The Post

(USA 2017)

Even with the healthy skepticism I have for all things Steven Spielberg, I was looking forward to The Post, His Schmaltziness’s latest historical drama. The subject and the impressive cast built expectations (for me, anyway) along the lines of All the President’s Men (https://moviebloke.com/2015/11/29/all-the-presidents-men/). Turns out that’s not quite what The Post is.

Set in 1971, The Post is a dramatization of newspaper heiress Katharine Graham’s (Meryl Streep) agonizing decision to publish excerpts of the classified Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post — on the eve of the paper’s public stock offering. It was a now-or-never moment with big consequences for her, the paper, and the nation. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is determined to publish the rest of the story, president and shareholders be damned.

Recall that the Pentagon Papers detailed the shady origins and the federal government’s ongoing misleading of the American public about the efficacy of the Vietnam War. The New York Times broke the story using the same source, former government contractor Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), but was slapped with an injunction that halted its coverage.

The Post is a decent historical thriller, I’ll give it that. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay is accurate, at least as far as the events here. The narrative is timely, loaded with dramatic tension and suspence even if the ending is rushed. In typical fashion, though, Spielberg is heavyhanded and overly sentimental. That long shot of Graham walking through a crowd of women of all ages as she leaves the courthouse of the U.S. Supreme Court and her monologue to her daughter are fine examples of what I’m talking about. Gag.

As far as Streep’s performance, I didn’t consider this a standout for her. She’s always good, but I’m probably not going to remember her for this one.

I found The Post overrated. It plays to something obvious. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t impressed, either. Bridge of Spies (https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/25/bridge-of-spies/), which I didn’t love, was more interesting.

With Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts. Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Michael Cyril Creighton, Will Denton, Deirdre Lovejoy, Michael Devine, Kelly Miller, Jennifer Dundas, Austyn Johnson, Brent Langdon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Deborah Green, Gary Wilmes, Christopher Innvar, Luke Slattery, Justin Swain, Robert McKay, Sasha Spielberg

Production: DreamWorks Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment, Participant Media, Pascal Pictures, Star Thrower Entertainment, River Road Entertainment

Distribution: 20th Century Fox (USA / Canada), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (International), United International Pictures (UIP) (International), Entertainment One Benelux (Netherlands), Forum Film Slovakia (Slovakia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Vertical Entertainment (Czech Republic), eOne Films Spain (Spain), Odeon (Greece), Columbia Pictures (Philippines), Toho-Towa (Japan)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC River East) C+

https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-post

The Shape of Water

(USA 2017)

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it like a god. We need to take it apart. Learn how it works.”

— Strickland

I knew only two things walking into The Shape of Water: one, Guillermo del Toro directed it; and two, one of the characters is a sea creature. I expected a dark and fantastical fable with del Toro’s trademark look and feel all over it.

I was right about everything except this being dark; the world where the story is set may be sinister and the color palette may be Cold War drab, but The Shape of Water is an uncharacteristically sweet departure for del Toro, at least what I’ve seen from him.

Set in 1962 Baltimore — far dimmer than the one in the John Waters classic Hairspray — Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute single lady who quietly exists on the fringes. She rents a rundown apartment above a movie theater and works as a janitor in a high-security government laboratory tucked away in a complex somewhere outside town. Her only connections to the world are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her aging homosexual next door neighbor, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a coworker who acts as her interpreter.

Elisa is drawn to a scaly amphibian (Doug Jones) dragged from the Amazon and kept inside a water tank in the lab where she works. She can’t stand the way Strickland (Michael Shannon), a wreckless government agent, treats him. She forges a bond with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs on the sly. He grows to trust her, proving to be a gentle soul under all those scales.

Elisa gets wind of what Strickland has in store for the creature — over the objections of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a marine biologist who tries to dissuade him. Strickland insists. Elisa takes matters into her own hands to save the poor thing.

Written by del Toro with Vanessa Taylor, the screenplay isn’t as dark, intense, or innovative as, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. Nevertheless, it’s got its charm. The Shape of Water is sexually charged, which is interesting (and frankly pretty funny at one point). The story, a romance, is much sweeter than what I tend to go for. The plot elements are familiar: outcasts, forbidden love, a maniacal plan in the name of science, a dangerous rescue, a fish out of water (literally), even a bit of espionage. It all comes together in a magnificently magical if not exactly unexpected finale.

Del Toro’s execution is what makes this film soar. Visually, he recalls Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children and especially Delicatessen). His use of color is clever and often seductive, even with a lot of brown and grey. The amphibian’s costume is cool, straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth (those eyes).

