Movie Review ~ Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)


The Facts
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Synopsis: A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano, Kiti Mánver, Nora Navas

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has come to be associated with bright, bold, adventurous films that pushed boundaries and buttons with the kind of glee only someone with a true love of cinema could get away with.  He’s a lot like Quentin Tarantino in that he clearly has a deep respect for movies and the filmmaking process and treats each of his pictures as a work of art, carefully constructing them to be just so.  You know when a new Almodóvar film comes to the screen that it’s the result of a considerable amount of ideas and always with a piece of the director himself obviously (or not so obviously) pinned within.

In Almodóvar’s newest work, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) the Oscar-winning director turns in his most personal work yet, a thinly veiled autobiographical exploration of a man celebrated for his directorial achievements now facing a decline in success and ambition.  Looking back at his childhood during the 1960s, his young adult life in the 1980s, and then in the present as he reconnects with people from his past he has unresolved issues with, the movie isn’t strictly a recounting of Almodóvar’s life but from what I gather it hews fairly close to what we knew of his trajectory.

As his greatest film is being re-released on the eve of its 30th anniversary, Spanish director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, The 33) is drawn to get back in touch with the star of that film who he hasn’t spoken to since their movie was first in theaters.  Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) is reluctant at first to welcome Salvador back into his life but soon the men are speaking like old friends with Alberto even introducing Salvador to heroin which he promptly becomes dependent on.  It’s during his drug episodes that Salvador retreats into memories of his childhood with his mother (Penelope Cruz, Murder on the Orient Express  and, later, Julieta Serrano) and several episodic awakenings he has growing up.

Back in the present, Salvador begins to expunge some of his old hang-ups and regrets through his writing which Alberto performs as monologues at a local theater.  One audience member (Leonardo Sbaraglia) hears the monologue and recognizes a story as an affair he had with Salvador and asks Alberto to help him locate Salvador so that they may both have closure to what was obviously an important time for both men.  It’s this scene that really speaks volumes about the loneliness Salvador feels, realizing whatever demons he thought were gone with his writing might still be around when he sees his former lover.  It’s ostensibly just a scene between two former flames but Banderas and Sbaraglia create a palpable chemistry that clues you into just how deep their relationship was back in the day.

As with all Almodóvar films, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and intertwining timelines with chance occurrences that can only happen in the movies.  It’s these very cinematic touches that remind us we’re watching a movie but don’t rob the scene from its realism in emotion, strong feelings Almodóvar doesn’t seem to have trouble evoking.  That’s what makes his films so special over time, even the zanier films of the ‘80s and ‘90s that were off-the-wall were rooted in a particular emotional resonance that just happened to be amplified in volume by Almodóvar’s artistic touches.

As Almodóvar’s pseudo stand-in, Banderas turns in the best work in quite some time, maybe ever.  Winning the prestigious Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, he’s surely on his way to his first Best Actor Oscar nomination and with good reason.  Playing the rascally side of Salvador with a nice flicker in his eye while parlaying that into a deep sadness at his loss of inspiration for what he used to love doing, the long-standing relationship Banderas has with Almodóvar surely helped him in getting the performance just right.  The Salvador-Alberto relationship is supposedly based on the Almodóvar-Banderas one and it’s interesting to watch Banderas as Almodóvar interact with another actor playing a version of himself.

For her brief cameo, Cruz (another frequent Almodóvar collaborator) makes a strong impression as Salvador’s strong-willed mother who pushed her son to go his own way, even when it was contradictory do the norm.  I didn’t quite believe Cruz’s character would have aged into Serrano’s but both actresses carry the same steely resilience of a parent holding fast to helping their child through all thorny walks of life.  Serrano and Banderas share some great scenes that are sensitive and thought provoking until they become heart breaking by the film’s conclusion.

After countless films that range in genre and tone, Almodóvar’s latest represents a welcome leveling off reflection of a career and a life.  Not as awash in colors or jarring to the senses as his early work, nor as challenging as his later entries that tipped toward campy thrillers, this feels like Almodóvar exhaling and letting go of a different kind of evoked emotion all together.

