The Junk Food of Writing

Monday, December 04, 2006

I don't know what "meme" means.

1. Popcorn or candy?
Popcorn. Despite the annoyance of post-consumption kernel remnants, popcorn is the ideal theater snack for a reason. It smells delicious, it's lightweight and I can easily cram it into my mouth without taking my eyes off the screen. It can, unfortunately, be a bit noisy, though. Candy is too sweet for me -- I need to be in a certain mood to enjoy it. Popcorn, on the other hand, always makes a perfect lunch for a matinee. Oh, and please keep that salty yellow chemical sludge away from my pure popcorn.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.
L'Avenntura and the other 442 films on my Netflix queue. I have, however, been keeping L'Avenntura (and a few others) in the teens in hope that they may appear at a theater that often runs retrospectives before I see it on DVD.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom?
Hilary Swank, wave bye-bye to your undeserved second Oscar. I'll use my cloning machine to create a replica and award Imelda Stauton and Kate Winslet their own Oscar.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be?
A mullet wig from This is Spinal Tap.

5. Your favorite film franchise is...
I don't like this question. Do the films of Pixar (sans the numbingly awful Cars) count? Probably not. The Charlie Brown films. I love the dance song in the series: Do-du-la-doo-da-do-doo-doo-doo-la-doo-doo.

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?

Patricia Clarkson. Why? So I can serve her those adoption papers (it's legal to have two mothers, right?).

Anna Karina. Why? Primarily, to admire her beauty in the physical realm. Perhaps she will say something intelligent and insightful.

Max Minghella. Why?
Primarily, to admire his beauty in the physical realm. Perhaps he will say something intelligent and insightful.

Jean-Pierre Leaud. Why? He can give me all the dirt on the 60/70's French scene (a different perspective than Anna Karina, I'm sure). He's most likely provide a good amount of wit at the table, also.

Woody Allen. Why? Oh, no particular reason...

(and one more for good, even measure):

Miranda July. Why? Oh, I'm sure we'd complain about technology and this crazy postmodern world in a comical fashion -- we'll get along swimmingly.

Since I'm hardly a world class chef, I'd take them out to a restaurant for dinner (after a few coocktails at the house, of course). We'd go out for shabu-shabu, because it's rather interactive and delicious.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?
I don't wish any more ill will on frequent cellphone users, but I do hope they enjoy the brain tumor they are rapidly developing.

8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days.
I don't like these choices. I'm going with Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You. Her verbal assaults are much more cutting than The Bride's knife (I realize this isn't exactly true, but I'd love it to be).

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?
Laura Dern's gaping mouth in Blue Velvet. I would post a picture if I had one, or if I hated you.

10. Your favorite genre (excluding comedy and drama) is:

The metafilm (, All That Jazz, Sherman's March, Adaptation).

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?
I'd resign.

12. Bonnie or Clyde?
The one that dies at the end.

13. Who are you tagging to answer this survey?
I would never be so mean.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Volver (Almodovar, 2006)

An obligatory image of Penelope Cruz's beaming smile and gorgeous cleavage.

Despite the international success of his recent output, including All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Bad Education, Pedro Almodovar, Spain's most prominent director, seems to be returning to his kitschy, yet oddly affecting, roots with Volver. Therefore, the title, which literally translates into the Spanish infinitive "to return," holds a double meaning.

The plot revolves around the supernatural return of Irene (Carmen Maura, an Almodovar regular), mother of Raimunda (a luminous Penelope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Duenas), and the film itself serves as a homecoming for Almodovar. Career-long aficionados and new appreciators of the auteur will likely rejoice in Volver's flippant pizzazz, which mixes elements of Almodovar's earlier, campier productions and his deeper modern melodramas.

Volver is certainly not as heavy as Almodovar's most contemporary efforts, but this frothy concoction endures and resonates despite its lighter weight. It searches for truth and insight in a more focused area of emotional complexity: mother/daughter relationships.

The slickly stylish Volver fits perfectly into Almodovar's oeuvre, even though there is an alarming lack of transvestites. Almodovar compensates for this dearth of pre and post-op trannies with his trademark vivacity, sympathy and sanguine-soaked sets. He creates a pervasively mystical atmosphere in which to set his absurd story involving three generations of women coping with the past and the bizarre nature of life in a small Spanish village. Raimunda, Sole and Raimunda's twiggy daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), react in vastly different ways to the unexpected and paranormal arrival of the deceased Irene. Their reactions reflect the tumultuous relationships they had when Irene was alive. On the surface, Irene's reappearance is due to promises she left unfulfilled.

She regretted her semi-neglectful parenting upon death and now wishes to stay on earth as a compassionate guardian, mostly to help her daughters with life's troubles-mainly their "poor luck with men." Despite her compassion, she still isn't going to be picking up her World's Greatest Mother trophy anytime soon; she'll have to settle for a tacky mug. It's best to think of her as a maternal Casper, but also with flesh, long hair and female anatomy.

Volver is, undoubtedly, a picture made for primarily female audiences, albeit not in the shallow way an archetypical romantic comedy is. It's a colorful ode to domesticity, feminine familial bonds and dealing with haunting repressed memories. This discreetly feminist production isn't designed to be enjoyed by only one gender, though.

Despite its perpetual awareness of mortality (the film even opens in a graveyard), Volver never becomes overbearingly morose; it maintains a playfully dark tone. Most of Volver's charm lies in the darting glances its capable cast surreptitiously and assuredly shoots each other. At Cannes, the ladies of Volver were collectively awarded the Best Actress award. While this may seem a cop-out, not to mention indecisive of the jury, the performances do coexist in a community where every actress understands the nuances of her character and the way she relates and interacts with the other women. Although this is an ensemble piece, Penelope Cruz is individually incandescent.

With a strong character, mojitos and some cleavage, Cruz proves that she's most comfortable and well-suited for cinema in her native language. It would not be a shame if she never appeared in another English-language movie, as long as that guaranteed her presence in copious amounts of Spanish-language films. Dressed in radiant reds and purples and a face capable of extreme emotional range, Cruz seamlessly glows through Raimunda's life highs and lows. Similar to Sophia Loren, Cruz has the capacity to play a benevolent mother, daughter and sister and, without making it icky, remain a sex symbol. Her character is realistically flawed and Cruz handles Raimunda's imperfections with unapologetic ease.

In the narrative department, however, Volver ultimately runs into the same problem most of Almodovar's recent films have; it's a bit too jammed in the end. The narrative bounces smoothly throughout, yet the final twists and exposition are not given much space to breathe and shock in the film's hurried conclusion. Fortunately, what preceded it is an exuberant, lively bit of luscious fun.

While Almodovar's storytelling skills aren't always in top form, he visually commands every frame. The film's heart is always in the right place; it's refreshingly thoughtful. Volver's coda may seem overloaded, but due to its affectionate humanism, endearing characters and tender pathos, it earns nearly every sentiment and dry slice of humor presented to the audience. It's a lovely film, as warm as the Spanish sun.