Almodóvar Marathon: “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988)


STARRING: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, María Barranco

Throughout this mini-marathon, we’ve been sort of jumping around within Almodovar’s filmography without any clear cut route in mind. We (meaning my girlfriend and myself) have just been going where the heart leads. We’ve revisited some of his more recent work and also gone further back to his beginnings (although some of those pictures are difficult to get a hold of [legally]). While none of Almodovar’s work is terribly dark or sinister, a lot of his pictures as of recent have sort of delved into the darker side of humanity. True that most of it is fairly light and breezy, at times even humorous, but still relatively tragic and often sad and even depressing. So we decided it was time to visit the comedic side of Almodovar’s work with his first truly internationally acclaimed picture, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios; better known to American audiences as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Voice actress Pepa is involved with a married man, Iván, of whom she constantly daydreams and lusts after. In a convoluted series of events that will catch up with our protagonists later on in the film, Pepa traces his movements and discovers that he’s involved with another, quite out of her head lover, with whom he has a grown up son, Carlos. Carlos and his overbearing fiancée arrive at Pepa’s apartment with the intention of subletting the place, unawares that their potential landlord is one of his father’s many lovers. Meanwhile, Pepa’s close friend, Candela drops by the apartment in a panic, claiming she’s on the run from the police who believe she’s mixed up in some sort of terrorist plot and needs a place to hideout. Essentially through a series of missteps, improbable coincidence and misunderstandings, these characters all comedically bounce off one another until all hell proverbially breaks loose.

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Review: Robin Hood

Robin Hood Movie Poster

Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven)
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Producers: Russell Crowe, Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 140 min.


NOTE: Due to a little bit of a scheduling snafu, more than one contributor here simultaneously wrote up thoughts on the film. Rather than delete either of these exquisitely written pieces, and in an effort to keep all discussion confined to one cozy location, we’ve decided to publish both posts into one for potentially conflicting and more interesting opinion as well as additional fodder to wallow in; all in the name of better discussion.

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A Third (International) Trailer for SPLICE


We cannot stop talking about Vincenzo Natali’s wonderful genetic engineering genre-mash Splice. If you are already sold on the film, then I suggest you actually skip this new, international trailer. I say this because the trailer is almost the entire movie in miniature. But for those who want to have a visual and narrative arc of the movie, here you go. Obviously the powers that be are finding their sea-legs in how to sell this little savvy genre picture. The film lies somewhere between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s The Fly with maybe just a hint of E.T. And this trailer does the job of getting this across. I cannot wait to watch this one again, come June 4th.

Splice goes into wide release very soon, June 4th to be exact.

BONUS: the release version is apparently uncensored version from the one I caught last September (My Review) .

The new trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Marion Cotillard for Lady Dior and David Lynch = Sexy, Weird and Haunted Romance


This is part three in Dior’s series of art-film commercials featuring auteur directors and big budgets and knock-out french actress Marion Cotillard (The first one was done by La Vie En Rose director Olivier Dahan and we posted it way back in May 2009 and part two appeared in January, 2010, directed by music video and film director (Spun) Jonas Akerlund.)

Part three is vintage David Lynch: Strange lens angles, smoke and symbolic objects, red curtains (when you see the red curtains in a Lynch production, weird happenstance is about to occur) and that wonderful Angelo Badalamenti inspired score (written and performed by Lynch in this case). The cinematography is reminiscent of the Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle collaborations, yet a hard digital feel is present and it continues to convince (me, at least) in terms of Lynch’s mastery of hand-held digital.

The result is Lady Blue Shanghai, a 15 minute art house commercial that is wonderful. I am not sure if it will actually sell perfume, but if modern advertisement has the key goal to “evoke,” then they came to the right director who eats, sleeps and shits “evoke.” Watch it in a quiet dark room for the full effect.

The complete short film is tucked under the seat.

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Film on TV: May 17-23

Private Lives, playing on TCM on Friday

Almost a manageable number of films this week – only three or four per day, with nothing particularly of note on Sunday at all. Well, okay, maybe that’s not actually manageable unless you’re retired or something. Whatever. A lot of those are repeats, but we do have some good newly featured ones, too. Like 1975’s Oscar sweeper One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Tuesday. And the above-pictured Private Lives, which is a treat if you like early 1930s comedies, and the Lena Horne-featuring Cabin in the Sky on Friday. Also just, as a heads-up, Sundance is playing several films throughout the week that I haven’t seen (so am thus not including because I find it difficult to write about things I haven’t seen), but I’m interested in checking out myself, including Jindabyne, Chalk, War Dance, Man on Wire, and Intacto, so check out Sundance‘s schedule for yourself on those. Hopefully they’ll pop up in future editions of the column. And if anyone wants to speak up for those or anything else playing that I’ve left off, feel free to do so in the comments.

