Movie Review (STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER)

I finally saw STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. I thought it was actually pretty good, because the movie was simply a lot of fun. The storyline had some pat, thrown-together moments to it, but it remained easy to follow. And some of the writing was corny. But, I didn’t go see this film expecting genius writing or clever and consistent plot (which wasn’t always there in this production). I went for the fun, impressive spectacle and the sentimentality. I came away satisfied over having watched an entertaining, often cute, splashy movie.

I was impressed with how the late Carrie Fisher as Leia Morgana was able to be included into the story as much as she was. I imagine her image was occasionally CGI in places, this technique being ever more seamlessly honed into seeming just like live, on-screen actors/entities. (There was also some impressive, brief CGI of a young Luke Skywalker and Leia.) Apparently, her scenes were drawn from previously un-released footage for THE FORCE AWAKENS and THE LAST JEDI. From what I could tell with my amateur eye, they were all effectively edited into this film, and then extended out as needed via using a double for over-the-shoulder shots. The writers must have had to consciously keep Fisher’s limited footage in mind the whole time they created the script for this final installment to the series.

I have to say, John Boyega as Finn has grown into quite the handsome young man since his appearance in THE LAST JEDI. He and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) both pleasantly lit up the screen (and quickened my beating heart), especially every time they were in-frame together.

Overall, I think THE RISE OF SKYWALKER was worth seeing in the theater. I watched it in Dolby, which made the music and sound effects especially engrossing and powerful. I came away feeling like I had just enjoyed a very long attraction at Disneyland. And since this is a Disney production, that studio seems to have accomplished exactly what it set out to do: take us viewers on a fun fantasy ride.

Movie Review (ARRIVAL)

I watched the movie ARRIVAL (from 2016) last night, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. What a fascinating premise: A linguist assists the U.S. military to communicate with highly advanced alien visitors. I particularly enjoyed the weird atmosphere and vibe within the aliens’ spacecraft. Amy Adams is very believable as a grieving, open-minded yet freaked out professor trying to peacefully connect with enormous heptopod (seven-legged, seven-digited) beings from another world. The claustrophobic environments of the spacecraft and the military tents for much of the film lend an immediacy to the narrative. It also made me, the viewer, more readily able to empathize with Dr. Banks (Adams). Her past becomes interwoven into the story, making the drama a very personal one. The way time gets looped is purposefully confusing and intriguing. The primary shape of the circle is a key element in the story, symbolizing interconnection, the foundation of language, nonlinear aspects of time and space, and probably other things. Very clever. There is a lot to ponder in this contemplative film.

I appreciated the ultimate message of ARRIVAL that inter-cooperation among people and nations is vital in order to save humanity and the planet. I also valued the movie’s other main message: from one’s personal pain can come deep learning and even success. My hope is that it does not take an alien race catalyzing world peace to finally occur. But, I’m certainly open to this if that’s what it will require to accomplish such a dream. In any case, I enjoyed watching this thought-provoking, introspective, hope-inspiring movie. If you like this sort of screenplay, I recommend you see ARRIVAL.

Movie Review (BOMBSHELL)

I am not a close follower of any official news outlets, and I despise the slant of Fox News, but the movie BOMBSHELL intrigued me from start to finish.

Based quite loosely on actual events leading up to and surrounding the scandalous downfall of Fox News’ sexist, paranoid CEO Roger Ailes during the U.S. presidential election cycle in 2016, the movie focuses on three blonde women employees of Fox. Charlize Theron plays well-known, controversial top tier anchor Megyn Kelly so believably that I initially could not recognize the actress the first few times I watched a preview of BOMBSHELL. Nicole Kidman is the shrewd, risk-taking Gretchen Carlson, a middle aged show host whose star is fading, in no small part because of her overt concern for gender equality in the cut throat corporate broadcasting business. Well, that combined with her desperate need to keep her hard-won job status and not be relegated to irrelevance and unemployment. She spearheads what eventually becomes an avalanche of sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Fox’s founder Ailes, who is powerfully portrayed by John Lithgow. Margot Robbie as young and ambitious Kayla Pospisil is the third woman star in this drama, a fictionalized amalgam of associate producers for the conservative-focused news network. The rest of the cast, including Kate McKinnon as a closeted lesbian and secretly Democrat-identifying news producer, are terrific. Everyone was sharp and effective in their look and delivery, sometimes humorously so. An over-the-top, big-lipped Richard Kind as corporate attorney and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani comes to mind. But, there are others, such as the smug, queen bee Beth, played by Connie Britton, wife of the corpulent, ultra creepy Roger Ailes. And then there’s the ever-impressive Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, Ailes’ salty and jaded legal counsel. Entertainment abounds.

