From Madrid With Love (Music Thoughts: ‘Trav’lin’ Light’ Mayte Alguacil

coverI did not know diddly squat about Mayte Alguacil before listening to her new album ‘Trav’lin’ Light’  and most times I prefer it that way, so I won’t have preconceived biases. But after I heard Alguacil’s album, I wanted – needed – to find out more about her. This is a solid album, and eve though her singing is not the most unique, she sings with love and with a great energy that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Even the repertoire of old chestnuts seemed uninspired at first is really just fine – I sometimes am hard to please because I get fatigued.

Alguacil was born in Madrid but looks like she is now based in Barcelona. I love both places so maybe I warmed to her right away? She sings with a slight Spanish accent ant I have always said I love that because it just gives the singer’s presentation a personal touch. My favorite track in this album is ‘Everything Happens To Me,’ which she sings with a less playful arrangement, and gave the song a little more depth.  The title track seems a little too slow burn for me, but her ‘I Was Doing Alright’ cooks with great jazz tempo. I have listened to this album four times now and in each spin I have discovered little nuances that I like.  She is a good fine – I am following her now on Spotify.

Mujer de España (Movie Thoughts: Julieta)

JulietaI cannot say I always agree with and enjoy Pedro Almodovar’s work but I am always engaged by them, and that is more than I can say for a lot of filmmakers. He is always something in his stories, and his characters, mostly the women, are colorful both literally and figuratively. In his twentieth film, ‘Julieta,’ Almodovar gives us another one of his women – and this one ranks among the best of them. Julieta is fierce, strong, vulnerable, flawed, and very very real.

Julieta is played by two women in different times of her life. There’s the middle aged Julieta, played by Emma Suarez, and in the beginning we see her as someone pulled together, only to have a chance encounter rock her world. We go back decades later to a young Julieta, played by Adriana Ugarte, and this Julieta looks and acts like Madonna from the Papa Don’ Preach video. And then we see her life unravel before her eyes, and what a mad and fascinating story. She goes from being a teacher to living in a seaside town with a hunky fisherman, only to be drawn back to Madrid because of her daughter, who we find out as an adult has abandoned her mother. But how did we get to this point? The story Almodovar weaves is as colorful as the sets and wallpapers of the homes these characters inhibit. Suarez and Ugarte are both fantastic, but I was particularly drawn to the former, who gives the character a more subtle approach. I read that originally this character was supposed to have been played by Meryl Streep and as good as Suarez is, can you even imagine?

Almodovar based the story on three Alice Munro short stories, and he nailed the feel of her prose – a lot of what transpires is open ended but realized, and situations and characters will make you ponder about life, mortality, Catholic guilt. He likens love here to addiction and in these characters, and the observation has never more apt. I think this is one of his best work – one that is mature and self-assured, and truly one of the best films of last year.

Oh My Mama (Movie Thoughts: Ma Ma)

ma-ma-posterI keep on forgetting that Penelope Cruz won an Oscar (2009, for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though I barely remember that film or her performance in it) and I wonder if she has been saddled by the Supporting Actress curse, because I can’t remember her in anything significant since. So here comes “Ma Ma,” a film she co-produced and stars in – and the best thing in this film is her performance. She plays Magda, a woman who finds out she has breast cancer. Directed by Julio Medem, the film is long on melodrama – it’s one of those four-hanky movies disease movies – and sometimes it gets too down that it becomes too exhausting to watch. Medem peppers the film with fantastical scenes that make him look like a low-rent Terence Malick, making the movie depressing and confusing. Plus, the film is overly long, or maybe it just feels that way for me.

But all is not lost, because the acting is good here – Cruz, as I mentioned, is wonderful. She gives her Magda a great dignity – you feel sorry for her and at the same time admire her brevity. (Though physically, even at her sickest, Magda is still beautifu, making the character less believable)  Luis Tosar plays Arturo, who plays an unlikely love interest for her. He gives his underwritten character gravity. Asier Etxeandia plays Julian, Magda’s doctor, who gets involved in her life, though I thought his character a bit creepy for getting too involved. These are all photogenic actors who are great to look at, and the Madrid setting is luminous. Do I think this film is worth seeing? I guess it depends on your tolerance for disease movies, as this one is pretty grim.

Clocks Ticking (Movie Thoughts: Embarazados/We Are Pregnant)

ro56zOZZPYucLAdDC8Nzno13YNPI am a sucker for romantic comedies, that is true. I am also a sucker for foreign movies, that is also true. So I did not mind being sucked into watching ‘Embarazados’ (English title: We Are Pregnant) from Spanish Director Juana Macias. This film centers around a couple, Alina and Francisco (Alexandra Jimenez and Paco  Leon) who is approaching middle age and are faced with the fact their bioligical clocks are ticking. But is he really ready to go through all that, as Alina start to get obsessed with the idea. Maybe there are a lot of things lost in translation (though I doubt it) but this couple came across to me as obnoxious and selfish both – Alina especially. I could not, for the life of me, sympathize with either character, even though Jimenez and Leon try their damndest with their charm. And the local Spanish flavor here is minimal (although Madrid and San Sebastian look as pretty as the photogenic actors) and  even felt like the movie was aping their American counterparts. By the time it reached an inevitably predictable conclusion, I had already checked out.