Monday, May 17

9:45am – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 2:45pm)

5:55pm – IFC – Annie Hall
Often considered Woody Allen’s transition film from “funny Woody” to “serious Woody,” Annie Hall is both funny, thoughtful, and fantastic. One of the best scripts ever written, a lot of warmth as well as paranoid cynicism, and a career-making role for Diane Keaton (not to mention fashion-making).
1977 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane.
Must See

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TCM Film Festival: Capsule Review Wrap-Up

Just about ready to finally close out the TCM Festival, only running a couple of weeks of weeks late. Heh. Anyway, here are some capsule reviews for the other films I saw but didn’t end up writing full reviews of, for whatever reason. I also threw the couple of shorts programs I saw in here.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

1966 Italy. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef.


I’ve seen The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly before, but never on a big screen, and I felt that experience was deserving of my time. And it was. There’s a lot more to the movie than I remembered, and I was really struck this time by how omnipresent but yet detached the Civil War is from the main story – our bandits come into close contact with it several times (finding the stagecoach of soldiers, getting captured, becoming involved in the standoff over the bridge), but it’s almost always a mere obstacle in their way. It’s kind of a fascinating juxtaposition, really, between all these men fighting a futile war out of duty and our anti-heroic outlaws double-crossing their self-serving way to a treasure. Anyway. I think that kind of thoughtfulness and depth is what makes this movie great, but what makes it awesome is the score, Clint Eastwood’s implacable smirk, Eli Wallach’s desperate maneuvering, and the languid pacing that knows exactly when to pick up. That last showdown scene has some of the best editing ever in film. Oh, I was also a little surprised to note how close a lot of it is shot. Sure there are a lot of wide vista shots, but for a widescreen western, there are a TON of closeups of faces and eyes – far more than you see in 1950s widescreen films, I think. There are times when it’s positively claustrophobic, which makes for an interesting effect on a giant screen in a huge cinema.

A few more capsule reviews after the break.

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TCM Film Festival: Out of Circulation Cartoons

YouTube - Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs [High Quality].jpg

One of the more intriguing programs at the TCM Festival was a collection of Warner Brothers shorts that were taken out of circulation in 1968 due to negative racial stereotypes, introduced and contextualized by film historian Donald Bogle, who has written several books about the representation of African-Americans in cinema. As a cartoon fan, I was particularly interested in seeing these films which aren’t on DVD and don’t play on television at all, but even though I’m aware of the way these stereotypes played out at the time in live-action, music, art, and literature, I was not really prepared for some of these cartoons. I’m glad to have seen them, but for once in my life, I’m actually in agreement that most of these should not be shown without appropriate contextualization and that they’re more valuable for historical study than for entertainment. I’ve since discovered that many of them are readily available on YouTube, so I’ll link them for you to watch yourself if you’d like.

A lot of what Bogle said in introduction is pretty close to what you’ll learn from documentaries like Ethnic Notions, a mainstay in classes about race; I watched it with a course I took on the Harlem Renaissance, and it really is an excellent and highly watchable introduction to the portrayals of black stereotypes in popular culture from the mid-1800s through 1950s or so. Most of them stem from the enormously popular minstrel shows of the 19th century, which involved white performers in blackface – these lasted right up into the 1930s, with famous portrayals on film including Al Jolson in the first sound film, The Jazz Singer. Minstrel shows were particularly popular in the north, where there was a lot of curiosity due to the lower black population there – a situation that meant blacks were seen as unfamiliar, other, and both fascinating and potentially threatening. Minstrel shows developed several “types” that were all really intended to take away the potential fear of otherness – the kind old Uncle Tom figure, the nurturing Mammy, the lazy but harmless coon, the highly sexualized younger woman (usually very light-skinned, suggesting mulatto heritage), etc. These four types come up again and again in popular culture, never more exaggerated than they are in the cartoons of the era. One thing to remember is that these cartoons, like most of the films of the time, are not intentionally racist the way such films made today would be – they’re products of pervasive and institutionalized cultural racism. These minstrel show holdover types are essentially the ONLY widespread depictions of African-Americans you’ll find in popular culture at the time, and that’s the real problem here.

Having already seen Ethnic Notions and understanding some of this background, I think I expected to see these offensive stereotypes in this set of cartoons, but I expected to also see cartoons that were worthwhile aside from that. That is, I expected to be able to look with my academically-trained eyes and say “yes, that is an inappropriate depiction of black Americans that is untrue and offensive, but the quality of the animation and the writing, while not enough to overcome the negativity of the stereotypes, still makes the short worth watching.” And that’s true of several of the cartoons, but there is at least one that is essentially nothing BUT the stereotypes – no gags that aren’t racially-based, no particular design or animation quality that is put toward anything but perpetuating stereotypes, and essentially nothing worthwhile at all. Several of the cartoons have entire sections that are like that, even if there are redeeming features here and there. In other cases, the stereotypes distracted from things that actually would’ve been funny otherwise.

