Friday, November 28, 2008

At The Movies: Marathon Video Buffet

Last weekend I enjoyed Nacho Libre A LOT. The Mexican luchador culture is so iconic, it's like Kung Fu Hustle spoofing Chinese gangster and martial arts films. There is something so hilarious about this production, I suppose it's because it's quite close to Pinoy humor, only with better production values. (And I don't think Pinoy film comedy as it is can quite maintain a similar parodic atmosphere that long; at a certain point it will degenerate into some tired and lame gimmick because of budget constraints or in case the humor flies over the heads of the mass audience.) Jack Black is mucho funny and charming, and to date I've enjoyed all his movies. Oh, and he sings very well too.

I go through long periods where I don't watch videos or even tv series. When I do, I usually watch them in a marathon session when I'm in the mood. Because I'd been feeling a bit contrary and in the mood for something oddball and European, I recently ventured again into Pedro Almodovar country. A friend very kindly lent me some original dvds, with excellent English subtitles. [The first Almodovar movie I ever watched was Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, and that was where I saw Antonio Banderas for the very first time. I enjoyed it tremendously, but foreign films were not easy to get hold of at the time (mid-90s).] This time it was Dark Habits, What Have I Done To Deserve This? and All About My Mother. Yes, I watched all three in one night after having an early dinner.

The first is about a bunch of nuns with peculiar tastes, whose order is about to close their convent, resulting in a comedy of errors. As with most Almodovar films you have to watch it to appreciate just how peculiar the nuns are. The mother superior is obsessive and keeps scandalous secrets, most of which are her own. One nun is a reformed murderess who finds God in literal mortification (if you get a copy of this film CHECK OUT HER BED!). Ok, I have to stop there, because the characters ARE the story. The movie is entertaining, dark and and slyly funny, with very deadpan dialogue. The kitschy visuals add a layer of irony (it shows a very bad, yet AUTHENTIC, version of 80s music, hairstyles and fashion it's hilarious), and despite knowing how much of a farce the whole movie is, you feel some empathy for every character. Almodovar does love his politically incorrect,counter-culture characters. While he depicts, for instance, a drug addict's macho attitude towards a beaten-down prostitute, he manages to poke fun at the viewer with comic dialogue, as in "There, but for the grace of God, go you."

The second movie is about an overworked housewife struggling to make ends meet by working as a cleaning lady. There is a motley crew of ensemble characters that affect her life: a cabbie husband who loves singing German opera, an aging mother-in-law not quite all there, a macho policeman who can't get it up, a green lizard... I have to stop there, too. From the title you can guess what trials the poor woman has to go through through no fault of her own, but just when you think it will get worse, situations become more and more ridiculous, making you wonder whether to laugh or cry. You end up really rooting for the heroine! (It's not depressing, I promise. The lizard adds so much to the narrative.)

Now we come to the best of them all. Yes, All About My Mother is the Oscar-winning female bonding movie with Penelope Cruz in it, but she's not the title character. That honor goes to the little-known but very talented Cecilia Roth, whose acting really affected me and made me cry. She plays a selfless nurse set adrift by personal loss, and who finds herself a family, just not the kind you expect. The events leading to Penelope's character's condition are so strange it could only happen in Spain. You have to watch it to see the story unfold. But the breakout character here is played by Antonia San Juan, "La Agrado" (the Agreeable One), an irrepressibly cheeky transgendered prostitute who dreams of finding glory onstage. You have to watch this (I said that before, didn't I?). It's probably not a guy type of movie to watch, but the story is so good let's not compartmentalize what guys would find interesting to watch or not. It's tragic, it's funny, it's so odd and entertaining it will make you think. It's quirky foreign language cinema at its best. Almodovar has made movies with far stranger premises, so if you're going to watch one of his movies for the first time, let it be this. You'll understand why he has developed a cult following.

Next on my Almodovar list for tonight: Women On The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown.

Coming soon to my Must-Watch List: Can't remember the title, but it looks like a sequel to Shaolin Soccer? I saw the trailer before the screening of Twilight.


Socky said...

Hi, gravelcat. Thanks for dropping by my blog.

Good to know you like Almodovar. He's a favorite too. Try to get hold of Matador and Law of Desire - early Banderas-Almodovar movies that reveal quite a lot of Banderas :-)

The Gravelcat said...

Hi, Socky! I will definitely look for those titles. I first saw Banderas in Atame (Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down), and it was clear he was on his way to stardom.

Thanks for visiting as well :)