I love the references to other films — Creature from the Black Lagoon, E.T., King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An astute friend of mine posits that the real love story here involves movies, with all of us mute viewers who fall for the fantastic. I find his interpretation to be the best I’ve heard.

The Shape of Water seems to be a polarizing film, moreso than any other I can think of this year; some of those I’ve talked to loved it, others hated it — with a passion. I fall into the former category. I can see myself coming back to this one from time to time.

With David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Marvin Kaye, Dru Viergever, Wendy Lyon, Cody Ray Thompson, Madison Ferguson, Jayden Greig

Production: Bull Productions, Double Dare You (DDY), Fox Searchlight Pictures

Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA), 20th Century Fox (International), Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E. (Spain), Big Picture 2 Films (Portugal), Centfox Film (Austria), Forum Hungary (Hungary), Odeon

123 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B+

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/theshapeofwater/

Madonna: Innocence Lost

(USA / Canada 1994)

“I take what I need and I move on. And if people can’t move with me, well then I’m sorry.”

— Madonna

Wow, I completely forgot about this tawdry exposé made for TV — American TV, which is even worse — chronicling Madonna’s early years in New York City. It aired on Fox in the mid-nineties, and it’s actually amazing only for how awful it is. All the stops are pulled out, and it’s a trainwreck: the overriding theme is that Madonna is an ambitious whore. OK, National Enquirer.

Based on Christopher Andersen’s 1991 biography — totally unauthorized, I add — Michael J. Murray’s script is just plain sad. Some of it is remarkably accurate, but some of it…not so much. I recognize every single interview where he culled material to tell the Material Girl’s story — in Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Interview, and a few other magazines. He doesn’t just lift background, he lifts dialogue. Verbatim. That opening monologue is straight from a letter to Stephen Jon Lewicki in which she begs to appear in his softcore film A Certain Sacrifice. The characters are all real people even if their names are changed: her donut shop manager (Kenner Ames), Dan Gilroy (Jeff Yagher), Camille Barbone (Wendie Malick), Mark Kamins (Mitch Roth), Seymour Stein (Don Francks), frequent collaborator Steve Bray (Ephraim Hylton), and last but not least her father, Silvio Ciccone (Dean Stockwell).

I’m mildly impressed that her mother (Jenny Parsons), shown entirely in black and white flashbacks, even comes up. And the many guys she slept with, some of them with a purpose. And that gumcracking? Brilliant!

Terumi Matthews plays a young Madonna, and to her credit she nails the megastar’s ideosynchrocies perfectly! I’ll give her that. However, the vignettes and Catholic imagery stolen straight from the video for “Oh Father” are so lame that I feel like I should say a rosary after seeing this. So should you. Don’t even get me started on where this story starts — the first MTV Video Music Awards? Really? She was already on her second album by then.

Anyway…Madonna: Innocence Lost is not flattering, but it’s still a hoot. It plays on Madonna’s bad side, like “Blond Ambition” is a bad thing. The problem is, this approach fails when you’re dealing with someone who used that very name for one of her biggest tours. Shocking? Fuck no.

With Diana Leblanc, Nigel Bennett, Dominique Briand, Tom Melissis , Christian Vidosa, Dino Bellisario, Kelly Fiddick, Gil Filar, Maia Filar, Diego Fuentes, Matthew Godfrey, Evon Murphy, Stephane Scalia, Chandra West

Production: Fox Television Studios, Jaffe/Braunstein Films

Distribution: Fox Network, RTL Entertainment (Netherlands), True Entertainment (UK)

90 minutes
Rated TV-14

(YouTube) D+

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(USA 2017)

Justice, like morality, is ambiguous. Accordingly, determining exactly how justice should be meted out is mired in a lot of grey. Translation: life is not black and white.

This old adage makes people uncomfortable, and it’s exactly the concept that colors Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It works so well because it acknowledges that there is no one right answer. Thankfully, as luck would have it, it’s also kind of funny.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is pissed off and tired. Seven months ago, her daughter was raped, murdered, and set on fire, though not necessarily in that order. The police have made no arrests, they have no suspect, and they haven’t uncovered a single lead. The case is precariously close to cold.

Driving down a rural road one morning, Mildred spots three abandoned billboards and gets an idea: she’ll shame Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) into action. She rents the billboards for a full year and posts ads that attack him. The problem is, her idea doesn’t pan out as she plans — in fact, it works against her cause.

