aging lothario as he watches children play in the park sets a base tone for the rest of the film. Similarly while the films states that Gigi is fifteen years old, the already youthful appearing Caron is consistently shown in costumes that make her appear as young as twelve (the character’s age in the original novel). Although the young age of many women in the sex trade remains a tragic fact, the film never even implies that there is anything amiss about its underage heroine being groomed to be sold to the highest bidder. While the film could have used Gigi’s child-like innocence to highlight her heartbreaking plight, her naiveté is instead played for laughs as she struggles to make sense of the sordid world around her.

What's a little distribution to minors gonna' hurt?
The film portrays its supporting characters in an equally baffling fashion as Gigi’s grandmother and aunt are presented as merely misguided, rather than exploitive, guardians and Honore is regarded as lovably zany instead of predatory. Gaston fares little better as even Louis Jordan’s charm fails to disguise the character’s basic callousness. As if his interest in the significantly younger Gigi is not squirm-inducing enough, his treatment of Liane makes him a better candidate to be the film’s villain rather than its romantic hero. Instead of merely ending his relationship with Liane, he schemes to ensure that her lover abandons her and plots her public disgrace, effectively ending her career as a courtesan. In an effort to escape her bleak future as a ruined courtesan, Liane attempts suicide, prompting Gaston and Honore to laugh and toast to Gaston’s, ‘first suicide…and many more to come’, as if driving women to suicide is some sort of masculine milestone. Rather than help Gigi to escape a fate similar to Liane’s, Gaston sees her debut as an opportunity to be capitalized upon and proceeds to make an offer to become her first patron. Even after she tearfully rejects his offer and reminds him of what a future as a courtesan would mean, he sees nothing objectionable about his proposition. It is only after her family forces her to reconsider and she adopts the same vapid manner as his former mistresses that Gaston realizes his error, but even then he is more repelled by the prospect of another bland mistress than by the implications of what his offer means to Gigi. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the film is the light tone with which the film dismisses its characters' behaviors, making what could have been an indictment of the social structures and attitudes that fuel the sex trade a tasteless attempt at romantic comedy.

It is difficult to judge the performances, as all of the central players, with the exception of Caron, are playing not just unlikeable, but illogical, characters. Caron shines in her role as hardened innocent Gigi, and creates a far more engaging performance than in her previous, more famous, film An American in Paris. Eva Gabor earns sympathy in her brief role as Liane, and imbues her jilted courtesan with heartfelt vulnerability. The rest of the cast manage as well as they can with the script’s jarring material.

Perhaps the least family-friendly film in the family section, Gigi is one of the most bizarre films to come out of classic Hollywood. A dizzying display of musicals at their most decadent, the film’s light tone glosses over its dark core. More curiosity than compelling the film provides modern viewers with an unsettling look into the views and norms of the past. While Gigi may not understand the Parisians, modern viewers will have equal difficulty understanding Gigi.

 
Better put a ring on it

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A review of "IT: Chapter 1" (2017)

Confessions of a Film Junkie A review of IT: Chapter 1 (2017)

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This is my opinion on the 2017 reboot of the film "IT"  WARNING  This video review CONTAINS SPOILERS.  So do not watch if you don't want spoilers.  Enjoy

My Review of IT (2017)





Saturday, September 2, 2017

Classics: Cinema's Most Terrible Teachers By Lauren Ennis


After a season of fun in the sun it’s once again time to sharpen pencils and break out the backpacks. As students and teachers prepare to resume classes we can’t help but remember our own teachers who, for better or worse, influenced the people we have become. While many teachers serve as sources of inspiration long after we leave the classroom, others remain lurking in our memories despite our best efforts to forget them. This week I’ll be turning the spotlight on the very worst in cinematic education by profiling three film teachers that give teaching a bad name.
Don't even think of raising your had

