Life Itself (2018)


Ah, to be young, in love and expecting a child!

(2018) Romance (AmazonOlivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabel Durant, Lorenza Izzo, Jake Robinson, Adrián Marrero, Kya Cruse, Charlie Thurston, Gabby Bryan, Jordana Rose, Caitlin Carmichael, Bryant Carroll, Carmela Lloret. Directed by Dan Fogelman

 

Life Itself (not to be confused with the 2014 Roger Ebert bio-documentary) has some mighty tall aspirations. It means to show us through all the pain and suffering through life, we can find solace in that love finds us because it is destined to. I’m sure there are plenty of lonely people who would take exception to that theory.

Will (Isaac) and Abby (Wilde) are a young couple who met in college, fell in love, got married and are expecting a child. Or, at least, they were; we see most of that through flashbacks and we meet Will during a therapy session with a sympathetic psychiatrist (Bening) who is trying to guide Will through the ruins of his life after Abby leaves it. We meet their daughter Dylan (Cooke), a petulant young girl who fronts a punk band but is hiding great pain and not hiding it very well. We also meet Rodrigo (Monner), a young boy traumatized at a young age and brought up by a mother (Costa) who is afflicted with cancer and two fathers – his biological dad (Peris-Mencheta) and the wealthy landowner (Banderas) for whom his father works and who has been part of his life since the beginning. We also meet Elena (Izzo), the narrator who has connections with nearly all of these people in some way.

This is a movie that is riddled with sorrow; plenty of the folks I just introduced you to meet tragic ends, but there is also a lot of joy in the relationships with spouses, parents and caring friends. It feels like Fogelman has tried to cram way too much into the movie which helps to give it the feel that it’s going on too long. Some astute viewers will note that Fogelman has become well-known for the TV show This Is Us which this resembles in tone and construction which is probably why my wife likes this movie so much.

Most critics don’t, however, and I count myself among them. Like life itself, the movie has problems and triumphs in equal measure. There are some nice performances – Costa, Isaac, Wilde and Patinkin stand out, and Jackson in what amounts to a cameo at the very beginning of the movie might have caused problems by making viewers think this was going to be a different kind of movie than it actually was. Frankly, I thought that Fogelman should have stuck with the Sam Jackson movie; it’s a much better one than the one he actually made.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some form of catharsis throughout the movie for you to hold onto. There certainly is, but the tone shifts are so abrupt and violent that we are left feeling curiously off-balance, which is kind of what we watch movies to get away from. Life Itself is too much like life itself in many ways and I don’t think most of us love life itself enough to want to watch a movie about it.

REASONS TO SEE: Jackson is incandescent in his brief appearance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Excessively maudlin.
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a bit of profanity, some sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fogelman listened extensively to Bob Dylan’s 1997 Time Out of Mind album in order to set the mood of the film which blends love and melancholy. In fact, the track “Love Sick” plays over the opening credits.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews: Metacritic: 21/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This Is Us
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The House With the Clock In the Walls

New Releases for the Week of January 17, 2020


DOLITTLE

(Universal) Robert Downey Jr., Michael Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Harry Collett, Emma Thompson (voice), Rami Malek (voice). Directed by Stephen Gaghan

The beloved series of children’s stories gets a modern retelling as the Victorian-era veterinarian and physician Dr. John Dolittle, who much prefers the company of animals to humans, races against time to save a gravely ill little girl, voyaging to a mysterious remote island in search of a cure. Did I mention he can talk to the animals?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Fantasy/Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor and brief language)

Bad Boys for Life

(Columbia) Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Joe Pantoliano. Bad boy detectives Lowrey and Burnett go for one last ride on the mean streets of Miami to take on a well-heeled and ludicrously armed villain who is out to blow away the both of them. Wha’cha gonna do?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug use)
 

Color Out of Space

(RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer. When a meteorite lands in a small New England town, it brings with it an extraterrestrial organism that infects the minds and bodies of the inhabitants. Based on a classic H.P. Lovecraft story.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Wednesday Only)
Rating: NR