Not far off from a Coen Brothers venture, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a twisted and twisting nailbiter. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a sharp wit, a warped sense of humor, and an impeccable grasp of human nature. The cast is outstanding, with not one subpar performance. At times heartbreaking, this is all around a tightly assembled and enthralling film.

With Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Abbie Cornish, Riya May Atwood, Selah Atwood, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Malaya Rivera Drew, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage , Christopher Berry, Gregory Nassif St. John, Jerry Winsett, Kathryn Newton, John Hawkes, Charlie Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Brendan Sexton III, Eleanor Threatt Hardy, Michael Aaron Milligan

Production: Blueprint Pictures

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Warner Brothers

115 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/threebillboardsoutsideebbingmissouri/

Night and the City

(UK/USA 1950)

“Harry is an artist without an art.”

—Adam Dunne

Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is a fine example of classic film noir. Filmed in smoky black and white mostly at nighttime on location in London, Dassin takes us slumming through the seedy underworld of nightlife, wrestling, and organized crime.

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a hard-bitten, ambitious, streetwise American con artist living in London. Always on the lookout for a quick buck, he can’t seem to catch a break. Ever. Literally running for his life in the opening scene, his latest career endeavor has failed, and his girl, Mary (Gene Tierney), is losing faith in him—stealing from her will do that.

Things brighten one night after a failed hustle at a wrestling match: Harry crosses paths with famous retired Greek wrestler Gregorius the Great (real life professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko) and his prodigy, Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond), who both walk out of the arena in a huff. Gregorius is furious with his son, Kristo (Herbert Lom), who organized the fight, a low-end sort of WWE-like affair that he finds tacky.

Harry schmoozes Gregorius and learns that Kristo is a mobster who controls wrestling in all of London. He devises a plan to create a promotion startup, aligning himself with Gregorius to get around Kristo. He secures funding by double dealing with Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan), the owner of the Silver Fox Club where Mary works, and Phil’s wife, Helen (Googie Withers). She has plans of her own she doesn’t want Phil to know about.

The whole thing looks like it’s actually going to work despite Kristo’s threats, a plot to murder Harry, and Phil pulling his backing from the project. Harry gets so far as setting up a real fight between Nikolas and the Strangler (Mike Mazurki, also a real life professional wrestler). A miscalculation unravels everything—not just for him but everyone involved.

Jo Eisinger’s screenplay, based on Gerald Kersh’s novel Night and the City with contributions from Austin Dempster and William E. Watts, involves morally bankrupt lowlife characters who lack any redeeming qualities. All of them are scamming for one thing or another, and none of them—except maybe Mary—evokes any sympathy. This plays out nicely with the motifs of money, masculinity, and blind ambition that give this story its dark and bitter hue. It’s suspenseful. Ultimately, evil prevails in this dirty little story, which had to be revolutionary if jarring when this came out.

The backstory here is as interesting as the plot: during the production of Night and the City, Dassin was blacklisted for being a Communist. Pushed into exile, he infuses a strong sense of betrayal and fear into this film (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Dassin).

Night and the City is desperate, chilly, and magnificently bleak—and it looks it thanks to Mutz Greenbaum’s shadowy and dramatic cinematography. Of the nitrate prints that screened this year, this was a standout. According to the festival program, this pre-release print is ten minutes longer than the UK version and 15 minutes longer than the US version.

With Hugh Marlowe, Ada Reeve, Charles Farrell, Edward Chapman, Betty Shale

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Criterion

111 minutes (pre-release print)
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B

Nitrate Picture Show

https://www.criterion.com/films/933-night-and-the-city

Blue Velvet

(USA 1986)

Who hasn’t seen Blue Velvet? Even though David Lynch was already established by the time it came out, it’s the film that introduced me to him. I saw it once or twice in late high school or early college, definitely on VHS. The River’s Edge was the only comparison I had, and that was a weird film but…not on the same level. I found Blue Velvet totally watchable because it’s very dark, very sexual, very fucking weird, and very voyeuristic.

That was then, this is now: Blue Velvet is still all of those things, but I don’t remember it having the sense of humor it does. It’s curiously funny. It marks the start of Lynch’s style as we know it: not just surreal (he had already done Eraserhead), but macabre and perverted underneath the innocuous and mundane premise. Lynch sets up his narrative in pieces that refer back and forth, like a moving puzzle. It’s brilliant, and it’s a formula that’s served him well.

Blue Velvet starts with a severed ear on the ground, bugs crawling all over it. A local college kid turned stalker (Kyle MacLachlan) proves a bit too curious when his minor obsession with a night club singer (Isabella Rossellini) leads him into a sadomasochistic nightmare that neither he nor we viewers can turn away from. The whole bizarre and sordid story goes full circle back to where it started: that ear. 

