Movie Review: Artist Mahersala Ali considers cloning as he takes his “Swan Song

“Swan Song,” a reunion project for “Moonlight” alumni Mahersala Ali and Naomie Harris, is quiet, introspective science fiction about a dying man’s struggle with the notion of cloning himself and letting that clone take over his life shortly before his death.

“Introspective” is becoming something like the two-time Oscar winning Ali’s brand, as he often plays brooding, thoughtful and soft-spoken characters capable of the occasional burst of fury (“Green Book”).

But writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s debut feature does neither Ali nor himself any favors. The movie’s so low-key and low-heat that it’s slow. And with that lack of pace we’re forced to confront, often, how over-familiar this story, this version of “the future” and this film are.

Start with the idea of second-guessing a second chance at life via cloning.” It wasn’t the freshest notion when “Seconds” crossed that threshold in the 1960s. There’ve been whole TV series about cloning and other films in which characters wrestle with the ethics of extending life — often their own — this way.

The very first scene of the movie is borrowed from another movie as well. It’s a “meet cute,” with graphic artist/designer Cameron (Ali) ordering a chocolate bar (from a robot) on a commuter train of the near future.

A bubbly, distracted stranger (Harris) sits down, chattering away on her phone. She distractedly opens the candy bar and starts eating.

Cameron is a little surprised, and intrigued enough to be bold and do the over-familiar thing. He breaks off a piece of the bar as well. This goes on, with a few exchanges of coy, flirtatious looks. We can’t tell if she’s put-out or pleased, as he seems to be.

He generously gives her the rest of the bar as she leaves. She smiles. And when his stop arrives, he stands up and discovers…the candy bar he bought earlier. The whole shared-food thing was a mistake, and he laughs and laughs.

So do we. Even if we remember the classic short film that invented that bit. Don’t tell me Cleary, who won an Oscar for a short he made a few years back, hasn’t seen 1989’s “The Lunch Date,” one of the cinema’s greatest short films, now preserved in the National Film Registry.

“Swan Song” picks up its story some time later, as Cameron keeps a big secret from the “lunch date” Poppy who is now his wife and the mother of their little boy. He is having seizures. He has cancer. He’s dying.

And there’s a second big secret. There’s a new firm offering him an option. He’s off for a weekend to seal the deal, one of the first-ever customers of Harrah House, run by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) and her trusted assistant (Adam Beach). They, and their vast AI tech lab offer “molecular regeneration,” a replacement Cameron, “right down to the molecule.” His clone is his actual twin, and meeting it unnerves him. He flees.

But there’s still time. Dr. Scott is persistent. And Cameron is still keeping all this secret from Poppy. Once she sees him sick, or heaven forbid, he dies in front of her and their child, the “option” Harrah
House affords him will be gone.

“Swan Song” is about his internal debate over the ethics, morality and surrender that doing this will entail. Cameron will be surrendering his life, before death, so that his family can go on as if nothing happened. Can he do it? Would you?

Cleary gives us routine “this is what the future will look like” peeks. The future tech includes cameras in our contact lenses, holographic displays everywhere — in 3D monster boxing match games Cameron plays with his child.

Sleek, self-driving taxis, austere, curved, minimalist architecture, a world that isn’t overpopulated, over-polluted, over-heated and fascistic –you’d have thought this naive, idealized future would be something the cinema had grown out of. We can’t even ban machine guns for teenagers in this country. How in hell are we going to solve even bigger problems?

There are pop-up partitions Dr. Scott can switch on from her phone to give Cameron privacy as he “tests” this clone in phone interaction with his wife. Which he does. He meets another “client” of Harrah House, a funny downtown realtor (the ever-adorable Awkwafina), also dying, but perhaps more accepting of this transition.

As he checks the “memories” transplanted to his clone, Cameron remembers the life he is losing, the troubled stretches in the marriage, the “future” he won’t be around to see.

Ali’s showiest scenes are when he debates his “molecular regenerated” self, the flashes of temper he drops on the doctor and the clone’s troubling adjustment to “his” home.

But even those heated moments lack much of a punch. There’s not much meat to the performances, which is understandable as “Swan Song” is redigesting subject matter that’s been covered before, and often. It’s as if the cast and director figure we’ve seen straight-forward treatments of this subject. Now is the time for an understated, impressionistic riff on cloning ethics and human choices — too understated.

