Roma (2018)

Roma

The family’s maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is closer than blood

It should come as no real surprise that a lot of the original films by Netflix are not that good. Some (at least ones I have seen and heard of) are pretty terrible. I would say that Roma is not one of them, but that is a putrid understatement. Here is one of the best films of this or any year, and to say it is not worth seeing because it is not in english or in color would show how shallow you are as a movie goer.

Like many brilliant films, Roma is both simple and complicated. It tells the story of a maid named Cleo (a stellar performance by Yalitza Aparicio). She lives in Mexico City during the 1970s, making her living as a maid for a middle-class family consisting of four children and a grandmother. Something happens in Cleo’s life that she is unsure how to respond to, and turns to the family’s mother Sofia (a rather overlooked performance by Marina de Tavira), who is struggling with the absent father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Their relationship is one of the corner stones of the film. The rest is worth finding out for yourself, though I will mention that the film’s true star is its director Alfonso Cuaron (whose last film, Gravity, won him the Oscar for Best Director).

Drawing from his own personal experiences, there is an oozing of authenticity in every frame of the film (more on the look of the film in a bit). There is a sense that Cuaron (who also wrote the script) went through nearly pain staking detail in every crevice of the story, making us feel like (at times) we are not even watching something fictitious at all.

Now on to the visuals. This is undoubtably the most beautiful film of 2018, and paints pictures better than anything CGI could even dream of. I admit I was a little surprised to find that Cuaron did the cinematography (I assumed it would be his collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, the three-time Oscar winner of Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, for 2013-2015). Yet as stated before, he pays close attention to every detail. It reminded me of works from masters like John Ford and Yasujiro Ozu. He even makes a scene of cleaning up dog crap look gorgeous.

Parents, this is not a movie for kids. There is graphic nudity (frontal male), though not sexual, and a good amount of swearing and some violence. High School and above.

There is so much glorious work in this film that I want to talk about but know that it is best for you to find out (there is one scene in a hospital that is more intense than any of its kind I have ever seen). The only bad thing about this being a Netflix film is that it may pressure you to just see the film on your computer (or worse, a cellphone). This movie was made to watch on as big a screen as possible. As my good friend Kenneth said, “Friends don’t let friends watch Roma on a cellphone!”

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider Man ITSV

A new Spider-Man has arrived, and has brought more than enough thrills along…

If you were to show a graph of the quality of all the films about Marvel’s (arguably) most popular hero, there would be a lot of ups (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and downs (Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Still, just when you thought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (a wonderful portrayal) was the best film we would get, in comes swinging Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is quite possibly the best Spidey to ever web up the big screen.

If you have seen the trailer, you know there is a good amount of Spiders in this web. The main one is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a local teenager who goes to a private school he hates despite it being the wishes of his police chief dad (Brian Tyree Henry). The only person he does seem to have a positive rapport with is his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). It is with him that, one night he is (spoiler, well not really) bitten by a radioactive spider and senses his new powers.

The other versions of Spider-Man appear after a rip is caused in the quantum realm by Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), better known as Kingpin. The main one is a much older Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), who has left his beloved MJ and is not in the best of shape. We also meet Spider Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Trust me, you don’t want me to say any more about their characters. It is worth witnessing yourself.

Oh, how glad I am this movie was animated. Had the filmmakers tried to make this in the real world, it would not have succeeded. Animation is used to help explore more of the human imagination that live action cannot (I hope those at Disney who like remaking animated films into live action are reading this).

Yet the glorious animation still does not take away from the moving story. It has been some time since tears were in my eyes from both laughing out loud and at moments that truly got me a little choked up.

Parents, the movie can be a little dark, but it should be fine for kids elementary and up. No swearing (despite a few minor ones) or sexual content. Only the mildest of violence.

I close by saying that if there is a better ending post credit scene than the one here, I have not seen it. And I have seen all the movies in the MCU.

So yeah, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is amazing.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Leave No Trace (2018)

Leave no Trace

There is no trace of any falseness in this father/daughter relationship.

