Movie Review (PAIN AND GLORY)

Pedro Almodovar’s new movie PAIN AND GLORY moved me deeply. Antonio Banderas turns in a solid performance as the main character, Salvador Mallo, a gay, successful writer and film director. Aging, chronic physical and emotional pain, lack of inspiration, and new-found substance abuse all act as catalysts for Salvador to come to terms with his past.

Early in the story, an old wound is opened for Salvador when a film of his from the 1980s has a special screening for the public. The star of that movie, Alberto Crespo (played by Asier Etxeandia), and he must deal with 32 years of estrangement in order to present a positive front to the viewing audience. This pushes pain-stricken Salvador to further reflect on past events while accepting smokeable heroin doses from Alberto, a long-time chaser of the dragon.

The narrative consists of an interweaving of the present-day with flashbacks from Salvador’s poverty-stricken childhood and, eventually, more recent past events. Penelope Cruz movingly plays Salvador’s devoted, beleaguered mother, Jacinta, whose husband relocates the family from a country village in Spain to a city (Madrid, I believe) with more economic opportunities. Nine-year-old Salvador (Asier Flores) is recruited to teach a handsome, illiterate young laborer and artist, Eduardo (Cesare Vicente), to read and write. As payment, Eduardo agrees to help fix up the Mallo family’s new home, a white-washed cave within catacombs from Medieval times. He awakens Salvador’s sexual desire, which is filmed in a gradually unfolding, tender way.

Seeing homoerotic desire so naturally paired with childhood innocence pierced my heart. Almodovar knocked it out of the park yet again for me. I’ve always enjoyed the films of his I’ve managed to see and this one did not disappoint. I imagine much of the screen play is autobiographical of Almodovar, who also wrote besides directed this gem (which I believe he usually does for his productions). Like Salvador in PAIN AND GLORY, I find myself a middle aged gay man reflecting on past events and the main themes of my life. I felt a heady mix of heartened, intrigued, and enraptured to see Almodovar present such introspection up on the big screen with much tenderness and compassion, peppered with humor and little homages to old Hollywood movies and their beautiful stars. Whether or not you, the reader, choose to see this lovely, contemplative movie, we should all take a cue from it and view ourselves and others with more open, compassionate hearts.

Mini Movie Review (HARRIET)

The movie HARRIET was truly one of heart and soul, in which Harriet Tubman in the 19th century actively freed hundreds of slaves after herself escaping from bondage in 1849. I liked how the story kept it personal via scenes of constant, up close human interactions interspersed with displays of Harriet’s inner life of deep faith and psychic ability. The latter element, very likely fictionalized, is nonetheless effective and believable here.

While in 5th grade some decades ago, I read about Ms. Tubman and watched an old black and white film on her life as a courageous abolitionist, starring Ruby Dee in the title role. With big shoes to fill, Cynthia Erivo is quite compelling in this new production about a historical figure long-deserving of more notoriety than she has yet received. It was wonderful to re-experience my decades-old feelings of deep intrigue, respect, and appreciation for this woman who called herself “Moses.” Given that she assisted many people across a river en-route to unfettered lives in an at least more promising land, the Old Testament name-title is perfect for her.

HARRIET constantly moved me to tears, with its straightforward narrative about overcoming incredible odds to achieve a basic human need and right for herself and others: freedom. We should all be so fortunate to have as clear and pure a purpose in life and unwavering determination to carry it out, no matter what the cost. I am grateful that this movie was made. I am grateful for Harriet Tubman.

Movie Review (THE LIGHTHOUSE)

THE LIGHTHOUSE oozes creepiness often and grimness all of the time. Even the seagulls are intrusive and ominous in this intentionally claustrophobic art house horror movie. It harkened me back to watching black and white Ingmar Bergman films in years past. Well, that plus what it may have been like if Mr. Bergman had produced something while on steady dosages of LSD and liquor after having had a few influential exchanges with, say, a young David Lynch. While not exactly fun to watch, I was visually intrigued by the cinematography and impressed with the acting by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

THE LIGHTHOUSE grows more hallucinatory as it progresses, largely shown from the perspective of actor Robert Pattinson’s character, young laborer Ephraim Winslow. Set in the 1890s on a small, stark island with a lighthouse, Winslow battles his guilty conscience, loneliness, and the cantankerous, manipulative aging lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Dafoe). As days pass and an ocean storm builds around them, the two men fall into increasingly raw, primal interactions with each other and their surroundings, akin to that in William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES, but often more bizarre. Heavy imbibing of liquor plays a part in all this.