The light moments are so rare and the emotional outbursts likewise that the autumnal (overcast) lighting, somber music and quiet conversations of “Swan Song” are in danger of putting the viewer to sleep.

Not a ringing endorsement, but it’s hard to think of this as anything but the first misstep in Ali’s formidable post-Oscar career.

Rating: language (profanity)

Cast: Mahersala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Adam Beach and Awkwafina

Credits: Scripted and directed by Benjamin Cleary. An Apple TV+ release.

Running time: 1:52

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Movie Preview: Elemental horror — “The Darkness of the Road”

“She broke down on the road. She’s got a little girl. She’s missing.” And it’s not just a lone woman on a car trip terrors that face her. Something supernatural is involved.

This Eduardo Rodriguez film comes out Dec. 14.

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Netflixable? An animated adult fantasy from China — “Green Snake”

Today’s version of the “Hero’s Journey” is a Chinese folktale rendered into an impressive-looking mess of a mashup — part medieval fantasy, with Minatours and shape shifters, “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic car chases, firearms and flesh.

“Green Snake” is like the cover of a Robert W. Howard “Conan” book rendered in CGI anime animation — violent and lurid, with lots of action and a little skin.

The story? Well, let’s just say it’s more impressive to look at than to try and follow and absorb.

“Green Snake” is a sequel to a GKids animated folk tale of a few years back, thus the new film’s full title in Chinese — “Bai She 2: Qing She jie qi,” aka “White Snake 2: The Tribulation of the Green Snake.”

One of our heroines, Blanca, was trapped in a magical purgatory by an evil sorcerer. Her sister Verta is obsessed with freeing her. That’s how she winds up a thousand years removed from her Song Dynasty world of magical powers — she could fly, armed with a light sabre with tendrils for blades.

Verta wakes up in a ruined China of the future, a blasted wasteland called Asuraville, populated with humans, demons, spirits, as well as Ox Heads, Horse Heads, “Raska” and octopi.

Verta’s journey to free Blanca means she must find a way out of this place, partly by using her wits, fighting and parkour skills to survive as she’s lost her powers, largely from asking every human (ish) person she meets to lay out another long chapter of exposition.

Is this punishment? Who ends up here?”

“People who cannot accept reality,” she is told. It has to do with obsessions, “unfulfilled desires” that take over your life. “If you’re here, it’s clearly because you can’t let go.

Verta can’t let go of Blanca. Her odyssey leads her to all sorts of ways out of Asuraville, into all sorts of fights with a shifting series of alliances.

It’s easier to follow than it it so explain as a movie plot. “Green Snake” isn’t awful, just kind of nonsensical, a time-sucking quest tale that has little that’s original mixed in with all the derivations.

The fun bits are a montage of Verta being shown how to cope with cars, flashlights, motorcycles, laptops and soda cans.

We don’t have to wonder if she’ll transition to a warrior’s halter-top sports bra. That’s a given.

I kind of like the Eastern mysticism floating through the odd bits of dialogue. Even the villain, Fahai, has his moments.

“I am not worthy,” he admits. “Dharma is eternal…The pursuit of illusion bars the way to Nirvana.”

You don’t say? Changed my life. Actually, “Green Snake” just sucked a couple of hours out it.

If you stay through the credits, which do NOT list the English language (Netflix) voice cast, there’s a hint of more “Snakes” to come.

Rating: TV-14, fear, violence

Credits: Directed by Amp Wong, scripted by Damoa. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:13

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Movie Review: Almodóvar looks at legacies, personal and national, in “Parallel Mothers”

Half a century into his career, and the king of Spanish cinema is still working on his Mommy Issues.

‘Parallel Mothers” gives us Pedro Almodóvar in his 70s, past the rambunctious, liberating and boundary pushing cinema of his “Women on the Verge” youth, a gay filmmaker who grew up in the fascist Spain of Franco coming to grips with his own legacy and his country’s.

He does it by marrying a story of single-motherhood and the loss of a child with a family history of single moms, the first of whom was given that status when a fascist hit squad made her husband disappear. It’s a brilliant conceit that invites us to read in Almodóvar’s own history and what he himself sees as his legacy — movies, many of them brilliant, but no children to carry on the family name.

