*MOVIE RECAP: PAIN AND GLORY (Dolor y Gloria)

Full disclosure, Pedro Almodovar is by far my favorite living filmmaker alive today. To me, Almodovar is the closest thing we have to Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini in terms of originality and style. His body of work is beyond impressive and complex, which can be intimidating for anyone attempting to watch an Almodovar film for the first time. However, Pain and Glory is an excellent entry point for anyone interested in exploring the deep and outstanding filmography of Pedro Almodovar.

The story centers around Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a depressed movie director who is thinking of retiring from filmmaking because of chronic health problems. Meanwhile, a film festival wants to screen one of Salvador’s films and have the director and the lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) do a Q & A after the screening. But Salvador and Alberto had a falling out and have not spoken to each other in many years.

Reconnecting with Alberto, followed by a series of encounters with people from his past; Plus, a look back at his childhood leads Salvador to reflect on his choices throughout his life. Additionally, the mother and son relationship is a crucial component of this story. Salvador’s mom Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), is a highly influential figure here. The constant collaboration between Penelope Cruz and Almodovar is always magic.

We get to see young Salvador (Asier Flores) coming of age in a small town village in Spain under the influence of Franco’s fascist regime. It is remarkable how the old worldly nature of living in caves and catacombs’ housing style, somewhat disconnected from the modern 20th century, is presented. This depiction of provincial Spain and the old-world country people of Spain is beautifully done.

Young Salvador’s sexual awakening and his relationship with the female energy are significant components of this story. Also, the way that childhood is remembered through the company of women who helped define the world for him is extremely important. The mother-son bedside scene as their older selves is one of the most powerfully moving written scenes in the entire Almodovar filmography.

Ultimately, this is the story of a filmmaker in crisis — Reflecting on his career and life story while dealing with his body breaking down. On top of that, reconnecting with essential people from his past, like Alberto and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), forces Salvador to reconsider multiple aspects of his life. At the same time, remembering his sexual awakening also allows Salvador to resurrect his creative spirit and piece together all these different elements of his life’s journey.

The parallels between Pedro Almodovar and Salvador are astounding. The character of Salvador is clearly modeled after Almodovar; Salvador dresses like him and even lives in an apartment that closely resembles Almodovar’s place. In addition, they are both dealing with similar health issues, including back pain.

Incredible performance by Antonio Banderas. There is a physical aspect to this role that Banderas captures brilliantly. Plus, Banderas’s vulnerability comes across exceptionally well. Salvador lives in darkness, but there is beauty and a colorful energy around him.

Pain and Glory is an impressive film — It comes off as fresh and different but somewhat familiar to previous films by Almodovar. As far as I can tell, Almodovar uses similar themes here that he developed in his earlier movies. It feels like this is the story Pedro had been making for the last 40 years of his filmmaking career. His stories and themes always seem to relate to the same central thing; sexual identity, cinema culture, and Spanish culture.

All in all, this is a highly complex story, but all of it comes together cohesively. It is an intensely personal film, full of melancholy, regret, addiction, depression, pain, and glory.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Pain and Glory (2019).

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE KOMINSKY METHOD (Season 3)

After binging the first two seasons during the early days of the pandemic slash lockdown, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how charming and funny this series was. So I was anxiously looking forward to this third and final season.

Sadly, Alan Arkin (Norman) decided to abruptly retire from acting, throwing a major monkey wrench to this series. As a result, Chuck Lorre and his writing team had no choice but to kill off Norman — that was a bummer. The chemistry between Norman and Sandy (Michael Douglas) made things unique and special in the first 2 seasons. 

So at the start of season 3 we find out that Norman is now dead, and the grieving premise from the first 2 seasons is again one of the main themes here. We also find out that Norman left Sandy as the executor of his state, leaving Norman’s daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) and her son Robby (Haley Joel Osment) dependent on Sandy to have access to their inheritance. Plus, Phoebe and her son Robby keep coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes to get their hands on Norman’s money. 

Additionally, Norman left sandy’s daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) a big chunk of cash in his will — but Sandy doesn’t want Mindy’s boyfriend Martin (Paul Reiser) to know about it. Sandy is concerned that Martin will exploit Mindy’s inheritance. At the same time, the age difference between Mindy and Martin becomes a significant component of the plot. Sarah Baker’s performance continues to be a bright spot here. Also, Estelle (Christine Ebersole) Martin’s mom shows up, creating tension in Mindy and Martin’s relationship. Estelle is awful, mean, and nasty — she is a monster. 

