Saturday, September 7, 2019

REVIEW: Pain and Glory

With a career spanning more than four decades and a filmography that includes such masterworks as "All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her", Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is rightfully one of the most highly regarded auteurs in cinema. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, however, I think "Pain and Glory" could arguably be considered his magnum opus. Supremely artful and poignant, it is a stunning showcase of his unique skills as a filmmaker.

Antonio Banderas stars in this semi-autobiographical drama as Salvador Mallo, a film director in the twilight of his career. Suffering with several ailments, he struggles to reclaim his former glory. As he searches for inspiration, he reflects on the momentous occasions of his life, recalling the good and bad memories which shaped him.

Though the film is only loosely biographical, it's hard not to see its creator in the figure of its protagonist. Indeed, with his ruffled, silvery hair, Banderas is a striking stand in for Almodovar. And with the character's background as a filmmaker whose best work was seemingly behind him, this metatextual context brings a natural empathy to his plight, especially for longtime Almodovar fans similarly hoping for another masterpiece.

It therefore brings me great pleasure to report that Almodovar does indeed deliver another arthouse gem. Working at the top of his game, "Pain and Glory" is a reminder of what makes Almodovar such a distinct storyteller. Every facet of the filmmaking is gorgeously wrought, from the colorful costumes and sets, to the beautiful music.

As can be expected of an Almodovar film, the cast also shines. Once again, he is able to garner tremendous performances from his actors. And in this case, he reunites with two of his favorite muses - Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Long known for their sex appeal, Almodovar's script has crafted roles which bring a fresh perspective on their personas. As his character requests of another actor - the equally brilliant Asier Etxeandia - tasked with playing him in a play, Banderas underplays the sentimentality and brings a world-weary gravitas to his afflicted character. Meanwhile, Cruz recalibrates her innate sensuality to portray a fierce mother with all the passion of her signature roles.

The elegant musicality, touching performances and exquisite mise en scene all come together to convey the film's poignant themes. Through flashbacks and present scenarios, "Pain and Glory" embodies the saying "time heals all wounds". Despite the physical and emotional pain he endures, Salvador recognizes that it's all part of the school of life. Ultimately, all we can do is live, learn and continue to love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

REVIEW: What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire?

A boy leading his scared younger brother through a haunted house, a woman preparing to host a party, and a mother scolding her son for coming home past curfew. These are some of the images that greet audiences in the opening minutes of Roberto Minervini’s “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?” On the surface, these introductions to the characters reflect typical scenes from across America. But after the subsequent two hours of this pointed documentary, a very specific slice of Americana emerges.

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Virtually as certain as death and taxes, humanity has proven that it cannot escape its addiction to war. Likewise, in cinema, filmmakers have shown an affinity for the subject, where narratives surrounding violent conflicts have become a prevalent staple of the art form. Some of these directors choose to portray the dangerous thrill of the battlefield. Meanwhile, others, like director Benjamin Gilmour, focus on the aftermath of war and its far-reaching effects. Indeed, such is the case in Gilmour’s latest film “Jirga,” an unusually understated drama about a soldier wrestling with his demons.

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REVIEW: For Sama

“We never thought the world would let this happen,” so laments director Waad al-Kateab in the opening scenes of her film “For Sama“, co-directed by Edward Watts. This deeply personal documentary is not the first to depict the ongoing Syrian Civil War, but the sentiment behind that statement remains as vital as ever. As she recounts her experiences during five years of the conflict, this harrowing film reminds us of one of the most urgent human rights crises of our time.

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REVIEW: Three Peaks

A deceptively cheerful scene opens “Three Peaks,” the new film from director Jan Zabeil. It’s summertime in Italy and families are merrily playing in the pool. One of them is a couple exploring their new relationship with a son. But this seemingly idyllic vacation eventually becomes one that they and, unfortunately, audiences will want to forget.

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REVIEW: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

A few years ago, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag brought much needed attention to an ongoing problem in the film industry. With a lack of diversity throughout all levels of the filmmaking process, the recipients of the art form’s highest honors often reflected a largely white-male clubhouse. As evidenced by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ illuminating new documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am“, this problem has not been exclusive to cinema. In profiling one of the greatest literary minds of our time, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” engagingly reminds audiences of the inherent politics in how we value art and honor artists.

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OSCAR WATCH: International Oscar Hopefuls

Though we are still months away from the first wave of official submissions for the newly renamed Best International Feature Oscar, the spring/winter festival circuit has already introduced some worthy candidates. As major awards are won and distribution deals close, the excitement is mounting for another competitive year among the non-English Oscar contenders. Here’s a look at some of the early contenders from the three biggest international film festivals so far, namely Sundance, Berlin, and Cannes.

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REVIEW: The Third Wife

Despite existing for more than a century, the art of filmmaking still has the power to surprise and transport us. Whether it’s a fictional African metropolis or a remote tribal community in the Pacific, cinema possesses an unparalleled ability to open our eyes to new cultures and societies. Such is the effect in Ash Mayfair’s debut feature “The Third Wife“, which delicately uncovers the lives of patriarchal Vietnamese society through the eyes of a young woman.

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REVIEW: Shadow

Grabbing attention from the very first frame, there are few films as visually striking as Zhang Yimou’s “Shadow“. Though the director is known for more colorful spectacles such as “Hero” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” Zhang delivers a fresh surprise with the awe-inspiring greyscale palette of this latest effort. Coupled with a storyline rife with meaningful symbolism, “Shadow” is a stunning addition to the wuxia film canon.

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Inside Jamaica's Growing Film Industry

Though it may not be making major headlines, Jamaica’s film industry is currently having a significant moment in the spotlight. This month’s release of “Sprinter” marks the third film made by, or heavily featuring, Jamaican talent to be distributed in North America in 2019. Showcasing an array of filmmaking sensibilities, these films – Storm Saulter’s “Sprinter”, Idris Elba’s “Yardie” and Khalik Allah’s “Black Mother” – reflect the changing dynamics of the nascent Jamaican film industry. As “Sprinter” prepares for a unique theatrical run, caught up with some key figures of the contemporary Jamaican film scene to get an inside perspective on the factors that are fueling the industry’s recent growth.

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