Lucy in the Sky
Pain and Glory
Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a famous film director, recently lost his mother, Jacinta ( Julieta Serrano) and suffers from back pain. He agrees to do a Q&A for a screening of a newly restored version of one of his films, Sabor, so he tracks down the lead actor, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), to ask him join him for the Q&A. They haven't seen in each other in a few decades, but rekindle their friendship. Mallo recalls memories from his childhood when he (now played by Asier Flores) lived in a refurbished cave with his mother (now played by Penelope Cruz).
Pain and Glory is a bittersweet and poignant story about the struggles of an artist grappling with old age and childhood memories. The semi-autobiographical screenplay by writer/director Pedro Almodóvar jumps back and forth between past and present seamlessly without any clunkiness, convolutedness or uneveness. Salvador's childhood and his evolving relationship with his mother affects his life in many ways which makes the film relatable because everyone's present-day emotional ailments are rooted in the past. As Pain and Glory plot progresses, it becomes increasingly complex, layered and even surprising. There's also just the right amount of nuance and no reliance on over-explaining, especially during a pivotal moment during Salvador's childhood when he comes-of-age and has a sexual awakening. Almodóvar, like all great filmmakers, trusts the audience's patience, intelligence and emotions. He treats Salvador like a human being which is a testament to his humanism, a truly special effect. He doesn't try to push the envelope here like he had done in his past films, so the film remains a tender character study from first frame to last. There's also some witty comic relief every now and then which helps to counterbalance the darker, heavier themes.
While Almodóvar paints the window into Salvador's soul, it's Antonio Banderas who opens that window widely as much as Renée Zellweger did in Judy. You forget that you're watching Banderas because he fully transforms into Salvador. He deserves to be nominated for a Best Actor award come Oscar time. Most importantly, though, he finds the emotional truth of his role which allows the audience to feel empathy for Salvador every step of the way even when he's battling addiction to cocaine. His reunion with his old friend/actor Alberto is one of the film's most powerful and beautiful scenes. At a running time of 112 minutes, Pain and Glory manages to be warm, tender and profound. It's one of the best films of Almodóvar's career. Antonio Banderas gives an Oscar-worthy performance.
Oyster (Nat Wolff) accidentally kills someone during a bar fight and gets sentenced to 25 years in prison. His older brother, Cal (Jai Courtney), a police officer who's also a Marine Corps reservist, comes to his rescue by doing everything he can to try to get him released from prison.
Semper Fi has a compelling premise that sounds like it could be a gripping dramatic thriller, but the heavy-handed screenplay by writer/director Henry-Alex Rubin and co-writer Sean Mullin bites off much more than it could chew and becomes increasingly preposterous as it asks the audience to suspend too much disbelief. The first act takes too long to get to the essential scene, the bar fight which leads to Oyster's prison sentence. Then the perspectives change too often between Oyster's and Cal's because one minute you're watching Oyster's experiences in prison and the next you're following Cal's combats overseas when he fights for the Marines. The supporting characters, Jaeger (Finn Wittrock), and Clara (Leighton Meester), are underwritten. Perhaps be more centralized, intimate and raw focus from one perspective would've added much-needed emotional depth. The last 30 minutes of the film, which won't be spoiled here, lack so much plausibility that they make Hereditary's supernatural plot seem more plausible.
A truly great screenplay treats its characters like human beings and has a perfect blend a Truth and Spectacle. Cal and Oyster are more like plot devices than fully-fleshed human beings, and there's too much Spectacle without enough Truth. The slight amount of poignancy comes from the performances by Jai Courtney and Nat Wolff, not from the dialogue. Moreover, the screenplay fails to get inside the head of any of its characters, so the beats don't land when they're supposed to, i.e. whenever Cal goes to great lengths to save his younger brother. A more powerful and heartfelt version of Semper Fi is Conviction or even the under-seen Trial By Fire from early this year. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, it's well-acted, but contrived and undercooked.