Journey to a Mother’s Room (Viaje al cuarto de una madre)


Mother/daughter relationships can be complicated.

(2018) Drama (Loco/Alfa) Lola Dueñas, Anna Castillo, Noemi Hopper, Ana Mena, Susana Abaitua, Marisol Membrillo, Pedro Casablanc, Silvia Casanova, Lucia Muñoz Durán, Adelfa Calvo, Maika Barroso, Beatriz Cotobal. Directed by Celia Rico Clavellino

Letting go is one of the hardest things a parent has to do – but they have to do it in order for their children to become independent, self-sufficient adults. Some find it much harder to do than others.

Estrella (Dueñas) lives in a small Spanish town in a small Spanish apartment with her daughter Leonor (Castillo) who works at the same dry-cleaning plant that she herself once worked in. The two watch telenovelas on the tube, sharing snacks and often falling asleep together on the couch. As for the dad, whether he’s deceased, divorced or deserted, it all amounts to him being absent and unremarked upon; his non-presence makes him no better than a ghost.

But like many young people, Leonor longs for more and after a friend returns from London and speaks glowingly about her experiences there, Leonor determines that she is going to have those experiences for herself. However, telling her mother that is another thing entirely; she’s sure that this will lead to an unpleasant confrontation. Estrella turns out to handle it a lot better than her daughter expects her to although she’s not wild about the idea; still, she realizes that her daughter needs to spread her wings and she can’t do that inside the nest.

Estrella is lonely without Leonor and lives for her daughter’s infrequent calls on What’s App. Still, when the boss of the dry cleaning plant (Casablanc) approaches Estrella with a request to make some dresses, Estrella finds a new lease on life and a purpose that until then had completely revolved around raising her daughter. As for Leonor, London turns out to be a lot different than she had anticipated.

This slice of life film is unusual in that it takes the point of view of the mother; rather than follow the younger woman to the big city, it stays in the small town with the mom and examines what happens with her when the walls close in and there is nothing but the silence to fill it. Fortunately for us, two brilliant Spanish actresses – frequent Almodóvar collaborator Dueñas and promising new face Castillo both deliver compelling and understated performances that smack of authenticity.

Most women are going to recognize the civil friction between the two, either from the mother’s or the daughter’s point of view. Each are clinging to something; the mom to memories of the past, the daughter to a vision of an unattainable future. Both have their delusions in their own way; both are resolute in sticking to them. The one thing that is certain though is that the two love each other and need each other.

My problem with the movie though rests with the pacing which is very slow, as well as the often-meandering story that sometimes chases its own tail. There seems to be a lot of script that could have been judiciously trimmed to make the story a bit more succinct. The ending also comes a bit more abruptly than I would have liked.

Then again, life generally doesn’t move in those cadences; life moves to a beat all its own and it is rare that we are in sync with it. There is a lot to recommend this film (and I do) but I can’t do that unreservedly without telling readers that there is a good chance that they will find the movie difficult. Still, I think an awful lot of mothers and daughters would benefit from giving this one a whirl.

REASONS TO SEE: It’s a very realistic portrayal of a relationship between mother and daughter.
REASONS TO AVOID: Unfortunately, the film is prone to meandering and then ends abruptly
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this is Clavellino’s feature film debut, she has directed a short film which won the Gaudi Award for Best Short Film, the equivalent of an Oscar given for films in the Catalan language of Western Spain.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mothers and Daughters
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Gloria Bell

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Bel Canto


The diva, at rest before the storm, enjoys the company of an admirer.

(2018) Drama (Screen Media) Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch, Maria Mercedes Coroy, Christopher Lambert, Ryô Kase, Tenoch Huerta, Elsa Zylbestein, Olek Krupa, Thornbjørn Harr, Emmie Nagata, Elliud Kaufman, Ethan Simpson, Melissa Navia, Bobby Daniel Rodriguez, Gisela Chipe, Nico Bustamante, Gabo Augustine, Eddie Martinez, Phil Nee, Marisa Brau, Minerva Paz. Directed by Paul Weitz

 

Stressful situations can make us do things we wouldn’t normally do. Our perceptions can change and our emotions can guide us into decisions that upon hindsight are mind-blowing yet at the time seemed reasonable. That’s why hostages can sometimes fall in love with their captors.

In a Latin American country (unnamed in the film but based on actual events that took place in Peru in 1996) a Japanese industrialist named Katsumi Hosokawa (Watanabe) is being pressured by the government to finance a factory there. He is loathe to do it but allows them to throw a party for him in the home of the Vice-President (Kaufman) so long as they invite American soprano Roxanne Coss (Moore) to perform.

Hosokawa is a lifetime opera buff and his favorite opera star is Coss so he is essentially going to the party just to hear her (he later admits he has no intention of building a factory there). For her part, she’s only there for the money and icily instructs her agent over the phone to keep her gigs to Europe and the United States, as it turns out, with good reason.