Elizabeth Halsey: No bad teacher list would be complete without Cameron Diaz’s blackboard bad girl herself, Bad Teacher’s Elizabeth Halsey. At the start of the film, Elizabeth quits her job in anticipation of leading a life of leisure after becoming engaged to her wealthy boyfriend. Her plans are put on hold, however, when he breaks off the engagement and she is forced to earn her own income. She reluctantly returns to teaching, and makes it clear to everyone in her orbit that her only career aspiration is to earn her weekly paycheck until she is able to secure another sugar-daddy. As the year progresses she flagrantly disregards her responsibilities by playing an endless stream of inspirational teacher films in class instead of actually teaching and refusing to even learn her students’ names. All seems to be going smoothly enough as she charms the administration into allowing her shenanigans until she learns of a bonus that is awarded to teachers whose classes earn the highest standardized test scores. She then springs into action by lying, cheating, seducing, and even teaching her way to ensuring that her class has the district’s highest test scores, even as a suspicious colleague closes in on her schemes. By the school year’s end she has engaged in more bad behavior and adolescent hijinks than all of her students combined, all while learning about life, love, and the pursuit of a state pension.
On today's agenda; manipulation and mayhem

Miss Jean Brodie: The most deceiving entry on this list, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie begins as an homage to inspirational teachers. At the film’s start Maggie Smith’s titular educator is presented as an eccentric, but dedicated teacher in the mode of Dead Poet’s Society’s John Keating. Like Keating Miss Brodie encourages her students to defy convention and pursue larger than life aspirations. The inspirational tale quickly gives way to a cautionary warning, however, as it becomes apparent that Miss Brodie only encourages her students to defy the same conventions that she does, in the same way that she does. As the school year goes on, any guise of encouraging individuality dissipates as each of the girls in Miss Brodie’s class gradually transform themselves into younger versions of her. Her cult of personality takes a toxic turn when the girls begin putting her questionable lessons into practice. In keeping with Brodie’s staunch fascist politics naïve Mary (Jane Carr) travels to Spain to fight for the Nationalists where she is killed almost immediately after her arrival. Similarly, bookish Sandy (Pamela Franklin) embarks upon an affair with the school’s married art teacher, and Miss Brodie’s former lover Mr. Lloyd (Robert Stephens) in an effort to emulate Miss Brodie’s promiscuity. Even popular Jenny (Diane Grayson) nearly gives in to Miss Brodie’s manipulations after Miss Brodie attempts to groom Jenny into replacing her as Mr. Lloyd’s mistress. By the film’s conclusion Miss Brodie is finally dismissed and her students have all learned a shattering lesson in the dangers of following a group mentality. Based upon actual events at a girls’ school in Scotland, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a chilling example of how easily a teacher’s influence can be abused.
The price of chewing gum in class

The Trunchbull: Roald Dahl is a writer best known for his ability to capture a child’s view of the adult world, and his portrait of public education in his classic novel Matilda proves no exception. In the 1995 film adaptation of the novel Matilda (Mara Wilson) is a child genius raised by a family of ignorant louts who neither recognize nor appreciate her value. While eager to attend school to escape her negligent family, she is stunned find that her intelligence is just as much a detriment to her at school as at home. Although her kind teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidz), encourages Matilda’s abilities, the school administration, led by vicious headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) see Matilda’s talents as a direct threat to the status quo. When she isn’t making it her personal mission to suppress Matilda’s brilliance, Miss Trunchbull spends her days tossing students out windows, throwing them over fences, and forcing them to eat potentially deadly cafeteria food. Worse yet, Miss Trunchbull maintains a modified version of an iron maiden known as ‘the chokey’ that she uses to torture ‘misbehaving’ students. Her cruelty is not restricted to students, however, as she psychologically torments her staff, particularly her own niece, Miss Honey, whom she has victimized since childhood. Her repeated phrase of, “I’m big, you’re small. I’m right you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it” serves as her motto in life as she transforms what should be a haven of learning into a children’s prison. Although portrayed to an absurd extremity, Miss Trunchbull personifies education at its most tyrannical.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Classics: A Review of Charade By Lauren Ennis


Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are two names that are synonymous with glamour, sophistication, and the very best in romantic comedy. While it would seem an obvious choice to cast the two, who shared similar improvisational acting styles and status as box-office favorites, together Hepburn and Grant only costarred in one film, 1963‘s cold-war thriller, Charade. While CIA agents, Nazi gold, and murder may be a far cry from the romantic comedies that both actors built their careers upon, the duo exude such elegance, wit, and chemistry throughout the film that cinema buffs can’t help regretting that they didn’t recapture the same magic in another collaboration. A prime example of cold-war suspense and Hepburn and Grant at their finest, Charade is a must-see for classic and modern film fans alike.

