Thursday, January 26, 2012

"On the Waterfront" a class struggle that still strikes a chord

Please welcome guest blogger, Jenny Lynn Wood. Her own blog can be found at this address. An impassioned movie lover, Jenny holds a Bachelor's Degree in Film Studies from the University of Colorado. You can also see her most recent work as a post-production crew member on "Mad Men" when it airs its fifth season this March.


BASIC INFO:
TITLE: "On the Waterfront"
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1954
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
STARS: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and introducing Eva Marie Saint
EDITOR: Gene Milford
AWARDS: Won 8 Academy Awards: Most Notably for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction 
BOX OFFICE: $9,600,000 (USA)
RUN TIME: 108 min.
RATING: Approved
VIEWING FORMAT: Netflix Streaming





SUMMARY:



Tony Malloy, an ex-prize fighting boxer, becomes a longshoreman who has family ties to the mob who controls the waterfront. When Terry is involved in the murder of an innocent man, he struggles to break free of the corruption controlling the docks while leading others to follow his cause.


WHY THIS IS THE FILM OF THE WEEK:


On The Waterfront is one of the most critically acclaimed movies in the history of cinema. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards in 1955, winning 8. It consistently ranks in the top 100 of all major film lists. 
This film remains universally relevant and the themes of injustice, plight of the common man, and the struggle for freedom remain key themes in cinema even today. This film resonates with everyone who watches it and this writer believes that this is the reason for its timelessness. 
It was also Eva Marie Saint’s debut feature film, which also garnered her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This began her illustrious career and helped secure a famous role in Hitchcock’s "Vertigo" in 1958. 


CRITIQUE:


Kazan’s tale of class struggle remains as relevant today as it did in 1955. Brando has been forever remembered for his portrayal of Terry Malloy, a young man trapped within a system of unfairness beyond his means of control. When Terry is involved in the death of an honest man, who tried to stand up to the mob, he begins to struggle within himself to find a way out. He becomes romantically involved with the victim’s sister Edie (Saint) and together, with the town priest, decide to stand up against the corrupt mob controlling the waterfront. 
This film is beautifully arranged in both its words and images. The stark black and white cinematography seeks to articulate the plight of the common man versus the indulgence of the mob bosses, who seek to live their lives without consequences. 
The performances in this film are what helps it to shine. This writer found the conflicted nature of Brando’s nuanced performance both impassioned for his plight, and apathetic to his circumstance. It is only with the insistent solidarity created by the community, that Terry is able to stand up against the mob that tried desperately to contain him.  
Kazan’s film will always remain a cornerstone of cinema, not only for its artistic merit but for its examination of struggle and captivity of industry that some still feel in this country today. 


MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10


Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Friday the 13th Part 2" the birth of a phenomenon

BASIC INFO:
TITLE: "Friday the 13th Part 2"
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1981
DIRECTOR: Steve Miner
STARS: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King
EDITOR: Susan E. Cunningham
AWARDS: N/A
BOX OFFICE: $21,722,776 (USA)
RUN TIME: 87 min.
RATING: R
VIEWING FORMAT: DVD

SUMMARY:
Five years after the murders committed by the late Mrs. Voorhees, a group of horny camp counselors start dying on the shores of Crystal Lake. Who is committing the murders, and how will they be stopped?

WHY THIS IS THE FILM OF THE WEEK:
Jason Voorhees is essentially, and arguably, the greatest of the 80's horror icons. His signature machete, hockey mask, and never-can-die attitude are known by people around the world, and often parodied, satirized, and copied. Many fans don't realize though, that "Friday the 13th" (1980) only featured a young version of the character, with the antagonist being his infamous mother. This sequel was the first to feature Jason as the main villain, and still did not feature his hockey mask. Jason himself was also just a troubled young man, and not the undead super-killer he turned into in later films in the series.

The character went on to star in nine more sequels, and one remake. He has been featured in magazines, comic books, and referenced in many popular forms of media (often spoofed on "The Simpsons"). The strange part, is that many of his trademarks came from sequels, as opposed to his original appearance. Much like Clint Eastwood's "Dirty" Harry Callahan did not gain much of his cult status until later years, Jason's legacy came from the longevity of the film series' career. The series, to date, has grossed over $876,000,000, out-earning such blockbuster series as "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), "Paranormal Activity" (2007), and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974).

One more thing that makes this series, and this film, important, is the fact that it really began to set the standard for what would become the "slasher" movie rules. Horny teenagers (also known as the "sin factor", where anyone seen naked on-screen or doing drugs, is later killed,), seclusion, initial warnings (which are ignored), and a masked killer.

CRITIQUE:
"Friday the 13th Part 2" is better than it ought to be. It is cliché, but in fairness, it created many clichés. It is gory, but not overly so. It is funny, but not in a distracting manner. Overall, this is a good, and fun, movie. It has little to offer non-slasher film fans, though many  have found this franchise's early entries appealing over the years. This has lead to a cult status for the film.

It is easy to see the age of the film, but it holds up well. What sticks out is the ending, where a psychological battle ensues before a physical one. Is Jason as heartless as he appears to be, or is he protecting his own secrets? It adds a layer to the character that makes it easier to enjoy his screen presence. Steve Miner stuck with directing the series for one more entry, then moved on to notable horror films "House" (1986), and "Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later" (1998). Horror fans, this is a must see. To everyone else, it is still not a waste of time, and ends up being quite enjoyable!

MY IMDb RATING:  7 out of 10


Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Broken Embraces" a graceful character study

BASIC INFO:
TITLE: "Broken Embraces"
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2009
DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar
STARS: Penélope Cruz, Luís Homar, Blanca Portillo
EDITOR: José Salcedo
AWARDS: Palme d'Or (Nomination)
BOX OFFICE: $5,009,119 (USA)
RUN TIME: 127 min.
RATING: R
VIEWING FORMAT: 35mm Film Print

SUMMARY:
After filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Homar) falls in love with his newest starlet (Cruz), who is married to the film's producer (José Luis Gómez), tragedy strikes. Turned blind, Blanco becomes a screenwriter known as Harry Caine, and tries to put his life back together with the help of his agent, and friend (Portillo).

WHY THIS IS THE FILM OF THE WEEK:
Almodóvar's film is one of his most recent releases, in a career spanning decades as one of the most influential filmmakers in the world. "Broken Embraces" takes his trademark character study approach to storytelling, and focuses it on those people surrounding the making a film in the 1990's. As with most of his films, critics loved it, and the international film community has praised it as well.

The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, in the year of its release. It also earned numerous nominations, internationally, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It also received an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Almodóvar is known for his strong female leads. This film focuses on a male protagonist though, surrounded by strong women. His struggles with success, want, and need are shown through metaphors of filmmaking and romance.

CRITIQUE:
This film is not as well known as some of the director's other works, but it still stands its ground as a contemporary classic in its own right. Almodóvar's homage to movies is beautiful (as is expected), and surprising. His focus on a male, surrounded by strong females kept the film accessible without sacrificing his vision and story. His combination of a romance story, with a thriller-style plot, keeps the film strong.


This film is not perfect, and is not something that would convince anyone to become an Almodóvar fan. It still gives a veteran fan of his work what they would like, while delivering a universal message, through great characters. If it sparks the interest of a curious filmgoer, it is worth a watch.

MY IMDb RATING:  7 out of 10