MOVIE REVIEW: Antonio Banderas soars in director Pedro Almodovar’s Oscar-worthy 'Pain And Glory'

Antonio Banderas stars as a filmmaker reexamining his life in director Pedro Almodovar's "Pain And Glory." | Sony Pictures Classics

For his performance in Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory,” Antonio Banderas was honored as best actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The movie also received the soundtrack award for composer Alberto Iglesias. The film is Spain’s selection for the Academy Awards’ foreign language category.

Oscar nomination-bound Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a filmmaker undergoing a series of personal lows, including the death of his beloved mother, a creative rupture in his usually steady career, and deep-rooted melancholy caused by memories of his life and loves.

Salvador has lost the desire to make movies. His health isn’t the best; he feels lethargic. His moods are controlled by an all pervasive sense of ennui. He tries a variety of cures for his loss of enthusiasm, attending a film festival where one of his early movies is being shown, engaging in conversations with his former male lovers, and turning to the use of drugs he thinks will help him gain control over what’s causing the downward drift of his physical, emotional, and intellectual self.

“Pain and Glory” is about reflection. Salvador thinks about his mother Jacinta, beautifully acted by Penelope Cruz, and considers the chances he was given as a child in the 1960s to do wonderful things. He sings like an angel. He goes to doctors with the hope that he’ll get answers. He knows that if he can’t make movies, his place in the world is over. At one point he says, “without filming, my life is meaningless. But that’s how things are.”

“Pain And Glory” is gorgeous to look at. Jose Luis Alcaine’s cinematography is outstanding. Some animated sequences delight the eyes. The crisp editing by Teresa Font helps certify Salvador’s miasma and his need to process his overwhelming downfall by revisiting the past.

Salvador knows he has to stop making mistakes and find the key to a rebirth of his many passions – filmmaking, love, friendships. Much of what Banderas is called upon to do is act from an interior point-of-view. He does so brilliantly.

Writer-director Almodovar, who is 70 and lives and breathes cinema, is clearly channeling aspects of his own life. His Salvador is determined to understand the changes occurring. He wants to return to a sense of well-being.

“Pain And Glory” is an engaging drama with some lovely moments of comedy. Extend your hand to Salvador and join him on his journey.

PARASITE: I am a fan of both versions of director Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” Lenny Abrahamson’s “The Room,” and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” all movies in which bad things happen to unsuspecting people.

“Parasite” is a variation of the city mouse and country mouse fable. A poor and destitute family of four slowly inculcates themselves into the lives of a successful, comfortably well-off family of four. (Housekeeper, tutor, chauffeur, etc.)

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” contains everything that’s exciting about his films: a grand fluidity of camera movements and a framing of shots that makes you look into corners just in case something’s lurking. Bong creates tension where none usually exists. He also directed the superb action adventure “Snowpiercer,” which I love.

I’ll keep many of the movie’s secrets, but you should know that about an hour into its 132-minutes, the drama shifts gears and as madness roars, lunacy and violence prevail and metaphors come flying at you like ram-don. “What the heck is ram-don,” asks a character in the film’s best laugh.

“Parasite” builds to a unnerving crescendo. His moral is to be careful about coveting what you don’t have, even if you need it. Or, conversely, be careful about having what other people covet.

HARRIET: The studio releasing “Harriet” showed disrespect for the hard work of its cast and crew by not giving it maximum publicity and also exhibited contempt for communities with a large black population by not screening it in advance for critics and entertainment reporters in many markets.

I saw this exceptional film after opening day on a Monday afternoon. I was thrilled with the way it told its story and disappointed that it was treated so shabbily.

Starting with a magnificent, Oscar-worthy Cynthia Erivo as slave Harriet Tubman, the entire flawless cast assists director Kasi Lemmons and her co-screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard in measures that are both inspirational and remarkable. This is cinematic truth-telling at the highest level.

A fiercely determined Tubman liberated slaves from Maryland to their sanctuary in Philadelphia. Her renown rises from her monumental sense of justice and folk hero status. Lemmons’ gripping movie plays out with action and tension rivaling the best adventures I’ve seen.

“Harriet” is a sweeping, thought-provoking epic that impresses greatly. The era’s national politics and the power of a social movement are given expansive and informative moments. Don’t miss it.

WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?: Director Matt Tyrnauer lets history do the talking, as his riveting documentary unravels the myth of Roy Cohn, 1954’s now-notorious Army-McCarthy Senate Hearings legal counsel. He’s also shown to be a fast-talking, almost reptilian mentor to Citizen Donald Trump of the world of New York City real estate development. The film delivers high-speed tabloid journalism and rolls along swiftly. It’s jammed with information that make shock the unknowing. Attorney Cohn’s reputation is that he was not a very nice man. In excoriating fashion, Tyrnauer agrees.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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