The script was partly inspired by writer Herman Melville’s work and is filled with passages written by men who toiled on the high seas in the 19th century. I appreciated the mythological, Pagan folk elements throughout the film, such as a recurring, eery siren-mermaid (Valeriia Karaman) and references to ancient Greek sea gods Triton and Poseidon. Director and co-writer Robert Eggers does not shy away from the supernatural, cleverly threading it into the psychological, skillfully conveyed through Wake’s superstitiousness and Winslow’s increasing mental instability.

While comparisons of the tumultuous ocean and the often troubled human psyche have been written about and filmed time and again, THE LIGHTHOUSE does so with originality, thanks to the genius writing of Max and Robert Eggers, the latter who also brilliantly directs. The camerawork involves a blending of old techniques from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the screen aspect ratio an almost perfect square. We viewers are quickly led to feel boxed in as Wake and Winslow do. Initially, I could not quite always decipher what I was seeing on the screen, the landscape being filled with shadows among so much gray. On reflection, I think I was adjusting to Winslow’s dreary surroundings right along with him, the ocean and clouds often adding to the murkiness. From out of Winslow’s murky mind of memories, fears, and desires arise images, the ocean a perfect medium/reflecting pool for them. Or maybe the siren-mermaid is actually there? After all, the fearless, mysterious seagulls are real. Like Winslow, I sometimes briefly felt uncertain about what was supposed to be hallucination or dream vs. physical reality.

I do think THE LIGHTHOUSE will become a classic, joining the ranks of other cinematic masterpieces with a pared-down aesthetic to underscore existential angst and the human condition. Amidst the plethora of visual excess and distractions these days, sometimes it’s refreshing to watch a thoughtful, paradoxically stark yet full movie such as this, if only to remember I have a lot to be grateful for in my precious but ephemeral existence.

Mini Movie Review (MALEFICENT MISTRESS OF EVIL)

I thoroughly enjoyed MALEFICENT MISTRESS OF EVIL. She continues from the first movie (MALEFICENT) to represent the darkly beautiful Great Mother Goddess of Nature, who is, and has long been, misunderstood, feared, and persecuted. In this new film, Maleficent comes across her own kind, the Dark Fae. Not surprisingly, She is their inherent leader. These Fae are presented as fiercely beautiful, several ancient tribes confederated into one and living in hiding.

I personally know what it’s like to finally meet my “own kind,” others with whom I belong, namely Queer and Pagan folk, all of whom feel symbolically represented by the Dark Fae in this lovely movie. And so are Native Americans and other minorities, for that matter.

As long as there is such polarization between much of humanity and nature and ongoing in group/out group thinking and behaving, movies like this– among a myriad of other creative projects and actions in the world– will continue to need to be made.

Mini Movie Review (JOKER)

JOKER was an excellent movie, a powerful, often poignant case study of the making of a sociopath via repeated trauma and so much deprivation. I’ll be surprised if Joaquin Phoenix in the title role doesn’t get an Oscar nod. The backdrop of early 1980s excess juxtaposed with so much urban poverty and chaos, all portrayed through a very current lens of awareness and challenges, made for compelling social commentary. Seamy, rat-infested Gotham (New York) City is the perfect allegorical backdrop for the story. The “super” rats in the streets paralleled the parasitical super rich folks. This movie needed to be made. If you can stomach some very violent, personal moments, I highly recommend you see this film.

Mini Movie Review (JUDY)

Renee Zellweger was believably transformed in the movie JUDY, right down to getting the subject’s mannerisms and tone of voice right. An intimate, emotional production mostly filmed indoors or outside at night, it mainly focused on a portion of the last year of Ms. Garland’s life while she performed in London. I was quite moved in places, particularly in a scene where she visits with a gay male couple right around my and my husband’s ages, or a bit older. That hit home quite powerfully. The ending could have been more graceful and thought-out instead of like an abrupt emotional hammer.  And I wish there were a bit more exposition/flashbacks of the talented singer’s childhood and young adult years, though what was shown was interesting. I left the theater wanting more, but generally impressed with what I got.

Mini Movie Review (DOWNTON ABBEY)

The new movie DOWNTON ABBEY was splendid and sumptuous– from costumes, sets and settings, to a nimble script filled with so many interwoven characters, all very well-acted. There was something in it for just about every white person, given it was noticeably devoid of any people of color.

Dame Maggie Smith’s cutting remarks of wit and her frequent foil played by Penelope Wilton were delightful.  I’ve always found it fun to watch two elegant women go at it with a battle of words.

Flawed/limited as it was, the film was a well-done period piece I plan to see again, only next time with my husband. Even two gay men had some warm, tender romance in this lovely production. I followed along just fine, and I haven’t even watched any of the multi-season TV series. I left the theater in heart-felt tears, pleasantly surprised, and feeling generally satisfied.