The Macaluso Sisters (Le sorelle Macaluso)


Facing the future together.

(2020) Drama (Charades) Viola Pusatieri, Eleonora De Luca, Simona Malato, Susanna Piraino, Serena Barone, Maria Rosaria Alati, Anita Pomario, Donatella Finocchiario, Ileana Rigano, Alissa Maria Orlando, Laura Giordani, Rosalba Bologna, Bruno Di Chiara. Directed by Emma Dante

 

One of life’s few universal truths is that we all experience both joy and sadness; triumph and loss. Those things mold us, shape us into the people we become; some through the memory of golden moments, other through the bittersweet acrimony of what might have been.

The five Macaluso sisters live in a shabby but spacious top-floor apartment in Palermo, Sicily. They keep doves in what had once been a playroom long ago, doves that they rent out for parties, weddings, magic shows and so on. The doves return back to their nest once they’ve finished with whatever spectacle they’ve been rented to. The sisters have been orphaned but don’t seem terribly traumatized by it.

Maria (De Luca) is the oldest and most responsible; she handles the business and for the most part keeps the lights on and the pantry from being bare. Next is vain Pinuccia (Pomario) who is all about make-up and flirting with boys. Then there’s bookish Lia (Piraino) who squabbles endlessly wth Pinuccia. Plump Katia (Orlando) is next and the youngest is Antonella (Pusatieri), who although five is ready to be a big girl. She begs Pinuccia to dab some lipstick on her mouth, which Pinuccia does in an affecting scene – the first of many.

Once the business is done for the day, Maria gets the girls ready for a day at the beach. Not being very well-off, they mostly walk there, finding a field full of plaster dinosaurs to play in, and once they get to the beach which is fronted by an exclusive club to which they are not invited, they lead the bathers in an impromptu dance. But the day’s joy turns to tragedy.

The rest of the film is all about how the sisters deal with that tragedy, and is told in three acts; the first is the day at the beach, the second takes place about twenty years later as the girls are now adult women, at which an adult Maria (Malato) has some startling news, and an adult Katia (Giordani) tries to convince the stubborn adult Lia (Barone) – in whose name the apartment is – to sell the crumbling apartment so that each of the sisters might get something to help them out financially.

The third and final act is the shortest and takes place when the sisters are elderly women. Throughout the apartment remains, growing shabbier as time passes. The doves also remain, much to Katia’s annoyance. Dante (no relation to the American director Joe Dante) gives the movie a fairly sad, bittersweet tone which only increases as the film goes on. The younger Macaluso sisters get the most screen time as their section is essentially the film’s longest, as they show up in flashbacks throughout the film. The nature of the tragedy which essentially shapes the lives of the sisters is hinted at throughout the movie, but shown in full near the end in perhaps the only misstep of the film; I don’t think it was necessary to show it, to be honest. There is also a scene in the idle of Lia, who is apparently studying to be a veterinarian, dissecting a cow which might set off alarm bells for the squeamish.

Dante uses Erik Satie’s elegiac Gymnopédie No. 1 throughout, mostly sourced as the music for a clock that plays the well-known tune, and then in the piano version most of us are familiar with. The piece is often used in cinema as a metaphor for growing old, and its use here is fitting.

Although most of the action takes place in the apartment, the movie never feels claustrophobic. The first third is incredibly joyful which makes the second and third acts all the more poignant; Dante does a wonderful job using tone throughout the movie. And while the metaphor of the doves may be a bit overdone here, it isn’t so overdone as to become monotonous and quite frankly the relationships between the sisters at various times in their lives was absolutely compelling for me.

The movie, which premiered at Venice last year, is probably not on the radar of a lot of cinephiles since it isn’t getting distribution by one of the more noted arthouse labels, and that’s a shame because this is an absolute gift of a movie. It’s playing in New York and Los Angeles only at the moment, but there are plans to release it in select theaters around the United States throughout August. Hopefully, it will be playing in a theater near you but certainly keep an eye out for it on VOD when it becomes available there if not.