The Song of Names

(Sony Classics) Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Catherine McCormack, Jonah Hauer King. As Europe prepares to erupt into World War II, a prodigal violinist disappears without a trace on the eve of his debut concert performance. His adopted brother spends his life trying to track him down and discover why he fled so abruptly.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language, brief sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)

Weathering with You

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Tsubasa Honda, Sakura Kiryu. A young runaway surviving (barely) on the streets of Tokyo meets a young girl who can seemingly control the weather.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material, some violence and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Anjaam Pathira
Entha Manchivaadavuraa
Intrigo: Death of an Author
Miracle in Cell No. 7
Pattas

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Anjaam Pathira
Big Brother
Disturbing the Peace
Entha ManchivaadavuraaNana Mori
Host
Intrigo: Death of an Author
Invisible Life
Miracle in Cell No. 7
My Hindu Friend
Pattas

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Ashfall
Entha Manchivaadavuraa
Pattas

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

63 Up
Entha Manchivaadavuraa

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Bad Boys for Life
Color Out of Space
Dolittle
Weathering For You

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami Jewish Film Festival, Miami Beach, FL
Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, West Palm Beach, FL
Saint Augustine Film Festival, St. Augustine, FL
Sunshine City Film Festival, St. Petersburg, FL

New Releases for the Week of October 25, 2019


BLACK AND BLUE

(Screen Gems) Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, Mike Colter, Nafessa Williams, Deneen Tyler. Directed by Deon Taylor

A group of corrupt cops are caught in the act of murder on the bodycam of a young rookie cop. With nowhere to turn – chased by the neighborhood gang members who are out for revenge and the cops who are desperate to recover the footage and silence her, she must turn to an unlikely ally.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence and language)

Countdown

(STX) Elizabeth Lail, Peter Facinelli, Anne Winters, Jordan Calloway. A young nurse downloads an app that predicts when the user is going to die – which in her case, is just three days. When she looks into it, she is shocked to discover that the app is horribly accurate.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, language and thematic elements)

The Current War

(101 Studios) Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon. American titans Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse vie for their ideas to set the standard for American electricity. This film was set to come out a couple of years ago in time for Oscar consideration but the demise of Weinstein studios sent it to the shelf until now.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and thematic elements)

Housefull 4

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, Bobby Deol, Pooja Hegde. Three couples in ancient India are parted, only to be reincarnated in 2019 with a chance to set things right. Unfortunately, the men are all preparing to marry the wrong women.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase, Universal Cinemark at Citywalk
Rating: NR

The Lighthouse

(A24) Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Karaman. Two lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890s make an extraordinary discovery that is both beautiful and terrifying. From the director of the modern horror classic The Witch.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images and some language)

Made in China

(Viva) Rajkummar Rao, Mouni Roy, Amyra Dastur, Roman Irani. Stung by a series of failures, a middle-class Indian businessman tries his luck in China and finds a second chance at life.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Pain and Glory

(Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano. The latest from legendary director Pedro Almodóvar follows an esteemed film director who is suffering through health issues. He encounters people from his past and present that remind him of past glories and present pains while rekindling his love for the eternal cinema.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for drug use, some graphic nudity and language)

Parasite

(NEON) Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival follows the fortunes of the Kim family, perpetually unemployed who manage to weasel their way into the service of the wealthy Park family. Things look rosy for the Kim clan until they get caught in an unexpected incident.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language, some violence and sexual content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

After Party
Bigil
Farming
The Gallows Act II
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa With Feelings
Jesus is King
One Piece: Stampede
Saand Ki Aankh

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Bigil
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa With Feelings
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Khaidi
One Piece: Stampede
The Prize
Saand Ki Ankh
The Trouble with You

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Bigil
Full Count
The Great Alaskan Race
Immortal Hero
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Khaidi
One Piece: Stampede
Saand Ki Aankh

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bigil
Give Me Liberty
The Great Alaskan Race
Isa Pa with Feelings
Jesus is King
Kaithi
Saand Ki Aankh

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Black and Blue
Countdown
The Current War
The Lighthouse
Parasite

The 33


Chippendale's goes underground.

Chippendale’s goes underground.

