Saturday, April 25, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Arkansas (2020)

Back in 2009, John Brandon wrote one mean novel - I know that even though I read only the first chapter. It tells a simple story of two drug-runners who get to live in a park, fronting as rangers and working for a mid-ranking criminal who is connected to what is loosely known as Dixie Mafia. In the run-down South, the two of them, played by Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke (who also directed and co-wrote or adapted the script) settle into the life of career crime and anonymity, while a massive calamity is slowly rolling toward them unseen.

In essence, a neo-noir that meets Southern Gothic, the movie is one hell of a start to Duke’s directing career. It’s somewhat of a dreamy mess at points, but still, one unique movie where the humor and seriousness blend in a nice world of its own that Duke builds. Yes, there are many odd moments that might not work, similar to, for example, Cold in July, but as a whole, the film still has that crucial breath of fresh air it exhales from start to finish. A big help in that is both John Malkovich and Vince Vaughn. Vaughn, in particular, has a good showing, offering probably the best character since Brawl in Cell Block 99 (and a chattier one). So, Duke got something here, just like Arkansas. Keep an eye out for both.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Pain and Glory/Dolor y gloria (2019)

There’s no need to underline the level of skill and artistic sensibility that Pedro Almodóvar brings to his works. Yet, like all great artists, he is anything but a one-trick pony. Pain and Glory or Dolor y gloria in original is a fantastic drama that tries to do the impossible and examine the life of a single individual, from its start to the (nearly) end. The subject is Salvador, a lonesome and hurting movie director who tries to come to peace with his conflicting experiences while living in Madrid.

Played masterfully by Antonio Banderas, Salvador is a genius, but also a human being, burdened by his mistakes and the choices he made. In a tale that encompasses many other in-movie stories of both theatre and cinema, Almodóvar tells this personal epic as a mirror reflection of performances and the way they add and/or detract from the unknowable source material. Through a lot of pain and glory, beauty is born and it shines a special kind of light on the most ordinary of moments. As it does, the audience slowly comes to a sobering but also empowering conclusion: we’re all Salvador, each in our tiny yet infinite universe of memories, experiences and undying hopes.