Pedro Almodóvar's luscious, poignant, and humane film All About My Mother; sits as a vibrant ode to the classic women-led melodramatic films which flourished within the male-dominated period of Hollywood cinema. Though its connected nature works as a stylistic choice, the film still manages to "wear it all on its sleeve." The female characters in All About My Mother not only have individual agency but also come together within a series of life-affirming circumstances like bonding, identity, loss, and grief -- all brought visually to life by Almodóvar. His early filmography including Labyrinth of Passion (Almodóvar, 1982), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Almodóvar, 1988) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Almodóvar, 1990) tended to explore sexuality, drama, pop décor, and were all directed with a visually distinctive approach by their director.
However, in comparison, Almodóvar's most celebrated Oscar-winning feature acts as a mature steppingstone in his work. He approaches his subjects and themes previously with an almost comical sense of anarchy, which overall passes here for a reflective piece. The characters registered in Almodóvar's unique mind are relatable, caring, flawed, powerful, but still delightfully quirky and real within the space of the film. The film begins with the central protagonist Manuela (Roth). She loses her son, Esteban (Azorín) in a tragic car accident after chasing down a taxi containing famed actress, Huma (Paredes) aiming to get her autograph after watching her in a stage play of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Subsequently, after the transplant of her son's heart, Manuela falls apart, leaving prostitution to find his estranged, trans father, Lola (Cantó). Along the way she reconnects with an old friend, another transgender prostitute named Agrado (Juan) and, Rosa (Cruz). Rosa, a Nun whose role is to shelter sex workers and has a crucial connection to Lola, and also to the actress Huma. Her story unfolds like that of a troubled friend to her co-star Nina (Peña) who has a dependency on heroin.
All the character strands that connect with Manuela work not only as a character drama but as a textual drama as well; the visual references to A Streetcar Named Desire, Manuela and Esteban sitting down to watch All About Eve (Mankiewicz, 1950) and its main story arc, evokes that heavily. Manuela relies on the kindness of friends and strangers, and they return this in turn too. Almodóvar approaches the material with his emphatic and visceral directorial hand but allows these central characters to equally be funny and thought-provoking. It is primarily a caring film that actively refuses to pass judgement on these human frailties or view their consequences as cautionary tales but rather treats them with compassion. The character of Agrado, a transgender former truck driver-turned sex worker, is not solely defined here by her circumstances. Instead, Agrado sets out to deconstruct the prejudiced viewpoints of trans-identity, embracing the things which define her alone instead of by typically preconceived notions; a contemporary and daring feat of trans-positive identity representation by Almodóvar.
Also, an actress that possesses comic chops that can rival that of the classic comedy stars like Gilda Radnor or Madeline Kahn. In a career-defining performance, Penelope Cruz's Rosa, who becomes HIV positive after a relationship with Manuela's former lover Lola – sees within Manuela, Agrado, and Huma, their humanity, and gains happiness in their respective companies.
Almodóvar is showcased here as a director who has reached a peak of emotional heights. In a career that constructed film stories and featured subject matters which are tonally archaic, frank and button-pushing. All About My Mother wants its audience, to listen, to take in and to fully experience these characters occupying a space which feels authentic and true. It is a film that takes its time, relishes, and acknowledges its classic Hollywood genre label, but importantly, Almodóvar has his particular voice to register. Within the movie works of Bette Davis, Huma considers her an inspiration; and it is Almodóvar that clearly wishes not only to utilise and celebrate her wide and appreciated body of work but also, in turn, homage, pastiche and embrace it together via this role.
An emotional, heartfelt, and sumptuously designed piece of pure melodrama in the best sense. While we are all currently enduring a timely period of political divide and intolerance, the works of Spain's most appealing, enduring and above all graceful directors, was, and still is needed evermore. The film's closes with this line; ‘To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who can act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.' Let's celebrate that statement, eh?
In an effort to keep reinvigorating the interest in Star Wars, a TV special was made and circulated a year after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). This was outside of George Lucas' artistic control, however, it featured not only the original cast, but also a plethora of guest stars – how could it fail? Pretty definitively in this case. ‘Happy Life Day'; God help me! This is the creation that the majority of the Star Wars cast and crew are reputed to have wished gone and buried.