Audrey Hepburn: Acrtress, philantrophist...secret agent?!
The story begins as Regina, ‘Reggie’ Lampert meets debonair Peter Joshua during a ski trip. While the pair share obvious chemistry, any chance at romance is held at bay when he learns of her crumbling marriage. Upon returning home to Paris, she is stunned to learn that her husband was killed when an unknown assailant threw him from a train. It is then revealed that her husband was wanted by the US government for his part in the theft of two million dollars in confiscated Nazi gold bullion. Making matters worse, her husband’s accomplices return in pursuit of their share of the gold and will stop at nothing to get it. In the midst of this chaos Reggie enlists the aid of and embarks upon a romance with Peter, who possesses dangerous secrets of his own. The pair are then drawn into a web of theft, deception, and murder as they struggle to get to the gold before the thieves can.

Often referred to as ‘the best film that Hitchcock never made’, Charade has all the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller with an added bonus of romance and humor. The elaborate murders, Macguffin item that holds the key to the stolen gold, and final character reveal create a twisting plot that serves as a perfect nod to Hitchcock. Even the use of the director’s favorite leading man, Cary Grant, follows in the tradition of the ‘master of suspense’. What sets Charade apart, however, is the way in which the story refuses to take itself too seriously. Even in the midst of its most tense moments, the script still finds humor in the absurdity of the characters and the outlandish situations that they find themselves in. The spyjinks work so well in large part due to the light tone with which they are approached as everything from the bodies that continue to pile up to sparks that fly between Hepburn and Grant are viewed through a lens of dry humor. Through this humor, audiences can enjoy the ride without completely suspending their disbelief assured that both they and the characters are in on the joke.

Cold-war comedy
The film also outdoes Hitchcock in the sheer fun of its romance. While Hitchcock’s films are known for melodramatic portrayals of love at first sight, Reggie and Peter’s relationship progresses over the course of the film. The film also doesn’t shy away from love’s inevitable conflicts as its leads bicker and argue throughout their adventures. By showing a more gradual progression of a relationship and including such mundane details as lovers’ spats the film adds a level of authenticity to the romance, which viewers can see shades of their own relationships in. Finally, falling in love has rarely looked so outright fun as it does in Charade. Just like many offscreen couples, Peter and Reggie build their relationship on a foundation of laughter as they tease, banter and joke with one another every step of the way. Through Grant and Hepburn’s sparkling chemistry the relationship maintains a playful sexiness that avoids both the histrionics of many classics and the immaturity of many modern rom-coms. Suspenseful, sexy, and with a tongue firmly in cheek, Charade is a blend of cinema at its most entertaining.

The uniformly excellent cast weave a web of intrigue, suspense, and romance that will keep viewers guessing until the film’s final frame. James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass by turns tingle the spine and tickle the ribs as villains Tex, Scobie, and Gideon who would be far more formidable if only they could stop fighting amongst themselves. Walther Matthau infuses his CIA agent with dry humor, adding a level of humanity to what easily could have been a stock role. Even while surrounded by a talented cast Hepburn and Grant shine like the stars that they are. Grant strikes the ideal balance between sophistication and warmth in his role as Peter, leaving little wonder as to why Reggie falls for him even as she learns his many secrets and lies. Hepburn is nothing short of a delight as the well-meaning but scatter-brained Reggie, and proves that she can tackle drama and comedy with equal skill. The scenes that the pair share are some of the best in romantic comedy as they play with both gender and genre conventions as Hepburn aggressively pursues the much older and more worldly Grant, who in turn switches sides as often as he switches his ‘drip-dry’ suits.

Packed with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned viewer guessing, Charade is a vintage thrill ride that can still hold its own in the modern era of gritty filmmaking. Harkening back to an era in which suspenseful did not necessarily mean bleak, the film strikes a perfect balance between edge-of-your-seat drama and frothy romantic comedy. With all the thrills and romance of the greatest suspense films and plenty of laughs along the way Charade is a film that many a director wishes they had made.

Finally, a rom-com that's actually romantic and funny!

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.