Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guest Blog: ON THE WATERFRONT: Survival against all odds

My review for ON THE WATERFRONT, which I guest blogged on

TITLE: On The Waterfront 
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
STARS: Marlon Brando, Karl Madden, 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 Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction
BOX OFFICE: $910,000
RUN TIME: 108 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: Netflix Streaming

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

On The Waterfront is one of the most critically acclaimed movie 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 today. This film resonated with everyone who watches it and I believe is the reason for its timelessness.

Kazan's tale of class struggle remains as relevant today as it did in 1955. Brando has been forever remmebered for his portrayal of Terry Malloy, a young man trapped with a system of unfairness beyond his means of control. When Terry is involed 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 cbecomes romantically involved with the victim's sister Edie, Eva Marie Saint, and together, with the town priest, decide to stand up against the corrupted 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 acting performances in this film are what helps it to shine. I 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 agains the mob that tired desperately to contain him.

Kazan's fim will always remain of cornerstone of cinema, not only for its artistic merit but for its examination of struggle and captivity of industry that we still feel in this country today. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Refugee comes from the french word refugier, which literally means to take shelter. Shelter is hard to come by in the new film by Angelina Jolie, her debut effort as a director. This film explores the nature of becoming a refugee in your own homeland, being forced to flee for safety while watching friends turn into murderous foes.

Angelina's film begins with an image of Sarajevo from above, she allows us access to her characters world from a perched view, watching the landscape create a narrative of it's own. While we get settled inside the screen, into the lush landscape, we are pulled into her created reality by the words that appear on the screen. Jolie explains that the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was home to some of the most ethnically diverse populations that ever co-existed. Croatians, Serbians, Muslims and Yugoslavs all shared this land, spoke the same language, and embraced cultural differences. In 1980, when the Communist Leader of Yugoslavia, Marshall Josip Broz Tito, died the Serbians began to witness the simultaneous collapse of Communist governments across Eastern Europe. This collapse bolstered the Serbian nationalist movement to seek power across the Republic while splintering Yugoslavia's other republics to assert their independence.

The film explores the early origins of the conflict and it's ultimate descent into madness. We first met Ajla (Zana Marjanoić) standing in front of a painting, a face. She shares her small apartment in Sarajevo with her sister, Lejla (Vanesa Glodio) and newborn baby. We learn that Ajla has come back to Bosnia to help her sister care for the little one. The moment of calm and happiness erupts in the next scene when Ajla mets her lover, Danijel (Gornan Kostić), at the neighborhood bar. One minute they are dancing and whispering sweet nothings we never hear and, the next, a bomb explodes and the entire building collapses into smoke. The screen shuts to black and all we hear are the sounds of terror. This is what we are left with before the world falls a part.

Several months later, bombs alert a sleeping Ajla and Lejla to the onslaught of terror that has yet to grace their doorstep. The next morning, their apartment building is taken over by the Serbian Army. Everyone is immediately evacuated, forced to be paraded outside in the freezing weather. The men and boys are scrambled together and are forced to the side of the apartment building, Jolie doesn't allow us access to their slaughter but instead lets us witness the trauma on the faces of their widows left behind. The soliders then precede to pick out some of the younger women from the crowd left standing, pushing them all towards a van, the destination unknown, while the others stand aside to watch. Ajla is selected and the separation from her sister begins the first of many political, physical and emotional schisms throughout this film.

The horror that enfolds in the center section of Jolie's film is not for the fient of heart. Most of the story follows Ajla in a Serbian Army camp, where the women are used as sexual toys and house maids. They live in constant fear of repetitious rape and several of the women speak of their wish to die rather than endure the mental and physical deterioration. Jolie is very retrained in her cinematic license and mostly chooses to use sound and dialogue as vehicles for experiencing pain. One scene in particular stood out to me, mostly because of the subtlety of action. The scene takes place in the middle of the night, the camera sits to the right of Ajla, wide awake and shaking. From behind her, she hears a solider enter their sleeping quarters as he takes one of the women out of her bed and carries her away. The only sounds are Ajla breathing, the man's boots, and the woman struggling in the background. Jolie, refrains from calling melodrama to the moment of sheer terror, instead allowing us to be a silent witness along with her protagonist.

This film follows the four year conflict in it's entirety. Jolie sets out to explore the nature of war on all kinds of relationships; between lovers, friends, relatives, and strangers. Over the course of the conflict, over 100,000 people were killed, over 2 million were displaced from their homes, and between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped, mostly while being held in captivity. Over four years, over 360 shells were fired every day and citizens became caged in their own homes with fear of sniper fire outside the walls of safety.  It was after the Bosnian conflict that the UN officially ruled that raped was a crime against humanity, on it's own accord. Jolie wants these issues to forefront her film. She wants her audience to leave the theater having learned something, She forces, repeatedly , the issues of international amnesia and insists that all conflicts that involve violations of human rights are international crises. She insists that we must sit up and pay attention. This is a tall order but is something that haunts every corner of her film; in television sets, newspapers, and radio reports which litter the background.