Almodóvar considers this through his protagonist, Janis (his longtime muse Penélope Cruz), and cleverly compares the loss she feels in the present day with the lingering pain generations of her family carry over the lack of closure with their murdered ancestor in a country that’s tried to reconcile its murderous Catholo-fascist past and move on.

Janis is a fashion and magazine photographer in Madrid who meets a forensic anthropologist (Israel Elejalde) on an assignment, and proceeds to tell him her family’s tragic history, the ancestor taken from his home, shot and buried in a mass grave outside of the small town where she grew up.

She knows where the bodies were buried. Everyone there does. But no one — official or informal — has dug up the dead, identified them and given them a proper burial, leaving this an open wound that has spanned generations for everyone related to someone buried in that grim, unmarked memorial to the Spanish Civil War.

Arturo can help. It doesn’t hurt that Janis is a knockout. That’s how these two, thrown together by tragedy and work, wind up in bed with an “accident” putting Janis in a shared maternity room with teenaged Ana (Milena Smit) some months down the road.

Ana is also facing childbirth as a result of an “accident.” But Janis doesn’t “regret” hers. Ana does.

They bond, with Janis pitching in on the mothering that Ana’s self-absorbed actress-mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) isn’t doing, and give birth to babies with just a hint of “complications” that put them in the observation ward.

It isn’t until Arturo, now out of the picture, asks to see the baby that Janis starts to wonder about the tyke that her best friend (Rossy de Palma) has already described as a bit “ethnic,” code for darker Latin American “Indian” genetic traits.

“I don’t recognize her,” Arturo tactlessly declares. He doesn’t think it’s his. Janis is furious. A flashback shows how she made an earlier break from Arturo on telling him the news of her pregnancy. She wants nothing from him.

“I will be a single mother, like my mother before me, and her mother before her!” (in Spanish with English subtitles).

But as angry as she is, she has eyes and Internet access. One genetic test kit later, she has her answer. It’s just that she doesn’t tell anyone. She simply cozies up to Ana, and changes her phone number to avoid telling Arturo he was right.

Almodóvar’s films, even the comedies, have soap operatic melodrama woven into their stories. “Baby switch” is classic soap stuff, and much of what follows only “works” in that sort of par-for-the-course soap universe.

But keeping his camera tight on Cruz, he tells the story of her agony with her eyes and the occasional tear. If she’s manipulating Ana and keeping Arturo at arm’s length, she has her reasons.

And every reminder of the lone “connection” she has with her baby daddy — that hoped-for uncovering of, identifying and re-burying her ancestor — reminds us of the legacy of pain and loss that is her shared lot with millions of present-day Spaniards.

Almodóvar does an adequate job of marrying these two disparate stories, even if he has to skate past gaps in the logic and clumsily-handled flashbacks.

But he hitched his wagon to Cruz wisely, all those years ago. She makes us feel every gut-punch loss Janis faces and bears up under. That keeps us going through the absurd and ever-so-Almodóvar sexual twists and turns in the tale, and keeps us engaged until the picture’s intensely moving payoff.

This isn’t one of the filmmaker’s great films, but it is a serious return to form and a movie that makes us feel the pain of women — in childbirth. in disappointment and in loss — as intensely as he does.

And that, for those who’ve been paying attention, is his legacy.

Rating: R, for some sexuality

Cast: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and Israel Elejalde

Credits: Scripted and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 2:03

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Movie Review: Abel Ferrara’s Pandemic Picture — “Zeroes and Ones”

Star Ethan Hawke introduces, out of character, Abel Ferrara’s latest film with a little reminder of “what we’ve been living through” the last couple of years, and a professed “I can’t wait to see” what Ferrara’s come up with this time.

That tells us several things about the movie, “Zeroes and Ones,” that follows. Its star either didn’t get to see the finished film, or he did and he’s not going too far out on a limb endorsing it, either from doubts about it or confusion as to its point.

And Ferrara himself felt the need to “cheat” with this sort of prologue, telling a viewer how to best appreciate his minimal-but-not-quite-minimalist exercise in movie making under limited lockdown in Italia. He’s asking us to grade-it-on-the-curve.

That’s sort of like sticking a cute Sigourney Weaver cameo in the closing credits of your slick but empty “Ghostbusters” money grab, hoping to at least spin your way into a better movie.

Ferrara needs this “how to watch it” help because the paranoid tale he sets out to tell is neither wholly coherent nor particularly compelling.