(2015) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers/Alcon) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuňez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviňo, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo, Naomi Scott, Gustavo Agarita, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Paulina Garcia. Directed by Patricia Riggen

One of the problems with bringing a real life event to the big screen, such as the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of the Hindenburg is that everyone knows what’s about to transpire pretty much. For the mine collapse of the San Jose copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert on August 5, 2010 that trapped 33 miners miles below the surface for 69 days, most people are aware of how that turned out.

For most of the miners of the San Jose copper mine, August 5, 2010 was just another working day. After a retirement party for Mario Gomez (Agarita) who has just a few days to retire, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), engineer Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Phillips), Elvis impersonator Edison Pena (Vargas), Dario Segovia (Raba), a homeless alcoholic and the devout Jose Henriquez (Treviňo) are among those who go down to earn their living, even though there are signs that something catastrophic was about to occur (and in real life, several miners had died and the mine owners repeatedly fined for poor safety conditions in the century-old mine).

Then a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building shifts and falls, burying the miners miles below the surface. When the 33 miners in the bowels of the earth reach their refuge, they discover that the medical supply cabinet is empty, the emergency food rations nearly so, and the telephone to the surface unconnected. The ladders in the ventilation shaft are also discovered to have never been completed. At first the miners take out their frustrations on foreman Urzua but Sepulveda’s level head prevails. They go about rationing the little food and water they have access to.

On the surface, the families of the miners, led by Maria Segovia (Binoche), the estranged sister of Dario, demand to be informed as to what is being done. The mining company, without the wherewithal to mount an expensive rescue operation, has decided to assume the men are dead and are making only token attempts to see if the miners are alive. The arrival of Chile’s Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Santoro) changes that; as he quickly discovers the lack of interest on the mining company’s part of getting their employees home alive, he takes charge of the rescue operation, with the blessing of Chilean President Piňera (Gunton) and with the assistance of mining engineer Andre Sougarret (Byrne).

In the meantime, things are looking dire in the mines as the first boreholes sent to the shelter miss their targets. However, once the miners are discovered alive and well, the gaze of the world turns to this compelling story in a small Chilean town.

Part of the problem with The 33 lies in its own title; there are 33 miners trapped underground and the movie can’t really spend a whole lot of time developing any of their characters. Throw in the families, political and media figures, the rescue teams including the one led by American Jeff Hart (Brolin) and it’s nearly impossible for director Riggen to give us a figure for the audience to latch onto, with the exception of the larger-than-life “Super Mario” who became a media darling in Chile during the actual event.

So a solid cast led by Banderas and Binoche, one of the most gifted actresses in the world, is left with frustratingly little to do other than occasionally mouthing a cliche meant to project their character’s role in the movie as comic relief, antagonist, love interest and so forth. Riggen has been criticized for this somewhat but to be fair I don’t think any director could have wrangled all of these characters and made them three dimensional unless she had a mini-series to do it with. Going back to Super Mario, during the movie there’s an incident when the miners turn on him because of his perceived favored status. One wonders if the actors in the film felt the same about Banderas who is really the only one of them who gets to make any sort of impression.

The rugged Chilean desert nicely contrasts with the mine scenes which were filmed in working mines in Columbia. They do capture nicely the flavor of being deep underground, although the sense of just how deep they were gets a little lost – in reality it would take the miners about an hour to reach the level they were trapped on from the surface, and of course an hour to return.

The movie glosses over some of the more disturbing aspects of the story, such as the mining company’s negligence or the absolutely disgraceful dismissal of their lawsuit three years after the disaster, or of the Chilean government’s opportunistic use of the miners to prop up their own sagging popularity. However, to be fair, the movie makes it clear that this was a defining moment in the history of Chile and that cannot be overlooked.

All in all, it’s an uplifting story that is a tribute to human endurance, the unmistakable power of hope, and the undeniable lure of bare masculine chests. I don’t know that the movie captured the true nature of what the miners endured – the second half of the movie there is almost zero tension because by that time supplies were making regular appearances down a tube from the surface, they had video communication with the surface and they made it seem less of a life-threatening situation than an endurance race. In the actual situation, there were serious doubts that the miners would survive – the unstable geological situation and the unknown performance of the rescue capsule were certainly question marks. Unfortunately, Riggen doesn’t really capture that adequately and maybe no director could have. After all, it’s no secret (and therefore not a spoiler) that all of the miners were rescued. That’s certainly the outcome we all wanted, but as dramatic cinema goes it doesn’t really stack up well.