Notwithstanding all the grief, loss, and stress surrounding Sandy’s life, he is also undergoing a late-career resurgence and gets the role of a lifetime. On top of all that, his ex-wife Dr. Roz (Kathleen Turner), returns home to be reunited with her daughter Mindy. I really liked how Dr. Roz got a more prominent role in this 3rd season. In addition, I was beyond happy to see how the chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner is still magic. It was like watching a Romancing the Stone (1984) and The Jewel of the Nile (1985) reunion between Douglas and Turner. Another highlight for me was Morgan Freeman hilariously playing himself.                                                                                   

At its core, this season continues to tackle the same themes from the first two seasons. It deals head-on with real human issues like the fragility of aging, mortality, and grief — all of those things come together beautifully along with the comedic premise of the show. 

The first 2 seasons got lots of Emmy nominations, and it received high critical acclaim. But this third season did not receive as much appreciation as the first two. For one, the absence of Alan Arkin made a difference — I missed the back and forth banter between Sandy and Norman; It was a crucial component of the unique “dramedy” basis of the series. However, Chuch Lorre and his writing team did find a way to wrap things up and bring the story to a close.

All in all, season 3 suffers from not having Norman back, but the series, as a whole, is pretty enjoyable and worth binging straight through.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE KOMINSKY METHOD Season 3 (Streaming on Netflix).

*MOVIE RECAP: DON’T LOOK UP

I’m surprised how divided most people are about this movie; some people appreciate the climate change metaphor, and others flat out hate it. The reviews have been all over the place. I sense political sensitivities are driving most of the negative feedback.

Anyhow, the story centers around the discovery of a comet by a tenure university professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a Ph.D. candidate, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). According to their calculations, this comet’s trajectory is in a direct collision course with Earth. And its impact will potentially be more significant than the comet that wiped out the Dinosaurs. As a result, human life on Earth will probably cease to exist — which means they have to urgently bring this information to the US government and the White House.

At the White House, the president of the U.S., Jane Orlean (Meryl Streep), doesn’t really take this information seriously and dismisses it as a political distraction from the upcoming elections. It is important to note that Meryl Streep’s POTUS is a right-wing nationalist modeled after Trump. So these two scientists have no choice but to take this information to the media.

From this point on, it is all-out chaos as our main characters frantically try to convince the world of the severity of this extinction-level event. While the media, the press, and the government don’t seem too concerned about the gravity of the situation. At the same time, most of society seems more interested in the love life of two celebrities. And even Leo’s character falls for celebrity culture and becomes a celebrity scientist, corrupted by fame. 

Eventually, POTUS uses this potential life-ending catastrophe as a political tool to attack the left. She weaponizes the phrase Don’t Look Up as a catchphrase for her right-wing supporters, similar to how Trump weaponized the MAGA phrase. With this performance, Meryl Streep channels most of the current prop of right-wing politicians; her character comes across as somewhat cartoonish, but it rings hilariously and scarily true in many aspects. 

The entire ensemble cast is impressive but somewhat underutilized. Nevertheless, there were some standouts like Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill); this character is pretty notable as the inept son and Chief of Staff to the President — His scenes are hysterical. The Air Force General (Paul Guilfoyle) charging people for free snacks at the White House was genius.

The character of Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) is fascinating as this weird and anti-social tech billionaire. He is a heavy political donor who controls POTUS and sets up the agenda for the White House. This character represents all of the outside corporate interests dictating domestic and foreign policy in the US government. It is beyond obvious that this character is a mashup of a bunch of billionaires like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

However, one of the most complex characters in this movie is Yule (Timothy Chalamet); this character provides the spiritual component needed for the overall viewpoint of this storyline. Yule comes across as the spiritual consciousness of this movie. Also, the ending of the film and the credit scenes were definitely my favorite parts of this movie.

Don’t Look Up is a well-intended sci/fi dramedy— A parable for climate change and the cynical, irresponsible approach by those with the tools and power to bring about change. And by using a planet-killing meteor as a metaphor for climate change, this movie directly critiques modern society, social media culture, bureaucracy, and politics. When considering the current political climate where everything is politicized, Adam McKay is one of the few filmmakers out there bold enough to address essential and profound real-world issues by using farce and satire.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

DON’T LOOK UP, 2021. (Streaming on Netflix)

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

It is hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since the original Matrix was released in theaters. Back then, when the Matrix was released in 1999, I was a young buck, working for AMC theaters as a projectionist, so naturally, I clearly remember this movie’s cultural impact when it came out.

It was a revolutionary film — we had never seen anything like it before; from all the groundbreaking special effects, the wild action sequences, bullet time effects, and the fantastic fighting scenes — it changed filmmaking forever.

Movies in the 90s were failing miserably to integrate new technology like the internet into their plot lines. And their attempt to utilize new cutting-edge special effects was falling hopelessly flat.

Primarily, films released in 1995 had a rougher time — movies like Hackers (1995), The Net (1995), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Virtuosity (1995), and Assassins (1995), to name a few — they struggled to use the internet and futuristic technology in their storylines. They were all clunky and unimpressive movies. However, Assassins wasn’t that bad; it had lots of potential to be a better movie, but it was made in the 90s, and the studio butchered the original screenplay — they should’ve waited a few years to make this movie.

