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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Broken Embraces

I've just seen Pedro Almodovar's latest movie and loved it enough -- and had enough questions about the twisted plot -- to have sat through the very next showing.

Not since Alfred Hitchcock cast Grace Kelly in a string of movies has a director been as smitten with a leading lady as Almodovar is with Penelope Cruz. And, it's easy to see why. Not since Rear Window has an actress looked more radiant.

Cruz plays Lena, a would-be actress and love interest of both a film director and a wealthy Venezuelan businessman. Here's where it gets confusing. Lena is starring in a movie directed by one lover and financed by the other. That Lena is romantically interested only in the film director (known first as Mateo and later -- after an accident that leaves him blind -- as Harry Caine) is irksome to her sugar daddy. He assigns his dorky, pimply teenage son to follow them around on set and try to catch them in the midst of shenanigans -- on tape.

That tangled business was all 16 years ago. The movie opens in the present, but the past is still very much haunting the characters.

Harry has long since quit directing, but he is still a screenwriter. And, he still has an eye for the ladies. He uses his handicap to seduce lovely young things and bring them back to his apartment, where his disapproving assistant (who hides secrets of her own) comes and goes as she pleases.

I haven't even gotten to the mysterious guy who shows up one day wanting to write a screenplay with Harry on a theme that sounds eerily familiar to him.

Almodovar weaves his dense story together beautifully. The melancholy score and his characteristic vibrant color palette add to the drama. Visually stunning, impeccably acted and a marvelous, layered story that is a treat to unravel ... see it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Single Man

You know how sometimes, when you're at Starbucks for a latte, you see the pastries and muffins in the case ... and since you're kinda hungry anyhow, you order one? And then, you're inevitably disappointed that it's totally tasteless and that you just wasted money and calories on something you never should have expected to be good.

But, then you're not mad at Starbucks, are you? You're mad at yourself because Starbucks is a coffee shop -- not a patisserie.

A Single Man is the cinematic equivalent of the muffin you paid for and then want to give back. But, are you mad at Tom Ford, the uber-sexy sophisticated designer-turned screenwriter/producer/director? No. With his design pedigree, gorgeous clothes (one presumes; an unpaid movie critic can scarcely afford designer threads), perpetual razor stubble and shirt unbuttoned to reveal the perfect amount of chest hair, Tom can be commended for trying to expand his brand.

He makes a hell of a set designer. Every single detail is perfection. Every frame is worthy of Vogue. From the glass house George (Colin Firth) lives in to the bouffant curls and frosty lipstick worn by Charley (Julianne Moore), the early 1960s have rarely looked more authentic. The movie is gorgeous to look at. And not much else.

Firth plays a bereft English professor who's trying to figure out if life is worth living after the unexpected death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years. The partner is seen only in flashbacks -- a few scenes that drag on far too long -- where it's established that this is indeed a couple in love and cozily comfortable with one another.

Julianne Moore shows up in a handful of scenes -- one dinner scene that seems to take place in real time -- as George's best friend and former lover. She's a well-dressed, pathetic drunk who probably isn't reason enough for George to decide not to end it all.

But, maybe the boy toy student of George's will turn out to be his Reason to Live. I'm not going to trouble myself to learn the name of the "actor" who plays this kid. His performance is so wooden, it's hard to imagine he'll be showing up in anything else.

At one point, George meets a hot, Spanish gigolo outside a liquor store, and they notice the lovely color L.A.'s smog has turned the sky. The gigolo says something like, "Sometimes, there can be something awful about a thing of beauty."

An apt metaphor for this movie. Beautiful to look at, but decidedly awful.

Let Starbucks stick to coffee and Tom Ford to design. Storytelling is not the man's forte. Skip it.