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I’M SO EXCITED (LOS AMANTES PASAGEROS)

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Pedro Almodovar’s legion of fans will perhaps find some reason to praise his latest, “I’m So Excited,” but the sad fact is that the farce set aboard an airplane suffering a mechanical problem itself quickly stalls and sputters, and never reaches cruising altitude. It makes every effort to be wickedly wacky and light-footedly seductive and fails at virtually every turn.

And turn endlessly is what the plane does. Because the landing gear is jammed as the result of an accident involving the ground crew pre-takeoff (a prologue with flat cameos for Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz), the craft bound for Mexico City instead circles around Toledo while the control tower searches fruitlessly for an airstrip to accommodate an emergency landing. All the coach passengers but one are sound asleep—the result of drugs administered by the flight crew—to keep them docile, but one, Bruna (Lola Duenas)—who claims to be psychic—ambles into first class and finds out what’s happening.

There the cabin and cockpit are pretty much controlled by three swishy male stewards—Joserra (Javier Camara), Fajas (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raul Arevalo), who seem to have little deference for the pilot, Alex (Antonio de la Torre) and Benito (Hugo Silva), his second-in-command. Of the six passengers, four are still awake: Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo), an actor with a suicidal lover back on the ground; Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo), a corrupt financier fleeing the law; Infante (Jose Maria Yazpik), a darkly handsome fellow who turns out to have criminal connections; and Norma (Cecilia Roth), an infamous dominatrix. Those catching a nap are newlyweds (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti), though the former awakens while the latter snoozes through most of the picture.

What follows is the usual Almodovarian round of sexual pyrotechnics, with Bruna eventually overcoming her shyness and losing her virginity to a handsome stud she takes advantage of as he snores away in the economy cabin, the pilot and co-pilot both eventually confessing their AC-DC proclivities, and Norma regaling the assembled multitude with tales of her exploits with men of influence. The behavior is lubricated by the drinks the attendants mix for everybody, including the crew, and the trio even aim to lighten the atmosphere by doing a musical number, lip-synching to the title song. Meanwhile some slight melodrama is added as, using a phone that in another mechanical malfunction broadcasts conversations through the plane, Mas tries to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter and Ricardo deals with his suicidal girlfriend and her chum, whom he’s also involved with (Blanca Suarez).

All of this is supposed to have the fizz of an uncorked bottle of champagne, one supposes, but in this case it’s distinctly flat—partially the result of the claustrophobic setting, which presumably represents another of Almodovar’s nods to Hitchcock (this time, “Lifeboat”). The three stewards, who are supposed to be infectiously screwy, prove a dispiritingly stereotypical lot, and as the imperious Norma, Roth comes across as a singularly charmless diva. The other cast members go through the paces Almodovar demands of them, but there’s a listless quality to their work that doesn’t give the supposedly hilarious high-jinks the pizzazz they need. Naturally the physical production (art direction by Antxon Gomez, costumes by Tatiana Hernandez and cinematography by Jose Luis Alcaine) gives the movie the colorful ambience that’s an Almodovar trademark (within the limitations of the aircraft interior, of course), and Alberto Iglesias’ jaunty music is part of the package as well.

But unlike Peninsula Flight 2549, “I’m So Excited” never takes off. By the close you might wish you’d been that on-board bride, sleeping through all the frantic and unfunny frenzy.

JUST LIKE A WOMAN

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Among the modes of female empowerment belly-dancing might not seem to be high on the list, but in Rached Bouchareb’s film it’s the catalyst for two women to flee their unhappy marriages and hit the road together on a liberating, if often disheartening, journey of self-discovery. While undoubtedly sincere in its message about women’s liberation, and equally so in its concern with the experience of Arab immigrants in America, “Just Like A Woman” comes across like a simple-minded melodrama that never rises above cliché.

Marilyn (Sienna Miller) and Mona (Golhifteh Farahani) are both hardworking Chicago wives. Marilyn has a job at a modest computer-repair store that apparent supports her and her husband Harry (Jesse Bob Harper), while Mona works as a clerk in the convenience store of her imperious mother-in-law (Chafia Boudraa), who hounds her mercilessly about her failure to get pregnant. And her husband (Roschdy Zem) is too spineless to stand up for her. But they both get through the long days by the enjoyment they take from the belly-dancing classes they share.

Each woman suffers a domestic crisis simultaneously. Marilyn loses her job and returns home to find that her husband is cheating on her; Mona prepares the wrong dosage of her mother-in-law’s medicine and fears she’ll be arrested for killing the old woman. So both flee the city, fortuitously meeting at a highway rest stop, and they decide to continue on together to Santa Fe, where Marilyn hopes to win a contest that will win her a spot in a dance troupe. Along the way they dance in bars and clubs to make ends meet, and camp wherever they can.

The points the movie makes are awfully obvious ones. The women are treated like merchandise both by their husbands and by many of the men they meet on the road. They suffer sneers from snooty and prejudiced people. They talk to their husbands, who beg them to return, but resist returning to such a stifling life. A subplot involves a detective (Tim Guinee) who begins a search for Mona and—after her husband reports her missing—Marilyn as well. But not much comes from that in terms of action; this is no mini-version of “Thelma and Louise,” and there’s certainly no Brad Pitt character in the mix.

“Just Like a Woman” is the sort of film that seems proud of dealing with big issues but simplifies and trivializes them instead of grappling with them subtly. And the belly-dancing sequences, as well as others with Miller in her bikini or shorts and tank-tops, come across as odd in a story about the objectification of women. The leads are fine (though the secondary cast members are often less so), and Christophe Beaucame’s cinematography manages some nice touches. But while one can sympathize with the subjects Bouchareb is exploring here, his picture strives for a great deal more than it actually delivers.