Due to the large ensemble cast of real life characters, the periodic identification of each of them via quick on-screen titling was helpful for keeping track of who is who while also underscoring the film’s genre of docudrama. We viewers are smoothly moved along at a brisk clip from studio and office, place to place as if we too are right behind the camera. This all lends an intimacy and immediacy to a narrative about such public figures and issues.

The toxic environment of the Fox News network comes across as no less fascinating than an age-old unfolding of power struggles between a self-indulgent king and his nobles. On the surface, I found nobody to be particularly sympathetic in the movie, except for McKinnon as the lesbian news producer Jess Carr. She seems quite genuine right away, cynically and sadly compromising her principles to survive. Everyone else is also white but even more privileged, with the women competitively fighting by rules set by men in a patriarchal industry and culture. This is not at all a story about the 98%– i.e., most of us, including those of color and/or non-cis-genderedness or queerness (with Jess Carr being a closeted, token exception), and certainly all those who earn far less than the characters in BOMBSHELL do. Rather, it’s a peek into an emotionally and existentially dangerous world of politically and economically powerful people, all living within an ethos of self-centeredness and opportunism that I find quite foreign, yet is all too sadly real. To varying degrees, the three women stars grow increasingly more human and evolved, allowing for some sympathy and even empathy to actually develop within us viewers. This attests to the production’s decent, well-paced writing (by Charles Randolph), good directing (by Jay Roach), and solid acting.

The sociological and historical ramifications in BOMBSHELL are there to be found for the more discerning viewer. British actor Malcolm McDowall as Rupert Murdoch, billionaire owner of Fox News, felt to me like a colonialist or emperor coming from the “Motherland” to straighten out his large interests, or tribute country, in the “New World.” Of course, this is only one interpretation one can derive from that short segment of the movie. In part, this drama is a modern American allegory about the world of male rulers and their vassals, even though actual feudal times are supposedly long over (yeah, I’m not so sure about that). Looming in the background of the story is Trump, the up-and-coming petty tyrant “king,” cut from the same cloth as the fading, temperamental Ailes. However, a major, refreshing element is that the film is also about women pushing hard against the archaic sexual expectations, norms, and boundaries imposed on them by these very same men. The good fight goes on.

The movie evoked a nuanced response in me, one of hope for much-needed changes to finally happen for women in the workplace in modern society on one hand while also reminding me that, often, it can be like musical chairs. Out goes one old white patriarch to be replaced by yet another. This is how it’s been for millennia, no matter the time, setting, or governmental structure of a society. However, social movements, such as for women’s empowerment, do make waves, which slowly ebb and flow forward for the better, with BOMBSHELL ultimately being a product of artistic expression out of those very current and concerted, well-meaning efforts.

Movie Review (A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD)

Having recently seen last year’s documentary on Fred Rogers, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, I was primed to view more about this American icon who lovingly affirmed me during my often troubled childhood. I had some initial reservations about Tom Hanks playing the main character in the movie A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. During the opening scene, he seemed like an impostor– for about five minutes. This sense soon melted away as I witnessed the skilled actor so effectively relay the mannerisms and facial expressions of someone I felt I’ve known since I was three or four years old, when I regularly watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD.