Hawke — as he’s explained in that prologue — plays two roles, that of a US soldier in Rome and that of the soldier’s brother, a terrorist or “revolutionary” imprisoned somewhere undergoing “enhanced interrogation (water boarding, drugging) to try and prevent an attack from his “group.”

There’s a lot of wordless hiking, in COVID mask, fatigues and combat gear, through the empty streets, along empty rooftops and down darkened passageways. Soldiers get their temperature checked, embark and debark from trucks, sweep across empty parks — searching.

As a woman (Valeria Correale) soldier Hawke (distinguished by having his hair tied back) knows asks, “Have you figured out what you’re doing in my country?”
The soldier gives the filmmaker’s answer to her. “Working on it.”

We glimpse, either live-streamed and recorded, Islamic terror threats that “call on you (the West, the US, etc.) to be people of principle.” Or else.

An interrogator (Valerio Mastandrea) asks a two word question of the unkempt, raving, hair-down prisoner Hawke.

“What? Where?”

“Your enemy won’t be gone when you kill me,” the terrorist growls between water-boardings.

Drugging him turns his aversion to answering questions into free form Woody Guthrie quoting, rants about that ultimate act of protest, the one that was the beginning of the end in Vietnam, and the beginning of the Arab Spring.

“How come no one is setting themselves on fire?” He’d do it, he screams. With a pandemic, the rise of fascist nationalism and America descending into Trumpism, it’s time, he figures.

The soldier and others have an idea of the target — Rome itself, Vatican City specifically, “the capital” of Christendom, “Death to the infidels,” another shot in a “3000 year war,” our soldier opines. “Thousand year war,” a Muslim prisoner later corrects him.

Ferrara wants brownie points for faking all this under extreme filmmaking conditions, as does ever other filmmaker who told a “pandemic story” during the pandemic.

But the obscurant strain of it all shows. Most of what’s here would be filler in a better film, or bullet point scenes in a story more wholly-shaped and worked out.

Ferrara fans will recognize hints of his recurring themes, and the increased concerns of his dotage (he moved to Italy/got out of America for a variety of reasons).

And you’ll spot his wife, Cristina Chiriac, laughing in a couple of scenes, and their little girl Anna with the mysterious woman in another.

I think that’s a Ferrara cameo as a masked, cowled monk.

But none of that, or the not-special-at-all effects and self-consciously “arty” touches. really matter. If it weren’t for that “think of what I did, and under what conditions” prologue, none of us would give this a second thought. Including the picture’s star.

Rating:  R for language, some violence, bloody images, sexual material and drug content

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Valerio Mastandrea, Valeria Correale, Cristina Chiriac, Anna Ferrara

Credits: Scripted and directed by Abel Ferrara. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:26

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Movie Preview: Horror on a budget? “Monsters in the Closet” a Red Band trailer

Nastiness coming our way Jan.4.

Beware.

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Movie Review: Verhoeven’s moving — and of course titillating — “Benedetta”

Gorgeous lesbians stripping down and working up a sweat, enterprisingly making their own sex toys because Amazon didn’t exist then, threats and scheming and intrigues.

Let’s just say whoever told that cinematic sinner Paul Verhoeven to “Get thee to a nunnery,” quoting Shakespeare, did us all a favor. Because he did.

“Benedetta” is a gripping, graphic and shockingly moving film biography of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th century Italian nun who claimed to have visions, spoke in what sounded like an otherworldly voice during trances, displayed stigmata and even took over the Theatine convent where she lived, driving the Catholic Church a bit mad with her hijinks but beloved by the good people of Pescia.

Because this woman said she was a literal “bride of Christ,” and that was good enough for them. Carrying on a torrid affair with a fellow nun? Well, nobody’s perfect, not even somebody some 17th century Italians were sure was a living saint.

What an odd subject for the director of “Showgirls,” “Black Book” and “Basic Instinct” to take on. But the whole enterprise is odd.

It has a Belgian actress actress (Virginie Efira) in the title role, another Belgian (Daphne Patakia) as Bartolomea, her “sister” and lover, and the Great Brit Charlotte Rampling as the Abbess at their convent.

It’s an Italian story, acted in French and directed by a Dutch blasphemer.

Verhoeven veers between low comedy camp and religious ecstasy in this often entertaining period piece about someone who really lived and apparently really believed, although there were plenty of “sisters” who were sure she was just faking it, even back then.