With only a few minutes before the start of Leave No Trace, the only thing I knew about the film was that it starred Ben Foster. Then I realized it was directed by Debra Granik, who made my favorite movie of 2010, Winter’s Bone. This got me excited and eager to watch her newest flick, and I am happy to say it did not let me down at all.

I will leave very little room for what happens, because it is one of those great films that you need to see with little knowledge going into. Therefore, I will just give the basics. Will (Ben Foster) is living on his own with his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) after returning from military service and suffering from PTSD. The best way to cope for Will is to be as far away from culture as possible, with the exception of his daughter.

Like great film artists, Granik paints with the finest of brushes for characters. Events happen, and they are introduced to people in the world but father and daughter don’t react the same way. The same can also be said for the look of the film, which is luscious to say the least (it had me thinking if any other film had used natural light with negative results, which is not the case here).

Something else about the film I truly enjoyed was the rating of PG. I don’t recall any swearing, but the most is the thematic elements and some thematic material (involving injuries that are bad but not gruesomely so). A friend of mine took his preteen daughter, who I hear is now obsessed with survival skills.

The only two movies I know for sure I have seen Ben Foster in for sure was 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and Hell or High Water (2017). In both films, he was the character we loved to hate on. That is far from the current case. He gives us a damaged guy beyond repair, with only his daughter to possibly help fight his personal demons.

This brings us to Thomasin McKenzie. It is admittedly hard to say how great her performance is, only since I have yet to see her in anything else. It is far easier to say how affective her performance is. We see a character arc in Tom that is so relatable we can almost touch it.  She may not get awards consideration, but Granik did direct Jennifer Lawrence to an Oscar nod in Winter’s Bone. So if anything, it will surely launch her career.

This is one of the year’s very best films.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

First Man (2018)

First Man

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is the First Man in line of the first day of training at NASA.

It should be noted from the get go that Neil Armstrong did make it to the moon and became the first human to walk on the surface. It is not a spoiler, since we all know that going in, but as a way of saying how wonderful the film First Man really is. There are many areas of tension throughout that we need to remember it will be okay for Armstrong in the end, even if it seems like the odds are impossible, which they probably were close to.

Director Damien Chazelle (fresh off his Oscar win for La La Land) has made a movie that truly is on par with classics like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. With a screenplay by Josh Singer (who won an Oscar for Spotlight) that is based on the book by James R. Hansen, First Man starts off where it should: high above ground. We meet Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he is in the mist of being an engineer and pilot. After suffering a blow to his family, we see him and his wife Janet (Claire Foy, the recent Emmy winner of The Crown) as he is chosen (along with many others) to be the pilots to help NASA reach the moon before the Russians.

Others in the cast include Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, Jason Clarke as Ed White, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell (the role Tom Hanks played in Apollo 13), Lukas Haas as Mike Collins, and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. This is just a handful of a supporting cast who bring an unsung backbone to the film’s success.

As the main role, Ryan Gosling gives a rather subdued, yet powerful performance. This, of course, is because Armstrong was known to be a very humbled, quiet man (unlike Buzz Aldrin, which Corey Stoll plays perfectly). It is also a crucial move for Gosling since the performance by Claire Foy as his wife is much more direct and demanding. It is most clear in scenes such as her yelling at Slayton for turning off her radio, and when she is telling her husband not that he should talk to their sons before the mission, but that he will talk to their sons. Like Gosling, Foy gives Oscar caliber work.

However, the one I feel who deserves the most praise is Chazelle. After Whiplash and La La Land, it is clear as day that this guy is one of the best young talents in film today. I read a user review of the film online saying how the movie was too slow, which is ludicrous. Patience is something any movie goer must have to appreciate film as an art, and the pacing of the film here is pitch perfect (it hardly seemed to drag, even at two hours and twenty-one minutes. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (also a La La Land Oscar winner) gives us not the light we as an audience would need, but the light the characters would have (in other words, he basically seems to use natural light). This is one of many reasons why First Man makes you feel as much as an astronaut as a film has. In Armstrong’s Gemini mission, there is one sequence that has stayed with me more than anything from the film, particularly one sound effect. This and the rest of the sound effects are as spine chilling as those I witnessed when I saw The Exorcist.