Inspired by actual events, the movie takes place in 1998, during which cynical investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is assigned to interview Fred Rogers for his employer, the magazine ESQUIRE. Preoccupied with estrangement from his alcohol-abusing father and used to writing sensational exposes, Lloyd reluctantly accepts what he feels is a “fluff” project on a modern “hero.” What follows is nothing short of life-changing and poignant for Lloyd and those around him. He experiences being the subject as much as the interviewer. A deep relationship develops between him and Rogers.

Through Fred Rogers’s trademark soft-spoken voice, steady eye contact, small silences, and genuine interest in whoever he was talking with, Tom Hanks embodies this perpetually open-hearted man who touched so many lives. I felt myself buoyed along in an encompassing calm warmth, which often brought tears to my eyes. As I suspected there would be, an accompanying wistfulness arose as I recalled feeling this warm calm each time while watching Mister Rogers’s half hour show so long ago. One particularly succinct and powerful scene (among many) in the movie evoked these nuanced emotions so palpably. After dealing poorly with a family crisis, Lloyd goes with Mister Rogers to a restaurant for lunch. Fred asks the journalist to sit in silence with him for one minute while thinking of those who have “loved you into being.” The other patrons stop eating and talking, joining the two men in this quiet moment. The camera pans across the room, showing contemplative faces, including that of Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, who apparently was glad to lend her approving presence in this project. I also participated, thinking of my parents, grandmother, sister, and husband until the minute was up. I was willing to go longer.

The truth for me is that I often felt wistful at the end of an episode of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. Undivided, loving attention paired with music and creative, always understandable, imaginings (such as talking puppets) are a heady, soothing mix. Every time he was on-screen, Tom Hanks tapped right into that unique, genuine soothing presence of Fred Rogers, leaving me wanting it to never end, or at least not for a good while.

I think anyone who grew up watching Mister Rogers’s wonderful children’s show will likely come away feeling moved, possibly even inspired, after viewing A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Personally, I’m now inspired to be more attentive to the moment, such as the one I’ll happen to be sharing with the next client sitting in my office. But, also, I am now more aware of the priceless moments with members of my family, blood and chosen. It is rare for me that a feature film is so positively affecting. Perhaps it will even be so for those who did not watch Fred Rogers in their childhood and are introduced to him through this screen drama, which comes across as nothing short of a labor of love.

Movie Review (KNIVES OUT)

KNIVES OUT was a fun diversion for me from dealing further with a cold, snow-filled day. A mystery and comedy hybrid movie, its ensemble cast delivered both laughs and intrigue, greatly assisted by a well-written script and some interesting cinematography, specifically of the mansion and its surrounding property, where much of the story transpires. The opening scene displays the ominous house, itself a main character, with two large dogs running along the grounds. This set-up is akin to imagery on DARK SHADOWS, a supernatural soap opera TV show produced from 1966 to 1971. From this exterior shot, we’re drawn inside to abrupt, melodramatic activity of its occupants. The screen narrative’s overall tone is set.

August Canadian actor Christopher Plummer plays murder victim Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy, set-in-his-ways, old writer of mystery novels. Not surprisingly, his grown children and in-laws resent him yet rely on his financial largesse, resulting in a handful of suspects upon Thrombey’s sudden death.

The author’s mansion is filled with what looked to me like papier-mache caricature figures posed in assorted dramatic tableaux. Additionally, books and other memorabilia abound, including a web-like, circular hanging display of knives. I found the overall aesthetic harkening me back to the Mystery section of any number of dusty used bookstores, their shelves filled with faded, descriptive paperbacks from the 1960s and ’70s. Such places evoke for me feelings of wistfulness, gloom, intrigue, and amusement. This nuanced reaction is what the movie seems to pull for, with extra fun added in for good measure.

