Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Tough Love

By Hadley Hury and Dennis Freeland

APRIL 6, 1998:  Over the past decade, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has created a body of work that indicates prodigious talent. His films also evince a joy in the practice of his craft, a certain sense of wonder and invention, that is so frequently missing in Hollywood product. Though they all are driven by the passions and exigencies of love, his films represent a considerable range of content, narrative structure, and tone. What they all have in common are two things: (1) the invigorating insistence of Almodovar’s urgency that this story must be told, and (2) his delight in the imaginative medium through which he will tell us. Had Almodovar been born in England at the turn of the 19th century he might likely have ended up writing passionate lyrical ballads or gothic novels, for his work and his temperament are in the classic style of a romantic storyteller: You may find this strange tale of human passion almost impossible to believe. But it is true. Lean in. Listen close. Judge for yourselves.

For his latest cinematic exploration of the human heart, Almodovar has gone to an unexpected source. Live Flesh is based loosely on a novel of the same title by Ruth Rendell. That Rendell’s work (known for its chill psychological suspense) should pique such interest in this director (known for his depictions of overt emotion and high melodrama) is, on second thought, not altogether surprising. What they share is what makes Rendell much more than just another mystery writer and Almodovar more than the continuing stereotype of feeble-minded critics (“irreverent,” “fiery,” “Latin bad boy,” etc.). What they share is an interest in passion and the questions that passion raises in the human condition: Are we fated to live out our passions or do our passions, determine our fate? And how much choice can we exercise in embracing either view?

The plot of Live Flesh (Carne Tremula) is nifty – equally unafraid of coincidence and sudden twists – like a ’40s film; it has elements of both well-made melodramas like Mildred Pierce and those circular narratives – like The Killers – that seemed to entrap the anti-heroes of noir classics in a hall of mirrors or an unending series of puzzle boxes.

The film focuses on the criss-crossing destinies of a handsome young man named Victor who returns from four years in prison with a plan to free himself from his unrequited love for a woman who has scorned him; the man whom she has married and who has very particular reasons for being jealous; a weak and cynical police officer who abuses his wife who, in turn, turns to young Victor for solace. All of the actors do excellent work, especially Javier Bardem as the discomfitted husband.

It is a roundelay of revenge, lust, adoration, and spiritual redemption – and you experience all of these aspects within the first 15 minutes. Almodovar’s elegant sense of cinematic storytelling has often been eclipsed in appraisals of his work that focus on his surreal sense of tragicomedy and the bizarre. But at this point in his career it should be impossible to overlook his growing mastery of visual narrative, his ability to reach out and grab the viewer at the onset and never let go. Unlike Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or even the emotionally and intellectually complex Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, this new film is more straightforwardly a drama; what flashes of Almodovarian humor there are are muted and ironic. One assumes there will be other ventures to come that have us falling in the aisles. What Live Flesh does have, though, is a riveting narrative style, a depth of humanity, and a keen sense of what moviemaking is all about.

Live Flesh is a film about passion made by a filmmaker who is passionate about film.

Almost everyone knows Barney. At least they think they do.

When people heard I was going to see Barney’s Great Adventure, the first feature film about the purple dinosaur, most were sympathetic. They seemed skeptical when I said I was looking forward to it.

A lot of people don’t like Barney. You probably remember a news story a few years back in which a group of teenagers beat up Barney at a public appearance. In the movie, Barney deals with his critics, but he does it Barney-style – gently and with a positive spirit.

Certainly no one gets beat up in this movie. And Cody, the film’s primary protagonist, is not quite a teenager. But Cody is definitely one of those who is way too cool to believe in Barney.

Barney’s Great Adventure is about faith and the importance of following your dreams. From a cinematic standpoint, it’s a beautifully produced, colorful story. Made in Montreal with a bilingual crew of French Canadians and U.S. workers, the film places Barney and his friends within a lovely fairy tale populated in part by performers from the Cirque de Soleil, the acrobatic troupe. Debra Brown, choreographer for both the troupe and the film, maintains a pace that is fast enough to keep even the youngest viewers entranced. For me, the highlight of the movie comes when Barney does an impromptu song and dance at a posh French restaurant, Chez Snobb.

The movie avoids the didactic aspects of Barney and Friends, the acclaimed afternoon show which debuted on PBS in 1992. The only thing connecting this Barney project to the TV show and videos is the main character and his nonviolent philosophy.

Barney is a gentle spirit who teaches children about the power of imagination. He is a positive influence in a violent world.

I understand the resistance people have to this big dinosaur. Before I came to see the real Barney through the eyes of my 2-year-old daughter, Feroza, I was one of those who scoffed at what I thought was a creature of hype. No more.

The theatre where we saw Barney’s Great Adventure was full of little kids and their parents. They sat in awe throughout the entire 75-minute film. Only one child cried. There was little of the hustle and bustle I had expected. The kids and their parents were transfixed by a movie which had no nudity, swearing, or guns. No one shouted and no one shot. For a few minutes, at least, Jonesboro, Arkansas, was far, far away.

After seeing Barney’s Great Adventure, I understand him better. My wife’s family has practiced an ancient religion for several centuries. Its basic creed is simple: think good thoughts; speak good words; do good deeds.

That’s Barney. He’s a purple Zoroastrian.

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