Dennis Hopper as Frank, the gas-huffing sociopath who ends every sentence with the F-word, colors the mood here. None of it would work, though, without Rossellini’s vulnerability, which is crucial. 

Lynch considered Molly Ringwald instead of Laura Dern and Val Kilmer instead of MacLachlan. Thank goodness it happened how it did; what a different film Blue Velvet would have been. For a movie that relies so heavily on nuance, that could’ve ruined Lynch’s career. It didn’t. 

With Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, J. Michael Hunter, Dick Green, Fred Pickler, Philip Markert, Leonard Watkins, Moses Gibson, Selden Smith, Peter Carew, Jon Jon Snipes, Angelo Badalamenti, Jean Pierre Viale, Donald Moore, A. Michelle Depland, Michelle Sasse, Katie Reid, Sparky

Production: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Distribution: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 20th Century Fox (UK), Transmundo Films (Argentina), AMLF (France), Concorde Film (Netherlands), Concorde Filmverleih (West Germany), Finnkino (Finland), Hoyts Distribution (Australia), Shochiku-Fuji Company (Japan)

120 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B+

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

Heart Like a Wheel

(USA 1983)

“Trying to make us damned…golf!

—Connie Kalitta

Heart Like a Wheel is the kind of movie you see on late night TV: a mildly amusing true story about someone you’ve never heard of and her struggle to overcome adversity and maybe find herself in the process. In this case, that someone is Shirley Muldowney (Bonnie Bedelia), later known as “Cha Cha,” a 1960s housewife who became the first woman to obtain a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and the first person ever to win two and then three Top Fuel titles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Muldowney). Her struggle consists of establishing herself as a serious dragster. The adversity, well, that’s the sexist all-male drag race scene. You might say the whole thing is a drag.

One night, Shirley’s mechanic husband, Jack (Leo Rossi), lets her race his sports car on the street. She beats Jack’s rival and discovers that she digs the thrill of drag racing. Soon, she’s hanging out at the racetrack, where she meets Connie Kalitta (Beau Bridges), a veteran racer and womanizer. Jealous of her success, Jack leaves Shirley to her own devices.

I picked up Heart Like a Wheel for one reason, and one reason only: I read that My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult sampled this movie in a song or two. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s better than mediocre. The acting is good. Ken Friedman’s screenplay is competent if not exactly deep, peppered with some snappy dialogue. When a skeezy reporter (Martin Casella) asks Shirley what a beautiful girl like her is doing at a racetrack, for example, her one-word response is casual, bored, and totally fucking awesome: “Winning.” Director Jonathan Kaplan stages realistic fight scenes, particularly between Connie and Shirley’s teenage son, John (played by a young Anthony Edwards). He even throws in a couple of real racers (Steve Evans and Sam Posey) and fire. It was nominated for an Academy Award for costume design (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1984). The whole thing comes off like a soap opera, but it works. I never did catch those samples, though.

Bonus: the DVD I have includes trailers for four other films, The Turning Point, Kenny & Company, Rhinestone with Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone, and Six Pack with Kenny Rogers and Anthony Michael Hall. They all look as awful as “Born to Win” by Jill Michaels, the Heart Like a Wheel theme song.

With Hoyt Axton, Creed Bratton, Tiffany Brissette, Michael Cavanaugh, Diane Delano, Mitzi Hoag, Nora Heflin, Brandon Brent Williams

Production: Aurora Productions

Distribution: 20th Century Fox

113 minutes
Rated PG

(DVD purchase) C

All About Eve

(USA 1950)

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

—Margo Channing

That iconic line succinctly captures the essence of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, a sharp commentary on the treacherous relationship between female ambition and the American obsession with youth that still rings—and stings—true nearly 70 years later.

Based on Mary Orr’s short story The Wisdom of Eve, Bette Davis is Broadway legend Margo Channing, who’s turning 40 and sees doors closing in her professional and personal life. One rainy night, Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), Margo’s bestie, happens upon a young starstruck fan waiting backstage to meet Margo after a performance of her latest play, the aptly titled Aged in Wood. The fan, of course, is wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a mousy but well-spoken girl in an oversized trenchcoat who says she followed Margo from San Francisco to New York City and has seen every performance of the play—from the back of the house.