Cuban actress Ana de Armas plays the ingenue Marta Cabrera, Thrombey’s private nurse, who finds herself caught up in the middle of the family and crime drama.
She is believably earnest and honest compared to Thrombey’s daughter, son, in-laws, and grandchildren. These all chew the scenery to varying degrees, in part determined by on-screen time each is allowed. I had difficulty deciding who my favorite drama queen was amongst the lot. However, Toni Collette as a New-Age, health-minded daughter-in-law and Jamie Lee Curtis as a dry, sarcastic, bullish daughter stood out for me among the crowd. I laughed at each of the two’s delivery right away. Coming in as a close second to these would be K Callan, who portrays Thrombey’s very elderly mother Greatnana Wanetta. She hardly has any lines, but her shifting facial expressions indicating an inner vacancy to jadedness and back again are amusingly impressive, their timing perfect.

British actor Daniel Craig as private investigator Benoit Blanc goes over-the-top with his thick Southern accent throughout the movie. Clearly, he’s enjoying himself in the role, I’m sure a nice break from playing an over-pumped, testosterone-filled James Bond.

Writer and director Rian Johnson surely had a lot to draw from for inspiration, Agatha Christie being a main source, no doubt. He self-consciously includes clips of an old TV show (MURDER SHE WROTE) and some on-line/streaming mystery series to remind the audience this is very much a murder drama unfolding on screen. A reference to old visual technology (VHS) paired with an aged security guard (character actor M. Emmet Walsh, especially prominent in the 1970s and ’80s) who attempts to show others its usefulness among the gathering clues is a clever plot device. This is also yet another display of old media mixing with new, leading to a film that’s both recycled yet tweaked, updated. The sense of ongoing insider fun and humor, coupled with a steady honoring of an old genre, was not missed on me. Factoring all this in with ornate sets and much scene-stealing, the end result is a movie of thoughtful, high camp.

I found the plot sufficiently intriguing but admittedly secondary to all the colorful characters and snappy dialogue. The script deftly manages to balance between a very contemporary sensibility and an older one from the 1960s, early ’70s, and ’80s. For example, on one hand, there is much cell phone texting and the very current, thorny political discourse about Latinx immigrants is explored. On the other, the main setting, past media references, and long-established genre lend a very retro look and feel to the production overall.

The age-range of the characters in KNIVES OUT is about sixteen to over a hundred years old. Clearly, this movie tries to capture a wide audience as much as possible. How successful it is in actually doing so remains to be seen.  My local theater has reported a “pretty good” box office draw for its first weekend. I’m not sure if there is enough there for Millennials to connect with, though one particularly mindful and well-educated associate of mine, aged twenty-seven, did enjoy the movie. In any case, I certainly did.

Movie Review (WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?)

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (released in 2018) is a documentary about the power of unconditional love. The vehicle of this precious attribute was the multi-talented Fred Rogers. I am so grateful I got to watch Mr. Rogers on public television through much of my childhood, but especially from ages three/four to five-and-a-half. I realized while watching this movie last night that his loving presence combined with that of my maternal grandmother are what kept me going with a sense of hope and feeling loved through hard times, namely my parents divorcing and the fall-out of that over a period of years.

The movie is comprised of footage from the long-running television show MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, alternating with interview moments of him, his wife, and a handful of associates who worked with Fred on the series, which ran a record 31 seasons, ending in December of 2000. His son, a sister-in-law, and some of the show’s former guests (or proxies for them) are interviewed as well, such as the parents of a severely physically challenged boy who starred in an episode. The way everyone spoke of Mr. Rogers affirmed his genuineness of being warm, loving, and astute about the human condition. An ordained Presbyterian minister also educated in child development by training, Fred Rogers lived his Christianity the way I understand that particular faith should be lived: love everyone as they are, always. Even his own son, who appears in the film, speaks kindly about the man.

There is some exposition about Fred Rogers’s upbringing and background, which was wealthy and privileged but lonely. A heavy-set, soft-spoken, and often sickly child, he was bullied yet left alone with his grief. While often sick in bed with an ailment, such as scarlet fever, Fred’s imagination made his bed covers a landscape of characters, his legs mountains or hills. Some simple but lovely animation created expressly for the movie fills in this part of the narrative.

The wealth of creative imagination Fred Rogers expressed made his core message of love and let live vibrant and relatable. His Neighborhood of Make Believe, a room of puppets mostly voiced and hand-held by Mr. Rogers, was basically a microcosm of the world at large. There, he allegorically grappled with social and personal issues, such as resistance to socio-economic change, the pain of war, racism, divorce, low self esteem, etc.