Movie Review ~ The 33

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Philipps, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne

Director: Patricia Riggen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Based on the book Deep Down Dark, narrative journalist Hector Tobar’s weaving together of the firsthand accounts from the men who were there, The 33 is a drama in real life story that has its heart in the right place. The whole world was riveted by the plight of the Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet below the ground by a cave-in for 69 long days. As the country watched, an international rescue team was assembled to devise a way to get to the men before time and food runs out. Anyone that’s picked up a newspaper or watched the news during that time knows how it all ended, but the details were a bit cloudy for me five years later which added to the dramatic tension the movie builds nicely.

I told someone after the movie that I thought it was “mostly good” because for all of the genuine emotion and heroism captured on screen, there was a strange disconnect that comes out of the film being watered down and becoming more traditionally American-ized than it should. I was surprised at how clearly divided into three acts the movie was, with the traditional climax happening about 3/4 of the way through the film. There seemed to be a carefully rendered formula to every new development that presented itself to the men below the surface and the government officials, family members, and rescue crews racing against the clock to save the trapped workers.

I also found myself really wishing that the Chilean film was entirely in Spanish. All of the signs and news report headings were in Spanish yet the actors almost uniformly speak English with a fair to decent accent. Something that always annoys me is when a movie takes the time to subtitle actors speaking in a foreign language only part of the time. Here, a song of hope and pain starts off with an English translation before the subtitles disappear – perhaps it’s a way to provide a bridge between two cultures but it can come off as slightly manipulative with the filmmakers only translating information they want you to know.

Attracting high-profile talent, the film has a wealth of strong performances. Though he’s billed a bit far down in the credits, Lou Diamond Phillips has perhaps the best, most moving arc as a miner who worked his way up to management, knowingly making concessions along the way that comes back to haunt him. Phillips is one of the last people you see in the movie (before it breaks to a roll-call like credits sequence that should leave a lump in your throat) and he makes a significant impression.

Also impressive is Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) who convincingly masters the language (though her French slips in every now and then) as a strong-willed family member of a trapped miner and Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3) who is better here than in any movie he’s made in over a decade. Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand) is notable as a government official with a conscience while James Brolin and Gabriel Byrne pop up for some histrionically dramatic scenes. The Irish Byrne, it must be noted, totally gives up on his Spanish accent well before the movie reaches its conclusion.

The movie covers all the bases and even brings in a few of the more human interest stories that developed while the men were underground. Most notable are the amusing above ground fights between the mistress and the wife of a hapless fellow and the impending birth of a young miners first-born. It’s all handled nicely by director Patrica Riggen set to the late James Horner’s rousing score (it’s nice to see a tribute to Horner at the end, the second film I’ve seen it in after Southpaw)

Not a movie delivered on an epic scale, The 33 is nonetheless a powerful tale of the human condition and the strength to continue on in the face of terrible odds. Worth digging into.

The Silver Bullet ~ The 33

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Synopsis: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

Release Date:  November 13, 2015

Thoughts: Like many, I watched the developing story of the Chilean miners during the course of the 69 days they were trapped underground.  A remarkable story of survival, its drama in real life tale seemed like a perfect TV movie of the week fodder.  Instead, it’s been given the big screen treatment and The 33 looks to be an impressive account of the ordeal as seen through the eyes of the men trapped and their families awaiting their return.  It’s also probably the only time I’ll be able to report that Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) took over a role that Jennifer Lopez (What To Expect When You’re Expecting) signed up for.

The Silver Bullet ~ Knight of Cups

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Synopsis: Unknown (and the trailer won’t help you)

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: Director Terrence Malick doesn’t play the Hollywood game so it’s interesting that his newest film seems quite focused on the California lifestyle of the Tinsel Town elite…or does it? It’s hard to say because plot details are scarce and any attempts at figuring out who Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) is playing could provide you ample amount of head-scratching time. Though only Malick’s seventh feature film since 1973, his style is instantly recognizable and it’s intriguing to know that it was mostly improvised. People either love or hate Malick; there’s no halfway camp (hello, Tree of Life bashers!) but even in his most obtuse the man knows how to frame a scene to make ordinary images seem extraordinary. Co-starring Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Natalie Portman (Thor), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), and Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop).