The movie’s first “miracle” comes when she’s 12, her wealthy family is on the way to the convent and robbers steal her mother’s jewels. Little Miss Holier Than Thou — literally — isn’t having it.

“The Blessed Virgin will PUNISH you,” Benedetta (Elena Plonka) threatens. And sure enough, the leaves in the tree above them bustle, and a bird poops right in the eye of the offending robber. The jewels are returned. Even brigands know an Act of God when they see it.

Taking residence with the Theatines, the child prays to a statue of the Blessed Virgin, which falls on her, pressing a bare wooden breast in her face.

Another miracle? It supposedly really happened, but Verhoeven has fun with it.

Years later, Benedetta’s eccentricities come to the fore when she intervenes and gets an abused local girl, Bartolomea, admitted to their order. In an instant, the pious and pretty nun is tested and tempted by the uninhibited, unfiltered and uncouth farmgirl.

“I’m beautiful,” the newcomer wants to know? “We had no mirrors.”

Come “see your reflection in my eyes,” Benedetta tells her. “Closer. CLOSER.”

For a movie that plays reasonably straight and fair with this true story, Verhoeven can’t resist having a laugh, here and there.

But in between the japes and some “Showgirls in a 17th century convent” sex scenes, the picture is as serious as “Saint Joan.” Benedetta’s visions can be beatific — summoned by Jesus (hunky Jonathan Couzini) as a flock of sheep parts to invite her in where he gives her the Good Word.

And then there’s the time he’s nailed to the cross and he asks his “bridge” to come close and get, well, intimate.

Yes, there have been protests.

Efira, probably best-known abroad for the French-speaking version of the middle-aged men’s synchronized swimming comedy “Sink or Swim,” ably gets across the fanaticism, the clear-eyed true believer in Benedetta. At times, she might be playing cagey over her “miracles,” at others an innocent, lured into sex with this wild-thing that’s been moved into her cell at the convent.

Both Efira and Patakia seriously sell the heat of attraction, with Efira playing passive, at first, and oh so “thirsty” later.

Rampling’s Abbess, Sister Felicita, is the most nuanced character in this — patient and compassionate, but seriously skeptical about all this supernaturalism ruling her world.

“Miracles sprout like mushrooms,” she coos, in French with English subtitles. Best not be too hasty striking those silver “Saint Benedetta” medals, sisters.

The well-traveled Lambert Wilson (“DeGaulle,” the early “Matrix” movies) makes a fine villain of the piece, the papal nuncio sent to investigate this possibly heretical charismatic.

Whatever playful touches Verhoeven indulges in, the entertainment value in “Benedetta” is seeing his mixed feelings about her unfold over the course of the film. He’s lightly mocking, then seriously considering her “condition,” going for crowd-pleasing lesbian love scenes and pondering the dangers of “coming out” in that age, and the power and influence Benedetta was able to accumulate between what seems to have become an open secret.

And there’s something unutterably moving about someone facing death at the stake.

Sitting on the fence about the character makes this a more measured movie than a younger Verhoeven might have given us, less of a lampoon. As that’s what he does best — well, that and sex scenes — his ambivalence holds “Benedetta” back. He hasn’t lost his touch, although in sports terms, we can see he’s lost something off his fastball.

But it’s still a fascinating story, told with enough period detail, humor, compassion and nudity to hold our attention for two hours. Paul Verhoeven never bores.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, explicit sex, nudity

Cast: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia and Lambert Wilson.

Credits: Directed by Paul Verhoeven, scripted by Davie Birke and Paul Verhoeven, based on a book by Judith C. Brown. IFC release.

Running time: 2:11

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Next Screening? Almodovar’s Mommy Issues continue, “Parallel Mother”

Love that Almodovar. Don’t you “Vote for Pedro?”

https://youtu.be/cL6JDYkRa2g

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Netflixable? “Swingers” in Spain? “More the Merrier (Donde Caben Dos)”

A sophisticated Spanish comedy about “swingers” and “swinging,” wrestling with the emptiness of such pursuits, the dehumanizing nature of orgies among the anonymous and the coarsening of the culture that results from such pursuits?

Nah. “More the Merrier (Donde Caben Dos)” is just about the sex, the skin, the exchange of…fake names.

It was directed by “Paco Cabellero.” Tell me that’s not a porn pseudonym, and no, I’m not looking up his “credits.” That would spoil the joke.

