PAIN AND GLORY – movie review

PAIN AND GLORY (Dolor y Gloria)
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez, Raúl Arévalo, Pedro Casablanc, Julián López
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 9/12/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Image result for pain and glory movie poster

Dedicated Almodóvar fans may be disappointed with his latest venture, a thinly disguised biopic of his own life or, as the woman performing as his mother complains, afraid that auto-fiction will reveal too much. The director is known for pictures as daring as the titles such as his dark comedy “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (a woman seeks to discover the reason her lover left her); the romantic comedy “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (a former mental patient kidnaps a porn star hoping to convince her to marry him); and the psychological thriller “The Skin I Live In” (a plastic surgeon experiments on a skin he develops to withstand damage). Now in his sixties Salvador (Antonio Banderas), standing in for Almodóvar, is wracked by ailments; by migraines, tinnitus, back pain after spinal surgery, and near the conclusion a potential tumor causing him to choke on food and drink. Aside from his physical pain, he feels isolated. His health prevents him from making movies, work which keeps him going and which, when halted, leaves him feeling isolated (as he shows early on immersed in water) and depressed. His life is not as interesting as his movies, but then again how could it be, considering that the director himself is A-list, one of the great living filmmakers of our time.

Nonetheless Almodóvar believes that a selective memoir could involve an audience. We see Salvador’s life divided into three periods: the 1960s as a nine-year-old boy; the 1980s, which is given the least amount of celluloid, where he has had an affair with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia); and the current year when the suffering filmmaker depends on the care of his assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas). The narrative is not chronological. The man in the current year lives in a large house, cabinet painted bright red, filled with paintings that made one of his visitors think he was in a museum. Salvador frequently drifts off dreaming of what he may consider the idyllic time of his life, when though poor and living in a cave, he is excited by reading and gets his first sexual fantasy that is so strong that it knocks him off his feet.

This early segment is the most interesting unless you have been going to a series of doctors yourself trying to get a diagnosis that nobody can give you, and you relate strongly to the pain that Salva feels. The nine-year-old future filmmaker (Asier Flores) living with his patient mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) in a cave—not considered bad digs by the people of the village—is obviously a prodigy, playing piano, lead singer in the church choir where comic touches feature a few boys with atrocious voices, and teaching an illiterate painter Eduardo (César Vicente) to read. When Eduardo washes himself, barely covered by a towel, Salva faints with the intensity of the feeling and, yes folks, your nine-year-old has sexual feelings as well. His mother senses the attraction and hides a sensual painting that Eduardo does of her son.

Two men capture Salvador’s attention in the present years. Federico, with whom Salva had a love affair in the eighties, visits the ailing filmmaker after decades of separation. In an emotional scene they reminisce about those good years and part with a long kiss. And Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor who visits, having appeared in a Salvador’s eighties picture and has not spoken with his director after being insulted by him thirty-two years back. He introduces Salvador to heroin—which for the movie audience supplies the beauty of Salva’s dreams of his childhood. Having not acted in years and feeling as useless as Salvador, Alberto finds purpose in delivering a monologue on the stage, witnessed by Salvador’s former lover Federico.

Though this is arty theater, there is nothing difficult to follow in case you happen upon the film and as a lover of commercial movies may never have heard of Almodóvar. It approaching the stereotypical French style by being talky, and it’s good talk, much delivered with hallucinatory images in Salvador’s mind. As in all of the director’s films, we are treated to his basic themes of desire, passion, family and identity all against bright, colorful backgrounds. If you’re over 60, you have likely been exposed to the vicissitudes of life: the pain that tags along with the glory. If a teen, you recall the desires of a young person often unfulfilled because of innocence. And parts of the film may reflect the melodrama that accompanies you during the most exciting, yet anxiety-producing moments.

113 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

3 FACES – movie review

3 FACES (Se rokh)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jafar Panahi
Screenwriter: Jafar Panahi
Cast: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Del Aram
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: March 8, 2019

Jafar Panahi in Se rokh (2018)

In March 2010 Jafar Panahi, among the best-known of Iranian film directors, was arrested, sentenced to a six-year jail term , spending much of that time under house arrest and forbidden to leave Iran. He was accused of making propaganda films against the Iranian government. While awaiting the result of an appeal, he made This Is Not a Film (2011), a documentary feature in the form of a video diary in spite of the legal ramifications of his arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

That act of smuggling is what could pass, justifiably, for excitement even here in the U.S., a sort of incident that patrons of commercial movies might line up to see. Nothing of this sort occurs in “3 Faces,” the title characters being one aging actress who performed before Iran’s 1979 revolution, one who is famous today, another being a young woman accepted to a conservatory who dreams of being in the movies. Panahi’s latest offering is a road-and-buddy movie using the genre’s tropes: a couple of friends who travel outside their neighborhood to observe the customs of folks from a less sophisticated walk of life. When Panahi travels from Tehran to a rural village in the Northwest of his country with actress Behnaz Jafari in the passenger’s seat, he entertains us with the odd folks you’ll probably find in the sticks anywhere. They are a friendly people who throughout the village invite them to tea, but under the surface is a hostility to women, sometimes shows vividly, and at other times with passive aggression.

