By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
Political provocation: Not for the first or last time, Almovar stymies his second-waver fans with an exceptional, almost all-female cast — and an unflattering caricature of a harpy feminist.
Quote: A detergent commercial starring Pepa: "Hello. I'm the mother of the notorious Crossroads Killer. When my son comes home from one of his famous crimes, his clothes are just filthy. [She holds up a white shirt soaked in blood.] What a shame, no?"
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990): Despite what the title suggests, this dark romantic comedy isn't about a power bottom, but a codependent couple brought together by Stockholm Syndrome. Updating the marriage via abduction plot, the film unites sexy but unhinged Ricky (Antonio Banderas in what would be his last role for the director for 20 years) and hard-living actress Marina (Victoria Abril), first in a violent kidnapping, then in a loving relationship. Though physically at his mercy, Marina is able to channel Ricky's romantic intensity into scoring prescription painkillers for her on the street — or die trying. Though more schematic in plot structure than his other films (boy meets girl, boy kidnaps girl, girl loves boy eventually for some reason), Tie Me Up! achieves a rare alchemy by making the couple's first sexual encounter so hilarious and tender that this twisted love story overcomes its skeevy beginnings.
Most outrageous moment: Though it's full of quirkily sensual scenes, none is as weirdly delightful as when Marina's film character fights off her undead leather-daddy stalker by lassoing him with a red telephone wire.
Political provocation: Women's groups were less than thrilled about a romanticized courtship begun in violence, but their indignation was no match for that of the MPAA, which nailed the film with an X rating. After a lawsuit by Miramax (remember those guys?) and protests from filmmakers, the MPAA created and gave the film the new rating of NC-17 to distinguish it from porn.
Sample quote: "I love him." "How can you love a kidnapper who tied you to the bed? . . . You can't be that kinky."
I'm So Excited! (2013): Is Almodóvar still necessary? The director recently outed his new midair disaster comedy as his gayest film ever," but it isn't any more politically or aesthetically subversive than the rest of his oeuvre. If anything, it goes only where Almodóvar has gone before, from his familiar cast (even Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas make cameos), retro-bright palette, and all-out musical sequences (one guess as to which song they use). Thankfully, I'm So Excited! is able to elide that key question by being entertaining as hell, a mixture of comedy and suspense about a trio of gay stewards (the phrase "flight attendant" is too politically correct here), a pair of manly, bi-curious pilots, and a handful of business-class passengers, all of whom realize that their plane is unlikely to land in one piece. Understandably, the passengers, including a mysterious Anna Wintour-type (Cecilia Roth), attempt to settle their affairs before the fuel runs out, but the stewards just want to give everyone (their version of) a good send-off.
Most outrageous moment: To avoid spoilers, we'll merely mention that a mucho campy pantomime early in the film that makes a mini-pageant of the pre-flight safety demonstration by the flamboyantly bored stewards is to die for.
Political provocation: Despite previous failed attempts, Almodóvar continues to try mining black humor out of nonconsensual sex. (He doesn't fail outright this time.)
Sample quote: A steward, pouring a shot before heading out to the main cabin: "I need a booster to face those savages." His colleague: "When you start acting the heroine, you scare me."
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