REASONS TO GO: Inspiring. Plenty of beefcake.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks character development. Little tension since we know how it ended.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some minor profanity and a disaster sequence that might be a bit scary for young ones.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The final film to be scored by the late James Horner, who died in a plane crash two months before the movie’s release.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: October Sky
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Spotlight

New Releases for the Week of November 13, 2015


The 33THE 33

(Warner Brothers) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by Patricia Riggen

In 2010, the eyes of the world were on Chile when 33 miners were trapped in a copper mine by a catastrophic explosion and collapse of the mine. For 69 days, an international team of mine experts frantically tried to rescue the men who survived underground. With barely enough food and water, with air running out and oppressive heat wearing them down, the race against time to bring the miners home became a desperate one. While we all know how the story ended, we don’t know the real story. This is apparently it.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for a disaster sequence and some language)

Love the Coopers

(CBS) Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei. The Cooper family has made an annual tradition of gathering at Christmas. Four generations of Coopers have grown up with this tradition. This year however, their celebration will be thrown askew by unexpected visitors, unlikely events and a renewal of family bonds that withstand the test of just about any calamity.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some sexuality)

My All-American

(Clarius) Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Sarah Bolger, Robin Tunney. Freddie Steinmark has been an underdog all his life. Considered too small to play football, he perseveres and becomes a champion in high school. His fight and determination attracts the attention of legendary University of Texas coach Darryl Royal who awards Freddie a scholarship. His determination and leadership turn around a losing team, but it was only after a devastating injury leads to a shocking discovery that the heart of a champion truly surfaces.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity)

New Releases for the Week of February 6, 2015


Jupiter AscendingJUPITER ASCENDING

(Warner Brothers) Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy, Tuppence Middleton, Doona Bae, Tim Piggott-Smith. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski

A pretty young housecleaner who has grand dreams but has been hit with a series of tough breaks wonders where life is going to take her. As it turns out, it’s the cosmos – her genetic make-up marks her as royalty which puts her smack into a cosmic game the steaks of which are unfathomably high for the human race.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity)

Love, Rosie

(The Film Arcade) Lily Collins, Sam Claflin, Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse. Having been best friends since the age of 5, Rosie and Alex can’t imagine not having the other in their lives. However, as far as love is concerned, there might be something there – but it always seems to appear at inconvenient times. Are they really the best friends they think they are, or is there something more deep down?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: R (for language and for some sexual content)

Old Fashioned

(Freestyle) Rik Schwartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger. An antique store owner with a checkered past and somewhat lofty and overblown theories of love and romance finds his life and his philosophy on l’amour thrown into a tizzy when a free-spirited young woman moves into the apartment above his shop.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Seventh Son

(Universal/Legendary) Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams. When an evil witch holds a medieval kingdom in thrall, the last knight of a mystical order goes in search of the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, who prophecy claims has enormous potential to battle evil. Finding his would-be hero on a farm, the knight must train him quickly in order to survive the coming battle.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language)

Shamitabh

(Eros International) Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara, Rekha. Two men with dreams of becoming Bollywood superstars – one a deaf-mute with matinee idol looks, the other an aging alcoholic with an amazing voice – join forces to create one complete personality. However, the two have a very hard time getting along.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

The Spongebob Movie: A Sponge Out of Water

(Paramount/Nickelodeon) Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny (voice), Clancy Brown (voice), Slash. When the super-secret, double hidden, cross your heart and hope to die, promise not to tell recipe for Crabby Patties is stolen, Spongebob and his band of merry misfits must come to our world and get it back. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Paramount is hoping a ton of cash.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family (Live Action/CGI)
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Still Alice

(Sony Classics) Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth. A brilliant linguist who is at the top of her profession begins to display a worrying habit of forgetting words and having difficulty remembering things. When she is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, she and her family find that the binds that connect them come under a great deal of pressure. As she struggles to remain connected to who she is – which is rapidly becoming who she used to be – she begins to learn what is really important and what is worth fighting for.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference)

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)


Beauty is only skin deep.

