Posts categorized “Movie Review”.

Lockdown Cinema: Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999)

When you love movies, you have favorites. but it is not always possible to re-watch them all the time. Some movies always show up on cable (like Hitchcock’s The Birds), and some, like anything by Pedro Almodovar, never happen to show up.

Luckily, Turner Classics Movies in January 2021 decided to show about eight of Pedro Almodovar’s early movies, from 1980’s Pepi, Luci, Bom… through 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, to 1999’s Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother).

I could tell you a lot about the movie and it’s many wonderful devices of mirroring and foreshadowing and dualites, but you should see the movie for yourself, if you have not.

And if you aren’t totally gutted by the 18-minute mark, I would have to wonder what is wrong with you.

So the thing about a favorite movie that you have not seen in a long time–in this case, it’s been 22 years–is that the movie is the same, but you are not.

I saw this movie when I lived alone in Manhattan, my parents were alive, I had lovely friend, and I had two black cats. I was unhappily in the publishing industry.

Today, I live with my husband in New Jersey, my parents are now long gone, some of my lovely friends have also died (mostly female), and my cats are also long gone. But, I now have a masters in library science and I love doing research for a living and as a hobby.

Since 1999, I have done a lot more genealogy work, and DNA tests have helped me find the families of my birth father and birth mother. Genealogy and DNA has lead me to study even more women, and even more mothers.

Todo Sobre Mi Madre is a study of women, the women they are and the women they want to be, and also about men who become women. It is very difficult to watch this movie and not thing about your own mother, the other women in your life, and think about who they were, what they wanted, who they wanted to be and whether things worked out that way.

As a person who loves research and genealogy, in the time between 1999 and 2021, I have also studied genetic family members I will never get to know, from the birth mother brutally killed in an unsolved crime, to the wife of a great-great uncle who died in a Jewish old age home in Berlin in 1942, to a great-great-grandmother who, at the age of 78, wound up taking over the family business (the manufacture of Turkish cigarettes) in 1912 when her husband died–even though she had two sons right there who could have taken oven.

I am lucky to have some of my birth mother’s letters, and the great-great-aunt. So I have been able to get a peek into their lives and their minds.

What’s wonderful about Todo Sobre Mi Madre is how these women make a community for themselves, simply by being there and sometimes just listening. And what’s wonderful in Almodovar’s movies is that he often concentrates on female characters. This is in part thanks to the post-Franco era. Almodovar explained that in the Franco era, men were simply encouraged to be macho and not have feelings; consequently, women just seemed much more interesting to him.

And they will to you as well, and will serve to remind you to find what is interesting in the women around you.

Movie Review: Avatar (derivative, from the makers of Tylenol)

The good news is that in the latest Cowboys-and-Indians movie, Avatar, the Indians won. The bad news is that this film sort of takes every genocidal theme, allusions to 9/11, and strains of Celine Dion, and gives us the U.S. Army vs. blue nature-loving aliens.

James Cameron has created some beautiful, luminous images of an alternate planet where the intelligent life doesn’t totally disrespect the planet (as we do), and if we could have a dialogue-free film, I might have liked it more. But, the film degenerates to the usual good-vs-evil simplicity, all the way down to a final mano-a-mano duel with everything but a countdown-to-zero clock.

Luckily, I did not have to pay to see Avatar, since I used the free movie-nights offered through my local cable provider. As a Facebook friend said, who was boycotting the film before it opened, watching colonialism in action is not enjoyable. And, watching an apocalyptic attack with shades of the Twin Towers falling and seeing animals on fire? Just not something we need to see. It’s an anti-colonialism movie laden with “destruction porn.”

Of course, with 2 hours and 40 minutes to fill, watching a careful study of negotiation, etc., doesn’t have “BLOCKBUSTER” written all over it, does it? So it’s a lot like Terminator. And Titanic. Here, instead of Jack, we have Jake, and strains of “My heart will go on…” weaving in an out. Enough to notice it.

And, if the humans need oxygen masks to survive the planet’s atmosphere… why is it that they are so often not wearing them?

A lot of the themes in Avatar could have been more interesting if there was a good way to explore them slowly, maybe as a TV series, with 90 percent less violence. It is explained to us that the Earthlings are looking for “Unobtainium,” which turns out to be a real scientific term, but here just seems ridiculous. Also, this takes place 144 years from now… yet everyone uses 20st Century terminology? If the producers were able to make up a whole language for the Na’vi people, then why couldn’t they make the army unit stationed on Pandora have some more interesting futuristic dialogue. A bit more exposition of how bad things are back on earth would also be sensible. I’ve seen enough sci-fi in my viewing history to know that a good “backstory” told in the start of the film would work a long way. Instead, this is just a high-minded cartoon, which is unfortunate. But, it’s the number-one box-office seller of all time now, so what do I know?

Well, I do know that Americans like special effects and explosions, and they abound here.

Film Review: Lemon Tree

I saw The Lemon Tree at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival this past weekend, starring Hiam Abbas (Syrian Bride, Satin Rouge) as a middle-aged West Bank resident who tends to the grove of lemon trees her father planted dccades ago. Unfortunately (and unrealistically), Israel’s defense minister moves in next to her, on the other side of the border fence. The Secret Service determines that the 150 trees are a threat, and the State of Israel moves to cut them all down, first, fencing them in.