No sooner has she sung her first aria when rebel commandos break into the house and take everyone hostage at gunpoint. Their aim was to take the President (Nee) hostage but he had stayed home in order to watch his favorite telenovela instead. The rebels aren’t about to go home empty-handed so a standoff ensues with their demand for the release of all political prisoners falling on deaf ears. Despite the best efforts of a Swiss negotiator (Koch) the negotiations go nowhere.

As the hostages bond with each other, eventually they begin to bond with their captors as well, notably Gen (Kase), the translator Hosokawa brought with him, with Carmen (Coroy), an illiterate guerrilla. In the meantime the esteem of Hosokawa for Coss has turned into something more romantic.

The performances here range from dazzling (Coroy as the conflicted rebel) to strong (Watanabe who seems incapable of giving anything else). Also outstanding is Huerta, Lambert (giving some brief comic relief) and Koch. This might be the most international cast in a movie this year. Moore plays against type but does a fine job. My one beef is that when she is lip-sinking her opera singing, her breathing isn’t the same way as a trained opera star breathes. It took me out of the movie a little bit but not so much that it was more than a minor annoyance.

The problem with the film is that it drags a bit during the last half  and starts turning into a soap opera – like a telenovela that the rebels are fond of; they even comment on it themselves which I suppose can be interpreted as fourth wall irony. However, the movie’s final denouement makes up for it. There is some inevitability to it but there is also a good deal of grace to it as well. Weitz has a pretty strong filmography going  and while this probably won’t be seen by nearly as many people who have seen his hits, this should be one he should be proud of. It’s a slam dunk to recommend this one.

REASONS TO GO: The acting top to bottom is extremely strong. The ending while inevitable is nonetheless powerful.
REASONS TO STAY: Towards the end the film gets a little soap opera-y.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of sex, violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Watanabe and Kase previously worked together on Letters from Iwo Jima.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The 39 Steps
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Dawn Wall

Ladron Que Roba a Ladron


Ladron Que Roba a Ladron

Danny Ocean ain't got nothin' on us.

(Lionsgate) Fernando Colunga, Miguel Varoni, Julio Gonzalo, Oscar Torre, Gabriel Soto, Ivonne Montero, Saul Lisazo, Ruben Garifias, Sonya Smith. Directed by Joe Menendez

The best way to get away with something is to escape notice. The least likely suspects are the perfect cover for the perfect heist.

Alejandro Toledo (Colunga) and Emilio Lopez (Varoni) are con artists, and they’re pretty damn good. They’ve snuck into the United States to take on a target that has some particular meaning to them – Moctesuma Valdez (Lisazo), a Latino infomercial king who preys on his own community, advertising ludicrous products that purport to reverse hair loss, relieve arthritis and even cure cancer. None of them work, of course. He’s made millions but because he distrusts banks, has it all stored in a vault deep in his Los Angeles mansion. Toledo and Lopez want it all.

Part of their zeal is personal – Valdez used to be a member of their crew. However, the current members of their crew don’t want anything to do with this caper; it’s far too risky and their ploy of having the crew pose as day laborers doesn’t appeal to the professional villains. So, rather than throwing in the towel, they recruit actual day laborers with a particular set of skills; an unemployed actor and master of disguise (Torre), a sexy mechanic (Montero) and her valet father (Garifias), and a ditch digger and tunneling expert (Soto).

The two masterminds come up with a brilliant plan, but they need people who have never before committed a criminal act in their lives to be cool as cucumbers under pressure. The stakes are high, but the payoff is worth the risk.

Menendez is mostly known for his television work, both in the young adult and Latin genres but he shows a surprisingly deft touch here. The movie balances the heist elements with a light comedic touch and even a bit of social commentary, as the status of illegals and day workers as non-people in this country are aired.

This is a bit of Oceans 11 lite, albeit on a less ambitious scale – which I guess is what lite implies anyway. While Danny Ocean robbed casinos to open his ex-wife’s eyes about the man she was with (which I suppose is a cause), there is a kind of Robin Hood feel to this one as the crew are fighting to protect the exploitation of desperate Latinos.

The cast are mostly veterans of Latin American television, both here in the States and south of the border as well. Some of them are extremely well-known in the Latin community but are for the most part largely unknown to mainstream audiences. However, they acquit themselves well and several of them – particularly Montero and Colunga – could cross over to more mainstream movies very easily without missing a beat and find a lot of success in doing it.

I knew very little about the movie other than the translation of the title which is loosely “It takes a thief to steal from a thief” so I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s not a game-changer mind you – it’s a little bit too much of a niche film for that, but still in all it’s entertaining, packs a great deal of charm, is smartly written and well-acted. That’s the recipe for a good movie whatever the language.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly charming and well-written, you find yourself drawn into the story and the characters.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie suffers a little bit from Oceans 11 envy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sexuality here and some course language but otherwise pretty well acceptable for almost every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the crew was largely English-speaking, the movie is shot entirely in Spanish and no translated scripts were provided to the crew, so they were unaware what the plot and story points were; they were also unaware of how popular the cast, largely stars from Mexican telenovelas were and they would be dumbfounded when the shoot would have large crowds of Mexican housewives trying to get glimpses of the cast.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.9M on an unreported production budget; judging on the way the movie looked, I’d guess it made some money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Mister Foe