About halfway through Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Laundromat,’ the story veers away from where it started, and you ask yourself, ‘what am I watching and where is this going.’ That’s only the beginning of how bizarre this film feels to me. We are first introduced to Ellen Martin, played by Meryl Streep in one of her ‘character’ performances, and yes, her story is interesting and relatable – a woman who gets killed in a boating mishap and then finds out the insurance that covers their boat ride has been shady. Ellen plays sleuth and tries to find out what caused this and gets drawn into the world of offshore shell companies that really are just corporation paperwork and nothing else. But the film abandons that narrative and goes into not one but two different arcs. It was trying to show us different situations about how these ‘shell companies’ are used to defraud the banking system but it felt jarring because it took us out of the narrative, and honestly, it felt like I was being taken out of the movie I was watching.
When the story comes back to Streep, it gets even weirder, and the ending baffling. I am still trying to process about that artistic choice. Streep is reliably good, and it’s great to see her along for the bizarre ride, but I kind of don’t like it when she goes into character mode, wherein she packs a lot of things with her performance – a wig, an accent, physical acting. It enhances the performance but also distracting at the same time. Soderbergh does a good job of trying to explain how the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal worked, and I hope it inspires resistance from common folks. This film as an experience, though, baffles as much as it entertains.
‘Pain and Glory,’ Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, is about a filmmaker who is at the Autumn of his life. it’s tempting to think that the film is autobiographical since the character, Salvador Mallo (played by Antonio Banderas) lives in a house that is an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and banderas even wears the director’s clothes. But I think Almodovar only wants one to think that, as his persona has always dallied with a wink-wink playfulness. As a Director, I never always agreed with his artistic choices, but I have to say his films are always interesting. This one s no exception.
Banderas is great here, as he now is more a Daddy than the carnal flower. There are lines and experience in his face, and Banderas shows them off with great dignity. Salvador Mallo has been experiencing some physical pain (he can’t swallow food) and is in an introspective mode. he reconnects with an actor of one of his films after a falling out, having not been satisfied with the actor’s performance. They bond and gets Mallo hooked in heroin. Then when you think the film starts going the route of a man in late-life crisis, it takes a turn to things a little more unexpected. The modern scenes are interspersed with a narrative of a boy (perhaps Mallo? perhaps Almodovar) who goes to live with hi parents in a cave. An intelligent boy, he starts tutoring a young man who becomes his ‘first desire.’ Everything in the film is heady and busy, but it’s never not making sense. I thought the first part dragged a bit, as if trying to get to a point, but once it got there, it all made sense. The ending is framed with a twist, and then all the pieces of the puzzle are strewn to make sense, only for it to get dismantled again. This film is typical Almodovar for me – there are things about it that I loved, but there are other things in it that confused me, stuff I think I didn’t get, that maybe I should read up on and see again. His films never sit still, and I am all the better for it.