Lemon Tree explores the futility and anguish of people who are separating themselves and others, while also looking at the bigger problem of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Salma (Hiam Abbas) winds up hiring a lawyer and the case goes as far as the Israeli Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a media storm brews up then a reporter from Yehudiot Aharanot accuses the defense minister of “being afraid of a few lemons.” In the course of the film, we see the grove fenced off, but Salma sneak in daily to keep the trees alive. We see the border guard in the tower feeling sympathetic toward her, as does the minister’s wife; we also see the Israelis invading her home and tossing the place after her grove is used to attack to the minister.

What we also see are the constraints on personal relationships, and potentional good neighbors. Mira, the minister’s wife, clearly feels bad for Salma, as does the guard in the tower. We see the strains of Mira and her husband Israel; we see how Salma’s merely going into a roomful of men is seen as provocative. Salma is also rebuked for a potential romance with her lawyer–widows seem to be expected to be remain unmarried and unloved if they lose their husbands early. We also see how both mothers in the film feel disconnects with their offspring–both have children in Washington, DC. Salma has daughters closer by, but they don’t seem to visit. And while Salma is entitled to compensation from the Israeli government, she is reminded by a influential man in her community, “As you know, we don’t take their money…” So, the film shows people on both sides who have to subvert their natural impulses due to a variety of social, political, and religious constraints.

Director Eran Riklis has created a dynamic yet simple story that deserves a wider audience. Given that his last film with Hiam Abbas, Syrian Bride, was distributed in theatres, hopefully this one witll be as well.

Movie Review: GI Joe

I recently went to see GI Joe. Why, you might ask? Was it the abs on the main actor, Channing someone, whose surname seems unimportant all of the time? Was it seeing the Eiffel Tower fall over? Sure… but the main reason is that I have all three services from Cablevision, which owns Clearview Cinemas, and on Tuesday, you and a friend go free. It used to be you and three friends could go free, but a good deal is usually squished when it catches on. But seeing the Eiffel Tower fall over is always great. Always.

The main virtues of the film, outside of the aforementioned, is the successful marriage of CGI and video games to create a film in which the alpha-elite GI Joe squad, run by the only true movie star here, Dennis Quaid, pursues the evil arms dealer, who owns M.A.R.S.

The arms company has created nano-mites–robot insects that just keep eating anything in their path until they are stopped by a kill switch. This concept reminds me of the Republican party when it loses a national election, except there is no kill switch. They went after Clinton from the moment he arrived in office to the time they found Monica’s dry cleaning bills. God only knows what they will do to Obama. But I digress.

So, GI Joe settles into the rather formulaic buddy movie/elite squad movie/fighting to the digital countdown finish movie. Marlon Wayans, as “Ripcord,”  has to stop two missiles at once as they head to Moscow and D.C., while Channing Whosits has to destroy a big ray gun under the North Pole. Or some nonsense.

The movie was free, and Rob and I quipped to each other freely. Also with us was a senior who has some problems, and actually reacts better to cartoons and more child-oriented films. So seeing a lot of explosions and the Eiffel Tower falling over was perfect. The movie features prominently the Hasbro logo, and often looks like a video game.  I wasn’t expecting much and I got more than I expected.

My sole problem: A lot of the bad guys get shot in the eye with bullets or arrows. That made me squirm. Given that much of the violence is cartoonish, these grimmer images make it less than desirable for kids under 15, but not kids over 65.

Also not explained: Why is Jonathan Price and his British accent playing the President of the United States?

NB, Clash Fans: Ivan did not meet GI Joe in this film. Maybe next time.

“Easy Virtue”

Tony and I went to see Easy Virtue tonight in Manhasset. The film is based on a Noel Coward play of the same name.

Easy Virtue features a young rich Briton who suddenly marries Larita, an American lady race-car driver, much to the disdain of his mother (Kristin Thomas Scott) and two sisters (Kimberley Nixon and Katherine Parkinson) back home on the estate that’s been in the family for seven generations.

Larita (Jessica Biel) has a tough road ahead of her facing the Big Three. Larita is a modern liberated woman, a divorcee, and far too American for the Whittakers’ liking. She speaks her mind. She’s posed nude for cubist painters. This doesn’t sit well with her husband’s mother or frumpy, unloved virginal sisters. Set circa 1932, one has to remember that this is England, which couldn’t tolerate its own King (Edward VIII) marrying a divorced woman.

Having married impulsively on the Riviera, Larita hasn’t seen John (Ben Barnes) in his native environment, and a quick visit to get introduced to his family turns into an interminable stay, with days turning into weeks and then months. The tensions escalate, and it becomes clear that Larita has more in common with the servants and John’s father than with almost anyone else. And since John’s mother and father (Colin Firth) are estranged yet living together, any time the young couple enjoys any kind of intimacy, it drives the Mom and the gruesome virginal twosome nuts.

Director Stephan Elliot (Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) does a good job of showing the entrenched English stuffiness and class struggles–most period pieces like this do. Kristin Thomas Scott excels as the uptight aristocrat, torn by propriety converging with the financial pressures of maintaining a centuries-old farming way of life during the Depression. Jessica Biel does a pretty good job of standing up to all the pressures. The film has a lot of funny moments, and a stupendous period soundtrack punctuated by Cole Porter and Noel Coward songs. Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian of the Narnia Chronicles), as Tony pointed out, was prettier than all of them put together.

Interesting enough, the Hitchcock adaptation of the play puts much more of the drama on the Larita character being a divorcee with a very shady past. Here, Larita is set up as the victim, doomed from the moment she crossed the threshhold of the family estate. In the Hitchcock version, the Whittaker matriarch acts to “save” her son by digging up dirt on Larita.