Karen, whose husband is none other than playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), Margo’s frequent collaborator and author of Aged in Wood, brings Eve into Margo’s dressing room to meet her. Lloyd is there, along with Margo’s fiancé, director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), and her crusty sharp-tongued maid, Birdie (Thelma Ritter). Eve wins over everyone in the room with her poignant backstory about a poor midwestern upbringing on a farm, a husband killed in the War, and a humble stiff upper lip. Everyone, that is, except Birdie—she smells a rat.

Margo takes Eve under her wing as her personal assistant. Eve quickly proves to be an ace at organizing Margo’s affairs—and sneaking herself squarely into the middle of them. She aligns with caustic theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), who like Birdie doesn’t buy what Eve puts out there but unlike Birdie sees a mutual opportunity. Things sour all around when Margo learns that her producer, Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), designates Eve as her understudy without consulting her first.

Often compared to Sunset Boulevard for a variety of reasons, All About Eve is not as dark or campy but is way bitchier. From a technical standpoint, the script is tighter, the production more sophisticated, and the story a lot wittier. All things considered, it’s way more fun and has held up quite well—sure, the voiceovers are overdramatic, but these are theater people so it fits. I found it particularly interesting to see this film again right around the beginning of the FX series Feud, which not only is half about Davis but elaborates on the same issues that All About Eve raises. It underscores much of what Davis said about the industry in interviews late in her life.

None of the men here have any reason to worry about their age; for all of them, their success has nothing to do with how old they are or even how they look (their thing is power, but that’s another discussion). The women, on the other hand, constantly struggle to secure and then maintain their positions—and they’re ruthless about it. Eve earns the acting award she gets at the end (which is really the beginning): she fools everyone to manipulate them into giving her what she wants. It’s clear that sooner than later, she’ll be right where Margo is, for better but more likely for worse.

In one of her earlier roles, Marilyn Monroe makes an amusingly memorable appearance as dippy starlet Miss Casswell, who’s trying to catch a break. She’s got the best line of all: “I don’t want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.” Amen!

In 1990, the United States Library of Congress deemed All About Eve “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Barbara Bates, Craig Hill, Helen Mowery, Steven Geray

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox

138 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) A

Fathom Events

Julieta

(Spain 2016)

Pedro Almodóvar has his own voice and his own vision, and he’s stayed true to both from the beginnning of his career. He’s an incredible story teller with no shortage of stories to tell; in fact, he once said that he “can make a thousand different movies about the same subject” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/pedroalmod587571.html). His frank treatment of sexuality is as bold as his visual style, and his characters are all memorable. His plots are intricate, loaded with twists and turns and weird things that throw in a wrench that takes the whole thing somewhere you never saw coming. He’s a master of exaggeration—it works just as well in his comedy as it does in his melodrama.

Julieta, Almodóvar’s current film—his twentieth feature—is no exception. Like most of his movies, particularly his post-millennial work, this one centers on women. Inspired by three short stories (“Chance”, “Soon,” and “Silence”) from from Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway, Julieta is, in simplest terms, the story of one woman’s search for her estranged daughter. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and Almodóvar slowly reveals it all, layer by layer.

Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). They’re packing to move to Portugal. Julieta has a secret: she has a daughter, Antiá, who checked out of her life more than a decade ago. She happens to run into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of Antiá, on the street. Beatriz gives Julieta some small information about Antiá, prompting Julieta to drop all plans in the hope of her daughter returning. She begins writing a journal, which turns into a flashback that tells us what happened.

Some 30 years before, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets scruffy fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. He’s married, but his wife is in a coma. He knocks up Julieta, who receives a letter from him and visits him at his home in a small Spanish fishing town. They decide to raise Antiá together there. When Antiá (Priscilla Delgado) is a teen and away at camp, Julieta and Xoan have a fight that leads to disaster. Julieta doesn’t tell Antiá everything, and it comes back to bite her.

Nothing by Almodóvar ever sucks, but I’ve found his work to be up and down after All About My Mother. It’s to be expected from an artist with a long career, Madonna being a good example. His last project, 2013’s I’m So Excited, was fun but certainly not his most compelling. Julieta, however, is solid—I say it’s his finest hour and a half since Volver. It’s not a light film—it’s an elegant, emotional slow burner that deals with regret, omission, and forgiveness. Ugarte and Grao are both hot, and they have a palpable chemistry. Casting Rossy De Palma as Xoan’s longtime passive-aggressive housekeeper is a nice touch.

With Inma Cuesta, Blanca Parés, Pilar Castro, Tomás del Estal

Production: El Deseo

Distribution: Warner Brothers (Spain), Pathé, 20th Century Fox

99 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+

http://sonyclassics.com/julieta/