The production was largely a jaw-droppingly weird effort to string together a sort-of-plot involving the lovable and tough Wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and rebellious pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford). It centres on their attempts to get back to Chewie's family in time for Life Day: an event whose pertinence no-one even bothers to explain within the story, but from what I can gather, brings all Wookie-kind together in some hairy festive celebration.
Ironically, this family were never mentioned in the previous film – even when Han Solo woodenly tries to explain that they are ‘like his family too.' The majority of this special unfolds on Chewie's family's arboreal homestead occupied by his wife Mala, grandfather Itchy, and son Lumpy. The genius executives that greenlighted this special, failed to include subtitles for when the human characters aren't there to conveniently re-interpret Wookie-speak, so viewers are left frequently and bafflingly as mere bemused witnesses of uninterpretable Wookie discourse and debate – we're off to a good start.
This furry domestic set-up appears to be reflective of the US's favourite and familiar family-based sitcom scenario so beloved of this era. However, this is clashingly contrastive of the landscape of Star Wars – a common theme throughout this whole special. While they sit and wait for Chewie and Han, the story cuts away several times to a series of nonsensical, irritating and unintentionally hilarious scenarios involving the contemporary popular guest stars; Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll, Bea Arthur; who, to be honest, were all looking like they would rather be just about anywhere else.
One particularly bemusing segue involves Mala and the family under threat from the empire, but in between, a cooking show involving Harvey Korman as a sub-Julia Child-esque alien monstrosity is inserted; baking a Tatooine creature from a galactic recipe. In a further tangential mishap, grandpa Itchy is given a machine by Art Carney's trader character which simulates a sexual fantasy involving Diahann Carrol and LSD-infused visuals, I'm not joking, I only wish I were. Periodically, the original cast shows up to earn what their Star Wars related paycheque requires of them, which is mostly very little.
By the time Han and Chewie finally show up, you find yourself simply not caring anymore and just flabbergasted by the display of absolute drug-fuelled compilation of inane subplots that really dares any Star Wars fan to reconsider the prequel's many shortcomings. The finale presents ‘Wookie's Life Day' with Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia, singing about its importance, while Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill (looking like a permed-up Ken doll) and of course, R2D2 and C3PO looking at all of this with what feels to be an utter shame – at least as much as R2 and C3PO can express that non-verbally.
A complete waste of celluloid: it is a TV special with misplaced ambition and is bogged down by a script that conjures up horrific television clichés within a Star Wars context. The main cast looks embarrassed and horrified by what they presumably drunkenly signed up for. The guest stars are not funny and only appear to mug at the camera for all they're worth. Whatever loose structure the production had is ruined by continually stopping to make way for sketches that not even Spitting Image would dare to use, and actually only exists because of misguided executives wanting to put on their own variety show for devoted Star Wars fans and failing miserably. Yet, for how insane this special is, it scores well among the ‘most notable best-worst productions' of all time. It has to be seen to be believed.
In a world of timely and scary themes like 'fake news' and misleading government information, how about spotlighting The Legend of Boggy Creek? An independent docudrama film, shot for peanuts, which explores a town in deep-south America, concerned with the presence of an urban legend.
Yes, this film is undoubtedly an oddity and one that not only manages to be creepy but is also a calling card for any newcomer who wants to pick up a camera and shoot a low-budget film of ambition and intrigue. The Legend of Boggy Creek dares to explore the local, remote, and haunted town of Fouke, Arkansas: a place where folks can come on down and make a pleasant living; fishing, farming and experiencing a sense of community all in one package. Oh, and also be spooked by a supposedly terrifying creature known in those parts as the "Fouke Monster", stalking the woods around the town like a ghostly presence.
Such surrounding woods and forests are cinematically shot like a labyrinth of dark foreboding. Murky rivers; scorched sunsets; wildlife roaming ominously. All combined with the cry of something ferocious in the distance to create a very creepy gateway into territory no outsider would ever dare to tread. Maverick director Charles B. Pierce crafts together two elements to tell the Boggy Creek story. The film is a half documentary, half horror hybrid, put together mainly by interviewing a handful of locals about this folktale (some in belief, others in disbelief), while also presenting siege-horror film set pieces to craft audience scares.