This is not to say that Iranian women are like those of their gender in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. They do not have to cover themselves head to toe and get whipped if they show so much as an ankle. They do wear hijabs, or coverings, on their heads but can push the scarfs back to expose some hair. (This would not be so objectionable if men were also required to cover themselves. Wouldn’t people with the uncovered looks of Brad Pitt get the women all hot and bothered ?)

Performers use their own names as though this were a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The movie gets off to a vivid opening when Marziyeh (Marziheh Rezaei), a woman of about eighteen, makes a video of her suicide, tying a rope around her neck, the other end fastened to a tree. She sends the video to Jafar Panahi who shows it to Behnaz Jafari, who becomes obsessed with what she considers the injustice: the young woman’s parents will not allow her to attend a school for acting. Women who “perform” are said to dishonor the family, at least in this rural area where Turkish and Azeri become the dominant languages of the people. (I won’t bother to say obvious things about the millions of Americans living predominantly in rural and suburban areas of red states.)

As the director and the celebrated actress negotiate the unpaved roads in areas where many people had probably never seen Tehran, they take note of oddities. An elderly woman relaxes in a grave that she has dug, keeping the snakes away because the reptiles will punish her for her bad deeds. An old man soon after instructs Panahi to honk his horn once, then twice, seemingly a compulsion but in fact having a rational purpose. Toward the conclusion, another resident hands Jafari a foreskin of her infant to serve as a talisman. And a bull with “golden balls” that has practiced his stud service in a single night on ten cows lies in the road with a broken leg, its owner determined not to put the animal out of his misery because the animal makes a living for him.

There is virtually no music in the soundtrack. Panahi respects his audience enough to take many a long shot, all filmed expertly by Amin Jafari’s use of handheld cameras. Of course the young woman’s “suicide” is faked, designed to get the famous actress to visit and to talk the girl’s parents into allowing her to “perform.” In this film the acting profession is used to symbolize the patriarchy of the country, strongest of course, in the sticks. The three faces of the title include Shahrazade, who does not appear, having performed before the 1979 revolution and now living alone and miserable. While Behnaz Jafari has had success in her profession and is treated with excitement by the teen girls in the village who crowd around her, she is not all that welcomed by the oldsters. We wonder whether the third and youngest face will be able to compete for the success of Mrs. Jafari. “3 Faces” demonstrates the solidarity of women, all the more pronounced when it is repressed, a compassionate look at what some would call the “real people” of their country, all the more moving because of the film’s meditative nature.

100 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE DISASTER ARTIST – movie review

  • THE DISASTER ARTIST

    A24
    Director:  James Franco
    Screenwriter:  Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
    Cast:  Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jackie Weaver, Zac Efron
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/5/17
    Opens: December 1, 2017
    The Disaster Artist Movie Poster
    Tommy Wiseau in 2003 directed, produced, wrote and stars in “The Room,” amid the howls of audiences, a movie that evoked all-out belly-laughing tremors.  There was this one trouble: “The Room” was not meant to be a comedy, but rather a serious, semi-autobiographical look at the sad life of the artist.  The movie was made for six million dollars, taking in $1800 on opening weekend.  Too bad.  Audiences should have flocked to see that one, considered by some to be the worst movie of all time, though Wiseau faced competition from Ed Wood, known for “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” and from Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.”  The good news is that a cult audience eventually propelled “The Room” into the black thanks to its showings on the midnight circuits.

    James Franco not only adapts but seems to have copied the actions and lines from “The Room” to make a new movie in effect superimposed on the 2003 tale.  “The Disaster Artist” is a terrific re-make, and since its aim is comedic, people can laugh with Franco just as they laughed at Wiseau.

    In “The Disaster Artist,” which opened on the first of December this year, James Franco takes the role of Tommy Wiseau while Dave Franco goes with Tommy’s best friend Greg Sestero, whom Tommy calls “Baby Face” because handsome Greg is a 20-something who had probably made good at modeling.  Since Greg wants more than anything to be a star in Hollywood and not to wind up pumping gas in San José, he teams up with Tommy, though Tommy’s drama coach back home tells him he did not have a chance to make it as an actor.  Greg moves to LA with Tommy, sharing the strange man’s apartment, and never worries too much about how Tommy made his money—enough cash to make a six million dollar picture.  Nor does he care that much about Tommy’s home base, which is allegedly New Orleans, but is more likely to have been somewhere in Eastern Europe as the man leaves out complex words like “a,” “an,” and “the.”

    The more serious scenes find Tommy a depressive, concerned that the whole world has betrayed him, and never realizing that he truly did not have a talent for acting or making movies.  He accuses even Greg, his best friend, the guy whose career he nurtures and who turns against him.  We in the audience hope that all’s well that ends well, since if we’ve got any soul at all, we feel as sorry for a benighted Tommy as we laugh at him and feel guilty for doing so.

    With Hollywood’s major funny-man Seth Rogen turning in a performance as script supervisor, “The Disaster Artist,” graced with a deliberately awkward role by the great James Franco, could get accolades at end-year awards time as one of the great comedies of a more or less weak cinematic year.

    Rated R.  103 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – B
    Acting – A-
    Technical –  A-
    Overall – A-