There are eleven films altogether that Warner Brothers pulled out of circulation in 1968 (other have been essentially pulled since then, especially a few wartime cartoons with negative Japanese stereotypes, but are not usually considered as part of the Censored Eleven, as the 1968 censored films are known); Bogle showed us eight. Those eight are as follows after the jump, in the order he screened them (mostly chronological, but not quite, so as to keep shorts from the same director together).

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LaBeouf ‘dropped the ball’ on Indy 4

It has been almost two years to the day – that fateful day at Cinemark. I still harbor bitterness over the atrocity that was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (my scathing fanboy review). It will be a memory that I’ll never forget: walking out of the midnight screening in a confused daze, shell-shocked, my phone blowing up from others who had just walked out of their screening, and me picking up and only being able to mutter incoherently, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

As the resentful built, I wanted answers. I wanted people held accountable. CGI prairie dogs in the opening scene? What happened to Spielberg’s earlier claim of using CGI only when completely necessary? “How in the hell,” I asked, “could Spielberg and Harrison have read that script and thought, ‘Yes, this is the script that we have been waiting nineteen years for!'” But there were no answers. I and millions of other fanboys were just left with an empty silence, my questions answered only by my own tearful echo.

I soon turned to drugs and booze to ease the pain. I often snapped out – sometimes physically – against those I loved. Watching any films with greasers or seeing the monkey exhibit at the zoo caused painful flashbacks. Even my productivity at work suffered. I was soon fired. It had made me a different man. A hollow shell of who I once was. My friends and family don’t even recognize me.

Still, after all of this and even two years after the fact, it is nice to hear that the two lead actors also thought that the movie was shit. Including Shia LaBeouf, who I always tried not to blame, because, you know, what guy in his early-20s would have turned down a leading role in an Indiana Jones sequel? Not I.

LaBeouf was very candid about his feelings in this recent interview at Cannes. Not that it makes up for the absurdity that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – but it is a start.

“I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished. … You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg, who directed]. But the actor’s job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn’t do it. So that’s my fault. Simple. … I think the audience is pretty intelligent. I think they know when you’ve made [expletive]. And I think if you don’t acknowledge it, then why do they trust you the next time you’re promoting a movie.”

And apparently, Ford wasn’t blind to this either.

“We [Harrison Ford and LaBeouf] had major discussions. He wasn’t happy with it either. Look, the movie could have been updated. There was a reason it wasn’t universally accepted. We need to be able to satiate the appetite. I think we just misinterpreted what we were trying to satiate.”

As for what he thinks Spielberg will think of all this talk, considering it is Spielberg whom LaBeouf owes his career?

“I’ll probably get a call. But he needs to hear this. I love him. I love Steven. I have a relationship with Steven that supersedes our business work. And believe me, I talk to him often enough to know that I’m not out of line. And I would never disrespect the man. I think he’s a genius, and he’s given me my whole life. He’s done so much great work that there’s no need for him to feel vulnerable about one film. But when you drop the ball you drop the ball.”

It’s refreshing to hear him being so blunt, especially in an industry where feeling are hurt so easily and interviews stay as PC as possible, so as not to sever any important ties. They told me in rehabilitation that the first step to recovery is accepting the reality of the situation. Finally putting his public denial aside, I think Shia is finally well on his way to recovery – and maybe I am too.

Urban Wolf is Watching You

A well-appointed man lands in Paris and stops off in the restroom. He notes a security camera in the corner, innocuously capturing his movements. As he steps back from the sink, it seems as though the camera follows him. Paranoia? Or is he merely one of a million people being silently monitored in our increasingly surveillance-ridden society? As he goes on his way, he becomes more and more aware of pervasive cameras everywhere, unescapable. But are they really singling him out? And if so, for what purpose?

This is the premise of the new web series Urban Wolf, which started playing on a few days ago. I was able to see a screening of the entire series recently, and it’s quite worth your time. Though the premise sounds like a lot of other paranoia thrillers, this is done tightly and stylishly, with much higher production values than commonly found in web series. It feels very cinematic, and yet director Laurent Touil-Tartour embraces the particular needs of web video, splitting the series up into fifteen segments, each three to four minutes long and all written with that length in mind.

In an effective artistic choice, there’s essentially no dialogue in the series; rather, everything plays out visually, carried out through a dynamic central performance by Vincent Sze. Touil-Tartour has a nice flair for composition and a good sense of visual storytelling. He also knows how to do good twists and suggest things rather than spell them out, something I really appreciated. I know he’s hoping this series gets him noticed by the film and television industry (getting the series on Sony-owned is probably a nice start), but I’m also glad to see ambitious series like this on the web. Web video is starting to come of age a little, and as much as I love geeky comedy series like The Guild and The Legend of Neil, it’s nice to see some different genres and styles in the mix.

Urban Wolf screened to good reactions and awards at the ITV Festival, AFI Digifest, and ComicCon over the past year. I’ve embedded the first episode of the series under the seats, and the first six episodes are already available on Crackle. They’re releasing one a day, looks like, which means you won’t have to wait long in between each cliff-hanger.

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