Beauty is only skin deep.

(2011) Thriller (Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Luis Gomez, Bianca Suarez, Susi Sanchez, Barbara Lennie, Fernando Cayo, Chema Ruiz, Concha Buika, Ana Mena, Teresa Manresa, Fernando Iglesias, Agustin Almodovar, Miguel Almodovar, Marta R. Mahou, Carmen Machi. Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is something of an acquired taste. He has directed zany comedies and taut thrillers but none of his movies really fit into any neat little boxes. His movies tend to push boundaries, whether of things that are considered socially acceptable or of cinematic convention. You may not necessarily like all of his films but they will make an impression.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a brilliant surgeon and medical researcher who is on the cusp of an amazing discovery – artificial skin that is flame retardant. His own wife had perished from injuries suffered in a fiery car crash so he has a personal stake in making this breakthrough. When he presents his results at a medical symposium it appears he may well be on his way to a Nobel Prize if things go the way that he hopes.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the good doctor has been performing illegal transgenetic experiments on humans. He is forbidden from continuing any further research on the subject. Of course, that’s not going to stop Dr. Ledgard, who on his secluded estate has been keeping a woman named Vera (Anaya). He has been grafting the artificial skin onto her body and he has gone too far to stop now. Through his loyal maid Marilla (Paredes) he dismisses the other servants and starts to step up testing on the skin.

Unfortunately, it’s about this time that Marilla’s criminal son Zeca (Alamo) turns up while Robert’s away and spies Vera on a closed circuit TV monitor and demands to see her in the flesh. When his mother refuses, he ties her up and rapes Vera, which clearly doesn’t sit well with Robert. These events will lead to an unveiling of secrets, including who Vera is and how she came to be the mad doctor’s captive.

Almodovar based this loosely on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet although he used a bundle of different influences as well, from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast to a number of literary sources which are listed during the end credit acknowledgements. There are a lot of different themes going on here, from medical hubris to personal obsession to the masks we adopt. Then again, Almodovar generally tends to deliver very layered films with themes that often invite controversy or at the very least post-screening discussion.

Banderas was an early Almodovar discovery in such films as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! although he hadn’t worked with the Spanish director in 21 years. Here he is at his best as the creepy, arrogant and psychotic scientist.  Dr. Ledgard believes he is doing good work, although not necessarily for humanity but certainly for his own needs. He is haunted by his dead wife and is literally trying to recreate her from the skin down. Vera is merely the conduit for his mad obsession. He becomes a kind of Dr. Frankenstein but in a modern medical sense. Almodovar handles that aspect rather clinically.

Like most of Almodovar’s films, the appeal isn’t going to be universal. Some will see this movie as way too strange and way too twisted for their own sensibilities and I can certainly understand that; there were times in the movie that I was a little uncomfortable myself and I tend to think of myself as pretty open-minded, cinematically speaking.

The movie’s ending isn’t going to brighten anybody’s day. Still, this is a really good movie for people who love to discuss the nuances of a film with friends afterwards. This is not only an intellectual exercise but an emotional one as well, with some visceral elements. The Skin I Live In isn’t the best of Almodovar’s films nor is it even his most squirm-inducing but it is the closest thing to a true horror film as he is ever likely to get.

WHY RENT THIS: An interesting, twisted modern update of Frankenstein. Banderas at his creepy best.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be a little too twisted for some. Kind of dreary ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some very strong violence including a sexual assault, graphic nudity and sexuality, some drug use, disturbing images and rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Among the books acknowledged in the end credits as inspirational material (copies of which appear in the bedrooms of Dr. Ledgard and Vera respectively) are The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and Angel at My Table by Janet Frame.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray contains footage from the New York premiere and an interview with the director conducted before a live audience.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $30.8M on a $13.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (purchase only), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eyes Without a Face
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Annabelle