REASONS TO SEE: Intensely, powerfully emotional. A realistic examination of sisterhood.
REASONS TO AVOID: Occasionally melodramatic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, nudity, sexual content, adult themes and an animal dissection.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a stage play, also written by Dante.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Our Little Sister
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Suicide Squad

Fin


Which is the predator and which is the prey?

(2021) Nature Documentary (Discovery Plus) Eli Roth, Boris Worm, Regina Domingo, Neil Hammerschlag, Gary Stokes, Alison Kock, Chue Lam, Ocean Ramsey, Peter Hammerstadt, Guy Medan, Lashanti Jupp, Michael Muller, Alex Hofford. Directed by Eli Roth

Like millions of others, Eli Roth saw Jaws in his formative years and was scared spitless. He developed a pathological fear of sharks that haunted him whenever he went to the beach. His fears would go on to lead him to become a director of horror films that include Hostel and The Green Inferno.

But he never got over his fear of sharks – that is, until he began to realize that far from the killing machines they were portrayed as in the movies, sharks actually attack humans extremely rarely and generally when they do, they break off the attack immediately when they realize that the human isn’t food. In fact, humans are far more dangerous to sharks than vice versa, to the tune of nearly a billion sharks estimated to have been illegally fished in the last decade alone.

It is one of the largest massacres of a single species in history. There are several reasons for it. Sharks often get caught in gill nets that are meant for other species of fish (they are illegal in most countries); shark liver oil is also used extensively in skin care products, including lotions, sunscreen, lip balm, lip gloss and lipstick – despite the availability of plant-based alternatives. However, one of the largest reasons is the popularity of shark fin soup, a delicacy in parts of Asia. Sharks are often butchered just for their fins, which command a high price. Hong Kong, by itself, processes 17,000 tons of shark fins every year. Often the fins are left to dry on street curbs, sitting in discarded cigarette butts, dog poop and swarms of flies. It’s enough to put you off eating for a week.

You would think that removing sharks from the ecological equation would be a boon for the food chain (or those below sharks anyway) but it is actually not. Areas in which sharks have been all but eradicated shortly become barren of all life. That’s because sharks help maintain ecological balance, acting as marine cops – keeping certain species away from where they don’t belong.

Roth, channeling his newfound respect – and even love – for sharks, decided to make a documentary and with the aid of actor/activists Leonardo di Caprio and Nina Dobrev (acting as executive producers), he traveled the world to see the slaughter in action, partnering with organizations like OceansAsia and Sea Shepherd to find solutions for the problem. He boards a notorious illegal fishing vessel with Sea Shepherd, showing without flinching the horrifying reality of the shark slaughter. The images are pretty graphic and should be viewed with discretion.

Roth has the passion of the convert, and that enthusiasm comes through in every word he utters. At times, the director who has portrayed scenes of people being disemboweled and eaten alive exclaims “That is the worst thing I’ve ever seen” when a shark is clubbed to death in front of him. But already his film is paying dividends; one of the largest shark fishing competitions in the United States was canceled this year, likely due to pressure put on from the film, and Congress is considering legislation that would make the sale of shark fins illegal in the United States.

There are woke reviewers who are criticizing the messenger and throwing out the message because of Roth’s history as a horror director. One sniffed, “He widely condemns women who wear cosmetics which can be made with shark liver oil. These words – coming from a director who helped coin “torture porn” and whose fiction work consistently and degradingly compares makeup-caked bombshells to animals – feel disingenuous at best.” For the record, Roth condemns makeup manufacturers, not the women who wear their products. He urges them to buy shark-free products. And incidentally, his movies tend to be just as degrading to men as well.

If there are some actual knocks for the film it could be that much of the information shared here can be seen in other documentaries, notably the two Sharkwater docs from the late conservationist Rob Stewart, but the footage of the industrial fishing vessels is unforgettable, and Roth’s earnest passion make this a worthy successor to Blackfish.