“More the Merrier” is pitched as a sex farce, and it sort of delivers on that labeling. Well, not the “farce” part. The script — which never quite crosses the line into “piggish,” even though all the screenwriters were guys (A Netflix Miracle!) — follows five different trips through the swinger experience, ranging from too predictable to be funny, to “real romance” (yeah, that happens in swinger clubs) and AWKward.

And that’s not even counting the one that celebrates copulating cousins.

Here’s what works and has the most promise. Alba and Liana (María León, Aixa Villagrán) wake up so hung over they don’t remember the night before. Mid-binge, Liana dragged her about-to-marry pal to Club Paradiso, where the “Leave your ‘feelings outside,'” and “the sexual revolution begins here and now” owner/hostess (Ana Milán) presides.

Alba lost her engagement ring on the eve of her wedding and they have to sober up (and clean up) enough to go back and find it.

The hostess doesn’t want to re-admit them, and they have no idea why. What on Earth could they have done to get “banned?” What were they on? And where did she lose the ring — in the pool, the pick-up-your-partner bar, in the “labyrinth,” a BDSM Room, some other “private” and consensual corner, by the “Glory Hole?”

The mind reels.

Their odyssey through a night-long search includes stumbling into a guy they left nearly naked, bound and gagged the night before, encountering smirking strangers who plainly “knew” them in the Biblical sense, and so on.

As conventional as that “Hangover” in a swinger’s club storyline might feel, that at least worked.

The couple (Raúl Arévalo, Melina Matthews) dragged there at “her” insistence, only to hook up with a couple that secretly includes his ex (Verónica Echegui) doesn’t amount to much.

The two long-married couples (Pilar Castro, Ernesto Alterio, María Morales, Luis Callejo) who start an evening in which the guys are conspiring to turn into a wife-swap begins with “truth or dare” and goes downhill from there.

The two gay guys (Álvaro Cervantes, Ricardo Gómez) who hook up in “The Glory Hole” and find themselves chatting and connecting on opposite sides of that wall with holes in it has promise, as a sketch maybe.

But this business of a woman (Anna Castillo) who drags her formerly-close, buttoned-down businessman/cousin (Miki Esparbé) to the club, where she works, to loosen him up, only to…never mind.

Spain, amIright?

The only scenes that produce chuckles are the ones with our intrepid bride-to-be and her mouthy, brash pal Liana — stirring up bad memories, bad behavior and bad feelings about an impending marriage as they hunt for a lost ring.

The rest are an explicit skin-on-skin wash, too talky to be all that titillating, too shallow to say anything important about such places, modern love and what not.

But if you want to know what your kids are sneaking behind your back and watching on Netflix, there you go.

Rating: TV-MA, explicit sex, nudity

Cast: María León, Aixa Villagrán, Raúl Arévalo, Melina Matthews, Álvaro Cervantes, Ricardo Gómez, Pilar Castro, Ernesto Alterio, María Morales, Luis Callejo, Anna Castillo, Miki Esparbé, Ana Milán and Verónica Echegui.

Credits: Directed by Paco Caballero, scripted by Daniel González, Eric Navarro, Eduard Sola and
Paco Caballero. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:52

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Can’t hear movie dialogue? It’s not just you.

The video director of the last newspaper I worked for was the first person who admitted to me he and his wife were watching evey movie they viewed at home with the subtitles on.

That was probably a dozen years ago. And I recall thinking “We’re all getting older, soooo… “

But that made me notice how many movies were burying the dialogue in the sound mix, not forcing retakes from mumbling actors, not allowing screenwriters on the set to defend the idea that their words matter.

Then we started hearing what Christopher Nolan was doing with his sound mixes.

I didn’t feel so bad for turning on the subtitles for everything I watch. It helps if I’m quoting dialogue on the review. That’s my excuse, anyway.

I stream three or four movies a day, and I have to stop and rewind more and more of them if I want to get the quoted dialogue right. Watch enough classic films and you notice the difference.

Are directors, often listening to a take through headphones on the set, that clueless about the mumbling and whispering?

Are they too timid to ask for “One more take, LOUDER and more ARTICUCULATED?”

Here’s a good piece from Slashfilm about the state of the problem and the wide range of reasons for it. And no, it’s not because Hollywood is hiring deaf or incompetent sound mixers.

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