Interestingly enough, Assasins was also written by the Wachowskis.

However, in 1999, The Matrix figured out how to properly integrate internet technology in a film. The mind-twisting storytelling inter-mingled with Eastern philosophy felt radical and fresh. While at the same time, The Matrix helped usher in the internet generation.

Sadly, the sequels didn’t live up to the same level of the original film. For me, their overall storylines felt convoluted. But overall, The Matrix Reloaded (2) and The Matrix Revolutions (3) had terrific special effects and action sequences. Most notably, the highway chase sequence in Matrix Reloaded was outstanding. Oh, and I can’t forget that rave slash dance floor orgy scene in Zion — it was one of the coolest scenes in the entire trilogy. Additionally, The Matrix 2 was a fun and exciting sequel — it introduced cool new characters like the Merovingian, Seraph, Niobe, the ghost twins, the key maker, and so on. And it also expanded on the world-building from the original Matrix film.

But Matrix Revolutions (3) disappointed me and left me perplexed. So, as a result, I was beyond skeptical upon hearing about a 4th Matrix movie. Especially since Neo clearly dies at the end of Matrix Revolutions by sacrificing himself to bring peace between humans and the machines. But we never really saw what happened to Neo’s body after the machines took his dead body away. So as the title of this 4th movie implies, there is a resurrection.

It has been 60 years since Neo died at the end of Matrix 3, and things are way different. The Matrix has evolved; no more dial-up is needed to hook into the Matrix. The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) has replaced the Architect as the new mastermind behind things. Let’s remember that because of Neo’s sacrifice at the end of the original trilogy, humans were supposed to co-exist with the machines and be skeptical of technology. Instead, humans have now entirely embraced it.

The opening scene is an almost identical redo of the opening scene from the original Matrix, but with new character Bugs instead of Trinity. It is important to note that this movie was shot digitally, while the original trilogy was shot on film.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back inside the Matrix with no memory from his past — He is now a video game developer who has dreams and visions that resemble Neo’s past from the 3 previous movies. Neo has created a virtual reality game that comes close to the likeness of the characters and narrative of the original Matrix trilogy — By the way, the game is also called The Matrix.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is also resurrected and back inside the Matrix under the name Tiffany — she lives a normal life, is married with kids, and has zero memory of her past. Amazingly, the on-screen chemistry between these two is stronger than ever.

Agent Smith, the AI program, returns, but now he is played by Jonathan Graff and not Hugo Weaving. Jonathan Graff is outstanding in this new version of Agent Smith, Graff had some flashes of weaving’s version, but this character is an entirely new take on Agent Smith. There is a new version of Morpheus played by (Yahya Abdul-Maten); this new version is a computer program based on the original Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne — this new Morpheus annoyed the hell out of me. On the other hand, It was great seeing Naobi (Jada Pinkett-Smith) return as an older version of her character and she is now the leader of the new Zion. Also, brand new character Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is a solid addition to this series.

It has taken me some time to process and reflect on this movie. The premise is bold and daring. Writer-Director Lana Wachowski has created a smart and sophisticated movie with multiple themes. This film attempts to revisit and revise what reality is and what we perceive as real.

All be told, there was no wow factor here like in the previous 3 films. The action sequences are mostly meh until the last action scene of the movie — which was a pretty impressive action scene. The rest of the action sequences are unremarkable and not groundbreaking, like in the previous films. Also, Neo never uses a gun here, which was a refreshing and bold choice. Still, there are some beautiful shots throughout this movie.

There is also this brilliant self-awareness to this movie when they take a direct shot at Warner Bros for making movies about the Matrix, based on Neo’s video game. There is a scene where we hear about Warner Bro’s threatening to go ahead and make a movie with or without Neo’s blessing. Similar to how Warner Bros planned to make this 4th movie with or without the Wachowskis.

The whole concept of a digital self-image was innovative. I loved seeing the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) making a quick cameo, looking Like a crazed hobo —ranting like a lunatic. Massive fan service points for including Sati (Priyanka Chopra) in this new storyline. Sati was an essential character from Matrix Revolutions (3), and now she is again a crucial character in this 4th movie. But I wonder what happened to the “Kid” (Clayton Watson) from the previous films. I thought that maybe he was the heir apparent to Neo, and he is not even mentioned here.

Ultimately, The Matrix Resurrection is a love story between Neo and Trinity — so yes, they are the ONE together. And although somewhat forced, this 4th movie does connect and ties in with the original 3 films. It manages to convey a distrust for the “real” world and the notion that we are being manipulated — and how our whole idea of reality is distorted. You have to go in with an open mind and be free of any expectations. I sense other movies in this series might be coming. I, for one, would love to see live-action prequels.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Matrix Resurrection (2021).

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