REASONS TO SEE: Roth is an engaging host. Sobering and sad.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be troubling for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Over 100 million sharks are killed in the wild every year (estimated).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sharkwater Extinction
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Luca

Colombiana


Colombiana

Zoe Saldana does her gratuitously sexy dance.

(2011) Action (Tri-Star) Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Amandla Stenberg, Beto Benites, Jesse Borrego, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Angel Garnica, Ofelia Medina, Callum Blue, Sam Douglas. Directed by Olivier Megaton

Revenge can be an all-consuming emotion, one that can change your life and become a focal point. When that happens, you run the risk of losing yourself – and your humanity – in your quest for vengeance.

Catelaya (Stenberg) is a 9-year-old girl whose parents owe money to a Colombian crime lord named Don Luis (Benites). Her dad Fabio (Borrego) also has some sort of microchip that Don Luis wants…very badly. So badly that after Fabio settles up his debt, Don Luis sends his right hand man Marco (Molla) to execute him and his wife (Addai-Robinson).

Fabio gives Catelaya the microchip and an address in America, telling her to go to the American embassy in Bogota and give them the microchip. He then kisses his daughter goodbye and goes to meet his maker.

Catelaya gives Marco the slip (although not before plunging a butcher knife through his hand) because apparently she’s a junior parkour champion and goes leaping and cavorting through the barrio like she’s on ESPN.  Eventually she makes it to the embassy and is shipped to the United States, but escapes from the DEA and makes it to Chicago where her Uncle Emilio (Curtis) lives. There she brashly tells him she wants to be a killer and he reluctantly agrees to teach her.

Fast forward some years later and Catelaya (Saldana) is now a full-fledged assassin, having performed 22 murders of Don Luis’ men who were involved in the murder of her parents. On each of them she left a calling card – the drawing of an orchid (the one she’s named after) in lipstick. It takes the feds in the form of Agent Ross (James) two years to figure out that the killer is a woman and two years to realize she’s sending a message to someone who isn’t them.

Once Ross publishes in the papers what Catelaya is doing, Don Luis gets the message loud and clear and sends Marco and his goons out looking for Catelaya and what’s left of her family. Now it’s a race for Catelaya to flush out Don Luis before Marco finds her and finishes what he started.

This is yet another action film from producer/writer Luc Besson, who has the Transporter and District B-13 series to his credit, as well as movies like La Femme Nikita and Taken to his credit. He is known for a style of action movie that is frenetic and often has female heroines who are damaged goods, as in this one.

Saldana has the lithe athleticism you need to make the action hero moves; she just doesn’t have the personality for it, at least here. She’s supposed to be cold, calculating and emotionless but sexy when she wants to be (she has a running relationship with an artist played by Michael Vartan that seems to be all about sex) – which seem to be at odd times where there are gratuitous shots of her dancing alone or showering which I would never imagine Liam Neeson or Jason Statham doing.

Megaton and Besson are both very good at the action genre and the action element doesn’t disappoint, from the early parkour sequence to the final shoot-out. There is nothing here that really sets the bar any higher in the genre, but it is all competently done and keeps the movie’s pace frenetic.

The plot, like a lot of these sorts of films, have enough holes to drive a Hummer through but that’s ok; most people who are interested in movies like that generally don’t give a hoot about plot. The characters tend to be cliche which is pretty much standard procedure for action films. Nonetheless this is solid entertainment which doesn’t require much intellectual investment from the audience which in these troubled times can be exactly what the doctor ordered.

REASONS TO GO: Some very well-choreographed action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Saldana doesn’t convince she can carry the film.

FAMILY VALUES: Like most action movies, this has it all – violence, bad language, a little bit of sexuality and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film has been criticized for portraying Colombian culture as violent and crime-oriented.

HOME OR THEATER: While the opening chase sequence looks impressive on the big screen, the rest of the movie is definitely home theater-friendly.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Harry Brown