The narrator introduces himself as a former resident who grew up in Fouke and describes the legend as something altogether too real and mysterious in its behavioural pattern. This adds to the film's already eerie aesthetic and the voiceover performer adds a gentle but also suspect tone of delivery that works very well. The town is skilfully documented like a dark fable as faux interview footages are balanced with dramatic scenes and actors. New town-folk becoming terrorised by the creature in their own homes is portrayed much like a siege thriller. But in these moments the film struggles to maintain its narrative structure, reverting to horror cliches with irregular acting from its amateur cast. Pierce's reach certainly exceeds his grasp, and with creaky support by an incredibly low-budget, the horror-documentary balance does not strike an entirely successful chord. Yet, there is still intrigue here.
When one takes into account the on-going popularity of the found footage genre: going back to the controversial release of Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980) and then catapulted into financial breakthroughs with the release of The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sánchez, 1999), we realise the horror audience's appetite for the exploration of something perhaps authentic and eerily real. The Legend of Boggy Creek certainly proved to be a financial hit among the drive-in circuits and exploitation theatres, enough to generate interest in the film's faux-doc structure.
Despite the film's weaknesses, there is substantial interest and atmosphere generated by the film's fable-like structure. If Boggy Creek proves one thing, it is that a low budget horror film with absolutely no violent content and no extensive technical prowess can generate enough eerie atmosphere and curiosity to be worth seeking out; especially for its bleak and unsettling portrayal of a quiet town spooked by a local legend.
Yes, The Legend of Boggy Creek is perhaps dated and somewhat flawed compared to higher-budget horror film productions; and with its faux-doc style may strike a chord with audiences as somewhat familiar territory. However, Charles B. Pierce's ambition alone means that the film retains a spooky sense of menace, whilst also being a time capsule of small-town life - a game of two halves.
The YA movie has been a much more prominent form of a film over the last decade or so. We have had the boom of the Nicholas Sparks' book adaptations, featuring young people in love, which had started majorly with the release of the Notebook in 2004. Combined that with the sub-genre of YA with Post-Apocalyptic world stories, kicking that craze off with the release of The Hunger Games in 2012, starring Jennifer Lawrence. The Hunger Games was such a huge success, that sequels followed, which tied with their source material and a handful of franchises that based their plots around young, predominately teenager characters in life or death situations in a dystopian world, such as The Maze Runner and Divergent franchises.
The YA genre is certainly not original and has over time covered different types of stories centred on ‘Young Adults', but the question is whether any filmmaker or writer can bring anything fresh to the table. The film in question is this movie starring Amandla Stenberg, who had also starred in a post-apocalyptic YA film called The Darkest Minds, so she is in familiar territory. Based on a novel by Angie Thomas, the film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, a young black girl who lives in a poor neighbourhood but attends an upper-class school, sent by her parents (played by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby).
Her parents have a clear radical past and her dad enforces on his family to believe in themselves and stay tough in a cruel, hating world, which stays within Starr. When she attends a party, she bumps into an old friend Kahlil, and gunfire is drawn, and the party members disperse. Kahlil drives her back home only to be pulled over by a police officer who assuming Kahlil carried a weapon, open fires and kills him, leaving Starr to look on in horror. The family are told the policeman won't be charged unjustifiably pending an investigation, Starr understandably becomes appalled and confused at this injustice.
While mourning the loss of her friend, Starr and her family's life spiral completely out of control, as the media and outraged citizens of the black community turn Kahlil's death into a call to arms. Her school life is affected as her fellow classmates use his death as an opportunity to protest in order to skip class for that reason only. There is a subplot involving her uncle (played by Anthony Mackie), a gang lord who want to hurt her family after she reveals her family's past to a news presenter and so her dad dangerously slips further and further back into the world he once occupied in order to protect his family from harm's way. Starr tries desperately to cope with her grief and the ensuing madness around her, as she finally decides after all what she knows is right and has to say.
