I’m So Excited

August 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Javier Cámara, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)

While his intricate and highly profound dramatic work like “The Skin I Live In,” “Volver” and his masterpiece “Talk to Her” have been the cornerstone of what filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has been creating in the last decade, the Spanish director returns to his darkly comedic roots with his newest narrative, “I’m So Excited.” It’s a genre Almodóvar is undoubtedly comfortable in – and one that all his actors embrace wholeheartedly – but with “I’m So Excited” he can’t seem to harness the overly absurd nature of the script long enough to give his characters anything interesting to say. For Almodóvar – a 2002 Academy Award-winning screenwriter for “Talk to Her” – it’s extremely unusual for the dialogue to be so ordinary.

The exhaustive ramblings by a small group of first-class airplane passengers are one thing, but the hilariously choreographed and high-spirited dancing by the plane’s flamboyant trio of stewards is another. These three airplane employees, Joserra, Ulloa, and Fajas (played perfectly by actors Javier Cámar, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces), carry Almodóvar’s whimsical vision as far as they can on their own. Tending to the passengers’ and pilots’ needs during a doomed flight from Madrid to Mexico City, the sexually-charged stewards do all they can to keep the passengers on board as calm as possible. They also find time to entertain everyone by lip-synching and gyrating to the Pointer Sisters’ 1982 hit “I’m So Excited.” That scene alone, which was shown in the first trailer released for the film, is reason enough to tolerate the rest of Almodóvar bizarre and sorely unfunny storytelling.

Aside from Joserra, Ulloa, and Fajas keeping the film from crashing and burning, none of Almodóvar’s other various campy characters lend a hand with the heavy lifting. This includes Bruna (Lola Dueñas), a talkative psychic; Norma (Cecilia Roth), a snobby dominatrix; and Benito (Hugo Silva) and Alex (Antonio de la Torre), two sexually-ambiguous pilots, who deserve at least a pat on the back for not making a joke with the word “cockpit.”

Yes, as silly and broad as Almodóvar’s picture is, it could’ve been a lot worse. But at least the passengers seem to be having fun throwing back shots of tequila, taking mescaline and participating in some kind of orgy that sort of just happens out of thin air. Almodóvar may have captured the vintage Pan Am look he was going for, but there are no jet-setters here. “I’m So Excited” lifts off because its captain is great at what he does, but it’s a very bumpy ride.

The Skin I Live In

November 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar (“Volver”)
Written by: Pedro Almodovar (“Talk to Her”)

As Dr. Robert Ledgard sits and watches a TV screen showing the woman he has kidnapped in the next room, something inside him clicks. What was once a cruel science experiment was now something different. He has created the perfect specimen, and fallen in love with his creation. This perverse dilemma anchors the bizarre and sexually-driven Spanish art house film “The Skin I Live In,” an unsettling look into the mind and motives of a mentally-battered plastic surgeon.

After his wife had her entire body burned in a terrible car accident, Dr. Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) vows to create a new form of synthetic skin that is completely immune to burns. When his methods of experimentation come into question, he decides to perform his experiments on a woman named Vera Cruz (played by Elena Anaya) who Dr. Ledgard keeps sequestered in his mansion.  In a series of flashbacks, the audience discovers what led Dr. Ledgard to keep Vera locked up in his house.

Banderas turns in a very strong performance in a role that is hilariously juxtaposed to his other film currently in theaters, “Puss in Boots.” Banderas attacks the evil surgeon role with a cool and collected demeanor, straying away from the typical deranged madness one would see in a film with similar subject matter.  Perhaps more impressive is the brave performance from Anaya. For a good portion of the film, Anaya finds herself abused and kept against her will and does a thorougly convincing job portraying her struggles. After her full body suit comes off, Anaya’s stunning beauty is on full display. With perfect skin that is either the handiwork of a very skilled make-up team or fantastic genetics, we are able to see how Banderas has essentially crafted the perfect woman.

The film is bolstered by flawless direction by Pedro Almodovar. Every shot is perfectly constructed and vibrant, making for a gorgeous and smooth looking film. Many of the shots of the film have a throwback, almost film-noir feel to them, creating iconic and memorable imagery. Like many of his previous films, Almodovar makes use of flashbacks as a storytelling device, and does so in an incredibly effective way.  In particular, there is a confusing flashback in the middle of the film where audiences may question how relevant the scene is to the movie. However, when the big twist is revealed and the dots begin to connect, the film ascends into something uniquely twisted.

Dealing with a mad scientist who is performing surgeries to create the perfect woman, Almodovar could have easily taken the “torture porn” route with gratuitous violence and gore. Instead, what is presented is more of a psychological thriller, which helps communicate the chilling nature of the events in a far more effective and restrained manner. The audience is never overwhelmed by graphic images (other than sexual) but yet everything that happens is still completely disturbing.

With unsettling subject matter and overt sexual tones, “The Skin I Live In” is not for everyone. However, it is an unrelentingly dark and wholly unique story that, on the strength of superb direction, is far from the torture-laden gimmick that it could have become in lesser hands.

Grade: B+

Broken Embraces

January 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)

At its most uncomplicated, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s (“Talk to Her”) noir-inspired drama “Broken Embraces” is the story of a love triangle between an aspiring actress, a director, and a producer. If it were really that straightforward, however, this wouldn’t be considered a genuine Almodóvar film.

While not as brilliant as some of his past collaborative efforts between he and his muse – Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) – their work together including 1999’s “All About My Mother” and 2006’s “Volver” are always exquisitely multi-layered and cleverly-written contributions appreciated most by the art-house lover.

Almodóvar demands a lot from his audience and it’s no different with “Broken Embraces.” The complexities of his narrative begin with the introduction of a blind writer and former director named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who spends his time writing scripts under the dutiful eye of his agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas), who also helps him come up with stories.

When a mysterious writer who calls himself Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) comes to his door and requests Harry to write a oddly familiar story with him, Harry is forced to relive some of the most joyful and painful moments of his life. Through flashbacks, Almodóvar transports us to Madrid in the early 90s when Harry – known by his real name Mateo Blanco at the time – begins his affair with Lena (Penelope Cruz), an aspiring actress trapped in a loveless relationship with Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), a wealthy older gentleman who Lena lives with after he finances her ill father’s hospitalization.

Shooting a comedy called “Girls and Suitcases,” Mateo casts Lena in the lead role. Although Ernesto does not approve of his much-younger lover spending her time on a movie set, he signs off as a producer on the film so he can have her monitored at all times. As the intricate ménage a trios becomes more personal, each player in the game has something to gain and lose from their participation in the film within the film. Almodóvar treats each nuance of the story with the great precision we’ve grown accustomed to with his work.

Whether we’re talking about the crisp pallet of reds, browns and oranges that stream through each scene or the maddening traits that inhabit some of his most profound characters, Almodóvar’s attention to detail is second to none. Even when he takes some well-known Hitchcockian elements and brands them as his own do they feel fresh and exciting. “Broken Embraces” proves Almodóvar is one of the only directors working today that really known how to avoid making melodrama self-important.