He also addressed these challenging concerns as himself in his studio “home.”  The episode of Mr. Rogers cooling his feet off in a plastic wading pool along with Officer Clemmons, an African American policeman (played by singer and actor Francois Clemmons), still moves me to this day. At the time of filming this scene in early 1969, black people were continuing to be discriminated against for using swimming pools shared by whites. The actual Francois looks into the camera and tearfully explains how Fred was a surrogate father for him, his own dad and stepfather being unavailable/unconnected while he was growing up. Like me, Francois Clemmons is an out gay man, which Fred knew about and accepted. My child intuition was affirmed; he truly did like me just the way I am.

I am heartened that this documentary was made and that a dramatization (A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD) about Fred Rogers has soon followed. His legacy is invaluable, a tenderly expressed candor, understanding of, and caring for children and overall humanity that rises to the level of evolvedness many would equate with sainthood or that of a bodhisattva. His ever-gentle voice– spoken and in song– and frequent piano playing relayed love rarely heard and felt so deeply and broadly from one person. I know because I myself directly benefitted from them.

Since Fred Rogers’s death in 2003, I am not aware of a person who has stepped into his shoes on television or online, someone to mitigate for children, especially, the onslaught of over-stimulating imagery and cacophony of words in the media. He was a grounding, soothing voice of calm and inherent goodness that the world continues to so badly need. At least there are ongoing moving images of Mister Rogers to watch, listen to, and pass on to today’s children. And therein lies some comfort.

Movie Review (THE GOOD LIAR)

Veteran British thespians Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are their usual charming and talented selves in the generally predictable, formulaic deception and revenge movie THE GOOD LIAR. The only reason I went to see this new release is because I’m a fan of the two stars. I have no idea what McKellen and Mirren were each thinking when they signed onto being in this pedestrian screenplay, other than they’d have fun working together for old time’s sake. I suspect the two are good friends in real life.

I admit to somewhat enjoying watching the cat and mouse dynamic between an elderly con man with a shady past (McKellen) and his latest target (Mirren), a recent widow left with a modest yet substantial fortune. However, I kept waiting for the intrigue to build more, have more twists and turns, instead of plateauing by mid-story and then heavily relying on narrated flashback by the end. And going back to Nazi Germany as a main source of evil in the film reminded me of campy TV shows from the 1960s, such as MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, etc.– so old hat/formulaic. I wonder if this production would have felt fresher if it were made at least forty years ago?

Perhaps I am simply jaded with age whereby I’ve seen so many of the same plots played out in movies and TV shows over the years. But, I can’t shake the sense that the drama lacked emotional intensity, even though McKellen and Mirren brought their natural talents to such a lackluster script. There is only so much one can do with blase material no matter how skilled you are.

Movie Review (VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS)

Easy access to free movies leads to some serious indulging for me. Last night, I watched VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (from 2017), a monster budget sci-fi movie independently produced via private funds and crowd sourcing by a French husband and wife team, Luc Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla. I found a lot of the visuals to be what a dear friend of mine calls “chop suey,” i.e., a big, busy mess. Put another way, much of the overly-bright and frenetic CGI imagery made me think of wads of multi-hued Day-Glo bubblegum getting spat out simultaneously from the mouths of hundreds of small children.

The movie’s script and character development left a lot to be desired. Taking place just over four hundred years in the future, the narrative focuses on a rather two-dimensional pair of government agents serving the United Human Federation. The Federation’s base is a massive city in space, Alpha (originally the much smaller International Space Station), populated with millions of sentient, interdependent species from thousands of planets.

Engaging in a cliche-loaded back-and-forth, an annoyingly cocky Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) spends seemingly every spare moment trying to convince his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), to marry him. The two are assigned to protect Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) as part of a plan to investigate and solve the problem of a mysterious, toxic force inhabiting the core of Alpha. Frankly, the plot often felt secondary, drowned out by so much visual cacophony. I can’t remember the last time I saw something so over-produced as this screen drama is– although AQUAMAN came very close.