The film and, it's source material deal with heavy and topical subject matter, and to approach this story from the perspective of a young teenager is interesting but also important; a lot of what happens not just here and, in the world, today, influences younger people and shapes their lives. First and fore-most Amandla Stenberg is just amazing in the role, she brings a mature but powerful and subdued performance that vastly dominate the proceedings. What we know from her world point is clear from her portrayal as Starr and effectively shows us the anguish and confusion that her character goes through, as it seems like the whole world is against her.
Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are also very good here, never giving in to over-acting or melodramatic gestures that might hinder the film. The film tells this story but never at the expense of great characterisation or subtlety. I think it is an important film that should be seen by not just young people on their own but with their families with which could generate important conversations. The message is timely, relevant and never feels the need to look down on young people or needing to wander into a melodramatic contrivance to make its point. It isn't an easy film to watch nor should it be, George Tillman Jr. the director, who has experience tackling young demographic aimed material before, most notably the Nicholas Sparks adaptation of The Longest Ride and it's to his credit that he understands the message of the source material, and has a confident hand to get great performances out of his cast very well.
The film proves there is life to be had in the YA genre and room to tell engaging stories for younger people that are effective, raw and honest and acts as a befitting swan-song to screenwriter Audrey Wells.
In my Battle Royale review: I stated that one cast member truly stood out as an iconic performer, and to this day, an influential figure in Japanese culture; that of Takeshi Kitano. Sonatine marks as a critical milestone in an already acclaimed body of work for him and, it also changed the way we analysed the crime genre for years to come. Kitano himself had for years tried to break into for lack of a better word, 'dramatic' works within the world of cinema.
His first attempt with this in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence for director
Nagisa Oshima proved to be a lost cause; having the audience laugh off his part, in recognition of his most famous comedy persona, Beat Takeshi, on the screen. After several outside projects, including creating a video game! Kitano made his directorial debut with the successful Violent Cop. From there he directed, wrote and produced a handful of films that dealt with Japan's criminal underworld as a backdrop for character study arcs.
The story goes that Takeshi Kitano plays an enforcer of the Yakuza, Murakawa, who while caught in a feud between the family triads, grows tired of his crime-riddled existence and wishes to retire indefinitely. After a call for peace goes horribly wrong, he and other Yakuza members are ordered to hide in exile by a beach house until matters can be settled. From there, they play games, they play jokes and ultimately experience what it means to be human before the reality of their predicament hits them like a bullet. And so, Murakawa will have to forge a path that he can choose to follow or go back from.
A plot of this ilk bares comparison to plenty of Hollywood counterparts that have come before and after it. However, since this film creates a mostly fresh and cultural viewpoint of the 'disillusioned crime figure' narrative; the film stands out. Showcasing Kitano as a master of genre storytelling and with visual flair to spare. Kitano, in his ingenious way of constructing narrative and character arc, is to save the audience any clues of where the plot is going. Kitano's character rarely lets the audience in on what he is feeling or what he truly understands about a particular situation - violent or otherwise - throughout the film. Murakawa states to a fellow associate that he wants to leave the world he embodies, but in hindsight, there are plenty of obstacles that prevent him from effectively escaping. And so, has to ultimately decide his own fate that in a way that is intricate and surprisingly unpredictable.
The majority of the beach scene, in particular, is laced with humour, displayed by Kitano that is absurdist but never out of place. Moments such as some of the men involved getting caught in sand traps by Murakawa as pranks are clearly funny and also feel human. Takeshi Kitano or 'Beat' especially comes from a stand-up background. To insert humour into this overall dramatic and sombre piece is refreshing but also demonstrates Kitano's approach to the material as knowing and reflective; balancing his sense of humour and a clear eye for poignant moments amongst his characters. This is a take on the crime genre that I certainly haven't come across before, and such marks him as a unique filmmaker in his own right.
For any Kitano newcomers, this is a great place to start from. Kitano refuses to shy away from violence on screen, but only for the purpose of substance and context than surface and content. This is one film that won't escape my mind, any time soon.