“How Are You?” “Old” (Almodovar And More)

Are there more films around concerning the passing of the years & reflections on childhood or is it just that now I’ve reached a certain age I’m paying more attention to them? In 2016 “The Distinguished Citizen” (“El Cuidadano Ilustre”) entertainingly told the story of a Nobel Literature Laureate (Oscar Martinez from the brilliant “Wild Tales”), wealthy & now unmotivated to write, accepting an invitation to return from Spain to his hometown in Argentina where his memories & the often resentful characters from his novels await. Last year Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” lovingly & painstakingly captured his own upbringing in 1970’s Mexico City & was deservedly awarded the Oscars for Cinematography, Direction & Best Foreign Language Film (though my vote went to “Shoplifters” from Japan). While I’m interested when others share their cogitations there’s ample contemplative retrospection in my real life thank you. It’s OK because this week I saw “Pain & Glory” (“Dolor Y Gloria”), the new film from Pedro Almodovar & I’ll bet my pension that it will be some time before I need to watch another movie about love, loss & Life.

 

 

In the photo a Caucasian male and a Hispanic female can be seen.

Pedro y Penelope

Pedro Almodovar, a master of cinema, is 70 this month & has been directing films for almost 40 years. Since his international breakthrough in 1988 with “Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown” his sophisticated, subversive, sometimes melodramatic or outrageous observations on modern Spain (it’s a list…a long one) has established him as the legatee of their genius Luis Bunuel & worthy of a placing alongside the great directors of cinematic history. “Pain & Glory” is the most autobiographical of his films, thematically & stylistically Almodovariano, casting two of his greatest stars while delivering a singular personal statement with integrity & honesty.

 

Image result for pain & glorySalvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, grizzled, handsome, sensational) is a film maker who no longer makes films, preoccupied with psychological & physical ailments. A revival of one of his movies reconnects him to the estranged star & to heroin, a drug he had some experience of. His opiate induced absorptions return him to childhood living in a cave with his mother (Played by Penelope Cruz with the sensuality of Sophia Loren) & a love for cinema smelling of “piss, jasmine & a summer breeze”. There’s a reunion with a former lover, Salvo’s first feelings of homosexuality & meetings with his dying mother (Julieta Serrano cast as Banderas’ mother for the third time). All of it is at a perfect emotional pitch &, employing a palette of red & white, looks absolutely gorgeous. The soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias is similarly evocative. Almodovar’s films are not always as fully realised though different folks see different strokes of inspiration in each of them. “Pain & Glory”, with its closing reminder that we have been watching a film, is a masterpiece from a director in absolute control of his undoubted talents.

 

Image result for pain and glory penelope cruz

OH!

 

Image result for once upon a time in hollywoodIt was an early start on Sunday lunchtime for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. It would have been earlier but the multiplex staff forgot about us though the delay meant that we were spared the interminable commercials/trailers time waste & went straight to Los Angeles in 1969. Well, into Quentin Tarantino’s version of La-La land. QT’s movies, steeped in popular culture references, all have an element of anamnesis. The movie homages (steals?), artfully placed posters, the kitschy-cool Pop soundtracks all reflect his life-long preoccupations. This time around Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star on the wane, is constantly reminded of his successful past. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) his former stunt double now a gofer is similarly reduced, living in a trailer adjacent to a drive-in cinema. They can’t buy a break in the New Hollywood. Rick’s boozing & Cliff beating up Bruce Lee when he does get a job doesn’t help. Meanwhile Rick’s next door neighbours, Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) are living the life.

 

Image result for margot robbie once upon a time in hollywood

OH!

“…in Hollywood” is packed with references to movies & TV shows, real & imagined. The director has some fun morphing Rick into “The Great Escape”. There are some fine scenes, Rick does proper acting, Sharon goes to see one of her movies, Cliff’s visit to the Spahn movie ranch with those damned Manson Family hippies. Then there’s Tarantino’s whipcrack dialogue, it’s a long film but listening to his characters shoot the breeze is always a reason to hand over the entrance fee. A fair chunk of the Internet & the commentariat likes to snark at such a visible, sometimes controversial director. There’s a new Charlie’s Angels film coming up, you’ll be OK. The ending has raised some kerfuffle, violence in a Tarantino movie…who knew? The clue is in the “Once Upon a Time…”, it’s a reverie, only a movie. Jeez, in one of his films he killed Hitler, that didn’t really happen either.