The Silver Bullet ~ Autómata

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Synopsis: Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

Release Date: October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Gosh, so many other movies raced through my mind as I watched the trailer for this futuristic sci-fi flick starring Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3). Visions of Minority Report and, most vividly, I, Robot were dancing around in my brain and perhaps that wasn’t quite a bad thing. Both are solid films with some interesting social messages to them and if Autómata has something to add to the conversation then I am all ears. Banderas hasn’t led a film in quite some time so I’m curious to see how this one turns out for him, especially considering his estranged wife Melanie Griffith (Working Girl) is part of the cast as well. I’ll never turn my nose up at a slick slice of life look at robots in the future so my battery is cautiously charged for this one.

Movie Review ~ The Expendables 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kelsey Grammer

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I believe that part of being a balanced critic is to a) see most every film that comes your way and not just the latest blockbuster and b) being able to view a film for what it is and try to put yourself in the place of its intended audience. As a child of the 80s that grew up with action films featuring the headliners of these films, I was amped to hear they’d be brought together for The Expendables. When I finally saw the much-hyped film in 2010 I was awed by how ugly a film it was and how its one-joke premise stalled out before the first reel was done. Though 2012’s The Expendables 2 showed signs of improvement, it too faltered when it came to being more than the sum of its muscly, scar-tissued parts. It would be great to report back that the third film of the franchise finally knocked it out of the park but it’s actually a step backward, proving that logic, decent effects, and convincing performances are the true expendables on display.

Clocking it at an astounding 126 minutes and devoid of the CGI blood that pushed the first two entries into silly R-rated territory, The Expendables 3 feels neutered into a PG-13. Nothing much happens and nothing is truly at stake for our rag-tag bunch of mercenaries and certainly not for audiences. At least its predecessors had a little bit of loss to overcome…here the overstuffed script just puts everyone through the motions while making sure that every one of the hardly recognizable yet oddly familiar action star faces gets at least one zinger in.

Stallone (Escape Plan, and looking like he’s getting into character to play the title role for a live-action Droopey Dog) is as mush mouth as ever as the leader of The Expendables who are found as the film opens racing alongside a prison train to free Doc (Wesley Snipes). It’s one of the least exciting openers of any action film I’ve seen, though director Patrick Hughes tries to flash it up with a lot of flying fists, kicking legs, and a whopper of an explosion.

Hurtling into another mission that puts the crew face to face with a turncoat from their past (Mel Gibson, gleefully camping it up, whether you like it or not), Stallone and his men spend the rest of the film waxing nostalgic about the past, lamenting the fact that they’re getting older, and taking to task some new whippersnappers that are the next generation of Expendables…all the while being fired at by thousands of armed men that continually miss their shots.

Shot in Bulgaria (and numerous cockpit sets that appear lifted from a mall arcade), the film isn’t as dreadful to look at as the first film but achieves a new dullness thanks to lame green screen effects (I’m positive several of the big name stars weren’t in the same room when they filmed their scenes) and a non-existent visual style that renders the film almost black and white. Everything on screen feels cheap, from the cardboard sets to the CGI effects…leading me to believe that most of the budget went to the star salaries.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few things that keep it from being total crud. Snipes is a refreshing addition to the cast and he gets a nice moment of self-mockery that you’ll see coming but still enjoy. While it may have been a coup for Stallone to land Gibson and Harrison Ford (Working Girl), their presence is more of a curiosity to see than anything really exceptional. Speaking of exceptional, Antonio Banderas (Haywire) should get substantial credit for nearly walking away with the film as a hilariously eager strong-arm for hire. The rest of the gang and especially the new recruits are better left unmentioned, lest they take it as encouragement to continue in their acting careers.

With a built-in audience I expect we haven’t seen the last of The Expendables…and as the film dragged on I started to think of names that could be tossed around to star in future installments. I’ll keep those to myself so I can check off my own personal list, but if the goal is to continue to feature faded names from the past…Stallone is just getting started.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

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Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Machete Kills

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Synopsis: The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space

Release Date:  September 13, 2013

Thoughts: Though 2010’s Machete was far from a blockbuster, director Robert Rodriguez is bringing the character back that was first introduced in a faux trailer attached to his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino.  I found the first film to be typical Rodriguez: messy, over-the-top, and exactly the kind of film that it was advertised to be.  This sequel looks to be more of the same with craggy faced Danny Trejo being surrounded by busty babes (including Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, and Lady Gaga in her film debut) and lots and lots of weapons of physical destruction.  Its grimy feel fits right into the throwback movement that Rodriguez and Tarantino have such an affinity for so expect another small win for the loopy duo.