I am a fan of Spanish film maker Pedro Almodovar. His films are well written and not predictable. “Pain and Glory”, his latest, is no exception. It’s the story of a washed up film director, who is wallowing in self pity because he’s sickly and alone. He agrees to come out of seclusion to publicly discuss one of his films. He has to reconcile with an actor from the film who he trashed. Through flashbacks we learn of his impoverished childhood and he was a prodigy. His mother in these scenes is played by Penelope Cruz, who seems to be channeling Sophia Loren’s earthiness. Antonio Banderas, who started his career in Almodovar’s films and became estranged from him, plays the director. It’s probably his best acting job ever. As with most of the director’s films it takes a bit to get started, but one it does, it packs a wallop.
Adam Sandler tries something different in “Uncut Gems”. He plays a dramatic role and not a sympathetic one. In this film he is owns a New York jewelry store and he’s a liar, gambler and cheat. Obsessed with his gambling, he neglects his family and business, looking to make it big on the next deal. He owes money to the mob and they’re chasing him. This is not a pleasant movie, but it is compelling, well acted and shot on a minimal budget. And Sandler is outstanding in a totally different type of role.
One of the best reviewed films this year is “Marriage Story”, currently streaming on Netflix. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, a better title might have been “Break Up of a Marriage Story”, since the whole film is about a couple’s divorce. Johansson and Driver, along with Laura Dern as a divorce lawyer, give career best performances. The story and characters seem so real and many of the situations are heartbreaking. I have not been an Adam Driver fan so far, but he won me over with this role, (Maybe I haven’t forgiven him for killing Han Solo.) And I have always thought that Scarlett Johansson was a good actress. She plays a woman who is a wonderful mother, sweet person, but screws over her husband. Definitely worth seeing.
“Honey Boy” is an autobiographical film about Shia LaBeouf’s life as a preteen and his time in rehab in his early twenties. Lucas Jupe plays the twelve year old character, Lucas Hedges plays him at twenty, and LaBeouf plays his own father. LaBeouf was a successful child actor who lived in a fleabag motel with his guardian father, a former rodeo clown who rides his son endlessly. The father is a recovering alcoholic, with a foul mouth and low moral values. On top these issues he is jealous of his son’s success and infringes on any happiness he has. Jupe and LaBeouf are excellent and play well off of each other. Hedges, playing the actor at twenty, is in rehab trying to come to terms with his demons. The movie tackles difficult themes, with the father especially unlikeable. This is a good slice of life film. LaBeouf, who wrote the movie, doesn’t candy coat his story. It’s a brave move to tell his life in this way.
“Dark Waters” is the story of how Dupont has systematically polluted the land and water in West Virginia and poisoned the world with some of their products. It is discovered when a corporate lawyer takes the case of a farmer whose land has been ruined and his cows are dead or dying. As with many of stories where the little guy takes on the system, it’s an upward climb. Mark Ruffalo plays the real life attorney who convinces his law firm to take on Dupont. The corporation fights them with everything they’ve got, but in the end they can’t overcome the evidence. The film is a bit long, but the story is very compelling. Anne Hathaway plays Ruffalo’s wife and Tim Robbins his managing partner An interesting and important piece of current history. You will throw away your teflon pans after seeing this film.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is not just about Fred Rogers. It’s the story of a magazine writer who is assigned to write an article on the star of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”, initially believing it will just be a fluff piece. Instead, getting to know Rogers changes his life, helping him to get over his anger, appreciate his wife and child and become a better writer. The lead character is played by Matthew Rhys of television’s “The Americans” and Mr Rogers is portrayed by Tom Hanks in his best performance in years. The character could have come off as corny, but Hanks makes him a genuine, sweet man. If you saw the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” last year, this film is a great follow-up. It’s a genuine fell good movie that will lift your spirits.
Chadwick Boseman turns in his Black Panther uniform for that of a New York City detective in “21 Bridges”. The film starts out with a cocaine heist gone wrong. The heist is interrupted by four policemen and they blast their way out. A total of eight officers are killed by two thieves. The 21 bridges refers to the number of bridges connecting Manhattan with the outside. They need to be shut down so the killers cannot leave. The rest of the movie shows the chase and the realization that the thieves stumbled on a much bigger crime. This is a taut thriller with a lot of twists and a huge body count. It will keep you on the edge of your seat. Boseman is good as the detective. J.T. Simmons is good, as usual, as the head of the precinct that loses so many men. Worth seeing if you like tight police dramas.