 

My companion & I had seen every Tarantino film & on the way home we talked about wanting to return to them (me, “Jackie Brown”, him, “Reservoir Dogs”). Damn, if “Kill Me Now Ringo, Said The Gringo”, a Spaghetti Western Rick made in Italy, exists then we would pay to see that too. We’re already on the lookout for  the flame thrower-heavy “The 14 Fists of McCluskey”. “Anyone order fried sauerkraut?”

 

 

Related imageBong Joon Ho returns to South Korea for “Parasite”. He went to Hollywood to make the sci-fi classic “Snowpiercer” (2013), on to Netflix for “Okja” (2017), a capable satire about corporations starring a very big pig. “Parasite” concerns a poor family of four struggling to get along in the gig economy, living in a shabby basement. The son, Ki-woo, catches a break & after a little fakery gets work with a very wealthy one-percenter family. A plan is hatched to change their luck & the rest is their story. South Korea’s first winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes is an intricate film, a biting social commentary on the class divide, an amoral, absurd black comedy, a drama which becomes a tense thriller. Each tonal shift is wonderfully & entertainingly handled by the director, the dispassionate camera lens allowing you to make up your own mind about the protagonists. A nod to Hye-jin Jang as the cynical, profane mother, my favourite character. Things I learnt from “Parasite”, the rich don’t like the smell of the poor & the best plan is no plan, then nothing can go wrong.

 

It’s evidently been an outstanding week’s viewing round here. I’ve already handed out the ultimate “masterpiece” tag to Almodovar’s film so I’m reluctant to pin the same accolade on “Parasite”. I’ll probably regret that after another six months of the usual Hollywood dreck but for sure this is another Hit From the Bong (thank you!). Catch it if you can.

Music and Movies (Quentin Tarantino)

At college one of my fellow students was a very attractive Scottish woman who, incredibly, did not find the notion of being in my company to be just too ridiculous . Part of the deal was that I had to listen to Stealers Wheel, supposedly a Caledonian Crosby, Stills & Nash but…well, they were never that. The LP’s hit single took its time to make a mark, the co-writer/singer had left the group before it was chartbound. I went with her to see the group (without Gerry Rafferty) & it seemed a dispiriting experience for both performers & audience. It was 20 years later that a young first time director, with the talent to match his ambition, used the “Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite” as accompaniment to a scene where Michael Madsen danced a psycho-shimmy of mutilation around a cop. Quentin Tarantino took “Stuck In The Middle With You”, a pleasant enough 70s hit, hooked it to a new visual stimuli & made it kind of creepy. It turned out to be something that he did quite adroitly…well played sir !

In “Death Proof” (2007) another Brit-hit, “Hold Tight” received the same treatment. A ridiculous (untrue) story about Keith Richards nearly joining Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich is followed by by a car crash of such violence that it is just too much for me to include the clip. “Stuck” misses out because it is too obvious, “Hold Tight” because it is too bloody. Hey, I’m possibly the last person around here to be drawing lines but, y’know, think  of the children ! Any road up, here are the opening credits to “Death Proof” (2007) which recycle “The Last Race”, a Jack Nitzsche composition originally  used in “Village of the Giants” (1965) “Delinquent teens ingest a substance and grow to 30 ft tall, then proceed to take over a small town”. Now that’s old school grindhouse.