That all said, I found the race of peace-loving Pearl people interesting and beautiful, even if they did seem a bit copied from James Cameron’s 2009 movie AVATAR. Whenever any of them were on-screen, there were actually characters for me to like and care about. And Barbados born singer Rihanna creatively danced as a shape-changing, out-fit switching alien in a particularly entertaining scene.

The movie’s ultimate message of peace and reconciliation is a good one. This is semi-believably played out between a villainous Commander Filitt (Owen), who made me think of any number of corrupt Republican politicians in DC, and the sympathetic Pearl people, with perpetual adolescents Valerian and Laureline serving as mediators and saviors. Obviously, these two are meant to appeal to video gaming viewers under twenty-five (or even younger), the primary target demographic for this production. As a middle-aged non-video gamer, I was left to connect with whoever and whatever else showed up along the way in this big piece of junk food cinema, if you can accurately call this “cinema.” And that’s fine with me. I shamelessly admit to not completely outgrowing such trashy fun now and then, particularly since I can see it for free.

Movie Review (LITTLE ASHES)

Screen darling Robert Pattinson does it up delightfully as a young, dramatic Salvador Dali in the movie LITTLE ASHES (2008). Centering on a group of young creative geniuses in 1920s and 30s Spain, this cinematic gem was inspired by Dali’s end-of-life recollections of his university days in Madrid. Javier Beltran as Federico Garcia Lorca and Matthew McNulty as Luis Bunuel each smolder on screen, especially Beltran. I always imagined Lorca as brooding and darkly sensual and Beltran is lusciously all that. The chemistry between Lorca, Dali, and Bunuel is electric– intensified by the Roman Catholic-imposed culture of sexual repression in which they lived, painted, wrote, and made films. Within the universe of this fictional screenplay, based on some actual events, it becomes evident that these beautiful men’s passion for each other runs deep into orgiastic fantasy territory. A love triangle develops when the younger Dali arrives on the scene, disrupting a pleasant, underlying tension between close friends Lorca and Bunuel. Homophobia informed by self-hatred plus jealousy consumes a left out feeling Bunuel (McNulty), which is painful yet believable to watch.

Lorca and Dali enter a tender romance, becoming each other’s inspirational muses for a time. The world soon seems to cradle them in one continuous 3D painting and rhythmic poem. A few particularly exquisite scenes had me both smiling and tearing up, such as when Lorca strokes a contented Dali’s hair while reciting poetry to him as the two lounge on a cliff above the ocean. This made me think of a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Waterhouse, only with men in it instead of a mermaid. Later, they swim together under a full moon, clearly blissed out with life and each other. While this imagery may sound cliche/overused, it is actually fresh and effective in the movie, thanks to such artistically compelling filming, writing, and acting.

The true tragedy of Lorca is honored here in LITTLE ASHES. As I had heard and briefly read in my youth, he was a poet of deep compassion, courage, and integrity cut down so young (aged 38). We are again living in a time and place where telling the truth and resisting greed and oppression are increasingly dangerous but in urgent need of doing.

On the other side of the coin, Pattinson’s wide-eyed Dali is self-absorbed, materialistic, and sexually repressed, albeit talented and entertaining. He is an embodiment of hyper consumerism and a number of today’s public figures who we should best not fully emulate or obey.

I didn’t know what to expect from LITTLE ASHES and was pleasantly surprised and deeply moved in places. I was left wanting more, such as more scenes of the men dancing together (to thrilling period music) instead of sublimating so much of their actual longings through dancing and sexing with women. But, I remind myself that I am meant to feel that way, just as the men in the movie felt…all the time. And then I remember how grateful I am for my relative, hard-won freedom to at least live openly with another man, which no gay or bisexual men could do in early and mid twentieth century Spain.

Tender, genius men creating great art and loving each other, however awkwardly, makes for terrific cinema in LITTLE ASHES. I think I just watched a classic.

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.