Finally, a celluloid gift for all scholars in the midst of writing a thesis on Pedro Almodovar. However, for the rest of us who might have a less academic bent, Pedro's latest offering is an unending, un-suspenseful, increasingly irritating, yet well-acted paean to Hollywood of the '50s, filmmaking in general, passion, and jealousy, all topics he's handled with much more wit and panache in the past.
Here, blind screenwriter Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), who uses the pseudonym Harry Caine, is visited by a young man with an idea for a script about a young homosexual who doesn't get along with his father.
Harry realizes that the tale is autobiographical and that the gent pitching it is the son of a corporate millionaire with whose lover Lena (Penelope Cruz) Mateo once had a fatal affair. Mateo had also cast Lena in the last movie he ever directed before he lost his eyesight.
In an eternal flashback, one that seems as lengthy as the Great Wall of China, Mateo relates the whole story to the son of his female caretaker and agent. Now just who is this young man? And how did Mateo lose his eyesight? And how many new ways can Almodovar find to brutalize women? Let's see! How about pushing Cruz down a staircase, letting her have sex with an old man causing her to vomit, smacking her head against a car window, and later having another auto ram into her? This all makes the 20-minute "comic" rape in Kika and the abduction of an actress in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down seem like feminist picnics.
However, to accuse Almodovar of misogyny would be ridiculous. He clearly isn't. He's just not clued in at times to what an asshole he's being.
Broken Embraces ends with the following voiceover: "A film has to be finished even if you do it blindly." The previous 128 minutes are proof that that is clearly not the case.
When it comes to emitting happiness, Pirate Radio is without an iota of competition this season. With a soundtrack including "Judy in Disguise," "So Long Marianne," "Let's Dance," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "Georgy Girl," "Elenore," and a treasure trove of other tuneful ditties by such '60s mainstays as The Easybeats, The McCoys, and The Tremeloes, you'd be bopping in your seat no matter what was on screen. Thankfully, writer/director/executive producer Richard Curtis doesn't fail us on that account.
Based on a true tale of government obstruction of the arts -- although none of it seems quite feasible as portrayed -- this here is an account of how British politicos led by Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) tried to outlaw rock 'n' roll from the airwaves in 1966.
In protest, a bunch of "high"-living misfits descended on a ship and broadcast the Rolling Stones and Lulu from just outside U.K. territorial waters. Among these oddball heroes were The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the legendary Gavin (Rhys Ifans), a lesbian chef, plus boatloads of willing groupies and one male virgin, Carl (a charming Tom Sturridge), who's trying very hard to get rid of that stigma.
A hoot from beginning to end, plus a Valentine to those days when youth thought music could change the world (and it did), expect Pirate Radio to become a minor cult phenomenon when it's released on DVD next year.
That Evening Sun
Hal Holbrook, 84, has always been one of the few great American actors giving those British thespians addressed as "Sir" a run for their knighthood. Now in a tiny little indie, he throws off yet another bravura performance.
As Abner Meecham, an elderly Tennessee farmer, he's an escapee from an old folks home. Returning to his homestead, he discovers his son has rented it out to a family headed by a violent drunk (Walter Goggins). With the main house occupied, Abner takes over the old tenant shack on his property and starts a war of nerves and dog barking to regain his territorial prerogative.
Based upon a short story by William Gay, the film, beautifully directed by Scott Teems and shot by Robert Taylor, is never predictable, which is a rather unique attribute nowadays. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).