“Death Proof” is QT’s riff on cars & girls. The great tune from a forgotten movie is the perfect start to another tangle of the low & highbrows of cinematic culture. The affectation that Tarantino is making an early-70s exploitation movie permits the director to play fast & loose with the peripheries, plot, characterization, pointing the camera in the right direction. In these 3 minutes the  mangled title credits are followed by some rather attractive bare feet tapping along to the music, fast cars, Sydney Poitier in a mirror image of a photograph of Bardot ( Sydney is the girl with the bong). A poster for “Soldier Blue” a mainstream movie with scenes of such violence that it seems to have been written out of Hollywood history. Oh & a young woman holding her crotch because she really needs to pee. There is probably a whole lot more that I have missed. The Tarantino way is to throw a bunch of stuff at you. If you miss some that’s fine, there will be something coming along right about now that is just what you have paid your money for. There will be no reprimand here for his over-referential style. I know “Vanishing Point” from “Two Lane Blacktop”. A bunch of attractive women shooting from the lip with imaginative rapid fire dialogue. Snake Plissken as the bad guy. “Death Proof” was made for people like us.

QT’s first 3 films really are a triple whammy & it was 6 years between “Jackie Brown” & “Kill Bill Vol 1”. It’s likely that even after the notoriously creative accountancy of Miramax he saw some big dollars. When he returned his budget was bigger & so were his ideas. I think that this 2nd phase of Tarantino’s career does have a touch of the ignis fatuus about it. His envisioned 4 hour “Kill Bill” and the Grindhouse double header were his idea of “event” cinema but just how did he expect such high-falutin notions to be received. He was not the first director overrate his own reputation (“John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars”…anyone ?) but surely he knew enough about cinema to avoid the fallacy that the longer a film is, the better it will be. These films, if released, would demand a change of habit, a commitment from the cinemagoer to tip their nights over to Tarantino. A hard-ass head of studio like Harvey Weinstein, who was all about the box office, would indulge his director’s B-movie pretensions but he had 4 movies here not 2 & that’s what happened.

So here came “Kill Bill Vol 1” (2003), the ultimate revenge movie with a plot borrowed from a 1973 Japanese movie, fealty paid to every genre of action film you know & then putting on the QT style to show you some new ways of going about it. The soundtrack is an equally eclectic melange. There are songs by Sonny Bono, Isaac Hayes, Neu !, Quincy Jones’ “Ironside” theme, film music by Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone & Luis Bacalov, the Argentinian composer of 151 scores, every one a belter ! I will not attempt to deconstruct “Vol 1” in a couple of snappy sentences, similarly this clip is the one where he hired a band he liked & then pointed a camera at them.

Tarantino shoots some impressive bars & clubs, the Titty Twister may be off the beaten track & tend to get a little late-night messy but it’s some place. Likewise how great did Jack Rabbit Slim’s look in “Pulp Fiction. So, if you are in his idea of an izakaya then the 5-6-7-8’s will be playing there. An Oriental Ronettes playing their own instruments & an approximation of surf/rockabilly. “I’m Blue” is an Ike Turner song, recorded by the Ikettes. There’s a good story about QT’s discovery of the band but extra paragraphs are creeping into this thing…Google then.

“Kill Bill Vol 2” (2004) is the substance to its predecessor’s style. Bill (David Carradine…yay !) shows up & we learn some things about those characters who had spent “Vol 1” fighting & being flash. We knew QT could do exposition because we had seen “Jackie Brown”, anyway there are enough whistle & bells in the film. Uma is still beautiful, the buried alive scene is a 21st century classic & the soundtrack just keeps on keeping on…again. “About Her” is Malcolm Maclaren getting cute but staying correct with a mix of Bessie Smith & the Zombies to a trip-hop rhythm. Malcolm did not seem to have any significant attention span about much at all but when he applied himself to the music it could stick around.

After Grindhouse Tarantino seems to have settled a little. This 3rd stage of his film-making has seen him direct his war movie & his western. “Inglorious Basterds” & “Django Unchained” are not sprawling attempts with an eye on posterity, they are not even in 3D. They are still event movies, still get me to hand over my hard-earned to the multiplex & are significant contributions to modern cinema as art & commerce.  Next up is “Kill Bill Vol 3″…we will see. Tarantino’s use of music in his films is, I think, as considered  & as stylish as the rest of the package. We got back home from”Django earlier this year, found the soundtrack online, then discussed the movie while we listened again. Really, that only happens with people like Fellini, Hitchcock or Scorsese. The music is that good.