Zana Marjanoić, is stunning as Ajla. Her journey through this film is something that astounded me. I don't want to illuminate on the plot of the film, as I think the audience needs to experience it for themselves. Jolie's command of space and the world in which her characters inhabit is something that should be praised. She brings to life a beautiful story of love, loss, depravity, and the silver lining that sustained hope provides. This film demands to be seen.

 Ajla at the window, she spends much of her time in the camp looking out her window

 Hearing the men in the courtyard below allows her outside access through her window

 Danjiel and Ajla, the first time they meet again in the camp

 Jolie at the helm

 Ajla and Lejla watches the soliders coming into town 

 The lovers remain separated by differences but secretly long to be together

 A firing squad 

 The world the captured women inhabit at the Army Camp

 Using the women as shields in a fight against the resistance

 Trying to escape

Jolie at the helm


This weekend I attended an Almodóvar double feature at the New Beverly, first up was his new psychological horror film entitled THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011), followed by his last release BROKEN EMBRACES (2009).

I really wanted to put together a blog post on THE SKIN I LIVE IN but couldn't find the words to write about the film without giving away any details of the plot, which I ardently believe you need to see to believe. So I am sending you to the New York Times review of this film, written by Manohola Dargis, who eloquently describes the interworking of this film without spoiling its intricate plot.

This film is exquisitely pieced together with the artful touch of a master director. Everything about this film breathes new life into a genre built on pornographic slaying. Banderas and Almodóvar create a twisted fantasy world for Robert Ledgard to live and obsess in perfect isolation. Elena Anaya, who masterfully designed her character Vera, will leave you breathless by the film's end.

Feel Something: BEGINNERS

Beginners, a film by writer/director Mike Mills, tells the real life story of his father, a man that was married to the same woman for over forty years and shortly after her death, came out at the age of 75. He was only out for five short years (shortly after coming out he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer) but instantly grabbed ahold of his unclaimed years and voraciously became the man he always wanted to be. 

Beginners stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, Christopher Plummer as Hal, Cosmo the dog as Arthur, Mélanie Laurent as Anna, Goran Visnjic as Andy and Mary Page Keller as Georgia . This film is a singular portrait of an ensemble, which I know sounds counter intuitive, but each carefully created personality follows its own path in this film. Each character learns what it means to be comfortable in their own skin and a story that is essential about the experience of one man becomes something universal, it becomes a story we can all tell. 

Mills creates a kaleidoscope of images, words, drawings, and feelings to tell a deeply personal story of the life of his father without bringing his own sentimentality to the table. Hal, a fictional realization of Mills father, truly understands that life culminates in finding out who we are and embracing every aspect of its unexpected twists and turns. The narrative intertwines multiple spaces in time, both before and after the death of Hal. Olivier and his father's dog, Arthur, are the only two characters that inhabit both spaces, allowing the audience a narrative guide through the film. Olivier seems lost in his world, living in an blank space, free from interaction and mistakes. Next to the vibrant image of Hal and the shy yet hungry for experience Anna, Olivier feels outside the narrative space. He seems to move through the film like an observer until he is forced to bloom. The experiences Olivier shares with his father in the last few years of his life inspire something fierce in Olivier's bland existence. His father's relentless search for happiness and love is the launching pad for Oliver's encounter with Anna. 

Anna and Olivier's love story is the perfect mirror to Hal and Andy, whose love transcends traditional boundaries and limitations. Hal and Andy embody an imperfect yet forgiving and tender love that blooms despite life's harsh realities, cancer and imminent death. They fall in love precisely because their love is a love worth taking a leap for. Having been the insider in Hal's life, Olivier utilizes his father's courage to venture down an unknown and formerly hard path to love. Anna is both a believer in magic and the intangible and yet, like Olivier, is tied firmly to the sad reality of empty hotel rooms and lost families. She and Olivier find a way to embrace their new relationship and learn to weather their own storms. 

Although, Beginners doesn't offer a recipe for living, it does encourage the audience to embrace the unknown, to wake up everyday and remember why we are living. This film asks that you FEEL, and feel it, anything and everything, with a childish enthusiasm. We are all Beginners, at life, at love, at death, at living. This film's simple request is that we find comfort in that. 

 Olivier and Hal having a heart to heart at the dog park
 The beginnings of Anna's falling for Olivier
 Walking through Eylsian Park in Los Angeles
 Escapades in the Biltmore Hotel suite that serves as Anna's home
Arthur and Olivier, seeking some companionship

There is also an amazing array of videos, clips, and the trailer for the film on the Focus Features website. Mike Mills also has a blog link on that same site.