Parents, there is no sexual content at all (aside from some kissing). There is some swears (one, maybe two F bombs), and a lot of thematic material (especially with the result of the one main Apollo mission that ended tragically). Still, I would like to believe Middle Schoolers and up would be totally fine with this film.

I conclude with a plea. Recently, First Man had gotten a lot of negative press because the moon landing did not feature Armstrong planting the American Flag on the moon (I still like the fact that Gosling found it humourous that he is Canadian). There are plenty of shots of American flags in the film, and we do see the flag on the moon as well (though not the actual planting of it). It is up to you if you want to miss this film because of one minor thing that they left out. If you still insist on not seeing it, I would say undoubtably that you are missing one extraordinary film experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born

Jack (Bradley Cooper) shows Ally (Lady Gaga) what she has to offer the world of music.

There are many nods that Bradley Cooper makes in his directorial debut towards the former versions of A Star is Born. I won’t list them, for doing so would be stupid and rob you of the fun of finding out yourself. Even if Cooper did not make these “easter eggs”, his version of A Star is Born stands alone as a triumph, and certainly one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century.

The original was made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the leads (the only one that was not a musical). The next (and the only other one I have seen as of this writing) was in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason (Garland’s loss at the Oscars that year to Grace Kelly is one still questioned to this day, and once you witness her, it is not hard to see why). Later in 1976, it was Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now, it is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Though the times are different, the premise is the same: a down on his luck star who is about to fade out finds a newcomer who he wishes to take under his wing, and they fall in love.

Like Garland and Streisand before her, Gaga clearly has pipes, and anyone with a single brain cell would say the same. She has even acted in minor parts before (she started as an extra on The Sopranos), but this is clearly her star making (how poetic) role as an actor. We know from the past that this is the same woman who has performed in extravagant (to say the least) costumes and settings, but it is (aside from one or two scenes) not visible in her performance as Ally. In short, she has totally made a serious statement for being an Oscar favorite in the next few months.

Speaking of Oscar contenders, there is veteran actor Sam Elliot as Bobby, who is Jack’s (Bradley Cooper) older brother. Not his dad, but older brother. I admit that seemed a little questionable at first, but there is no doubt in the acting that we can firmly believe these are two (half) siblings who have been through the mud and dirt over a dozen times and still can talk to each other. Elliot is nothing short of stellar.

Parents, in no way is this for kids. There is plenty of swears, some sexual content and partial nudity. High School and above.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned much about Bradley Cooper, mainly because I am still in awe of what he has done. For his first time as a director, he was not swinging for the fences so much as the parking lot. Clearly it is one of his very best performances, as is the case with the rest of the cast, mainly due to the fact that everything in the film feels completely authentic. Consider the small moments we have with Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) or his friend George (Dave Chappelle, yeah, you heard right). We are so involved in the world of Jack and Ally that we don’t think for one second about film making.

One of the key moments of the film is when Jack is telling Ally that, in order to make it, she needs more than talent. What she also needs is a message to tell the world. Cooper has always had talent. Now we are hearing his message.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Blackkklansman

Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is somewhat suckered into Ron Stallworth’s (John David Washington) plan of infiltrating the local branch of the KKK.

It should come as no surprise that the brilliance of BlacKkKlansman is mainly because it is made by Spike Lee. Not only could this movie be made well by another director, but I don’t think any other director would have guts to make it.

Set in the 1970s, the film tells the true story of a new African-American police officer in Colorado (which I never once thought of as being a state with racism) named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, real life son of Denzel). After some time of working in the records room, he gets his chance at going undercover. He eventually finds himself convincing a KKK member (Ryan Eggold) to give him a chance at becoming a member. It is here where he enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to cover for him in the person to person meetings, while Ron handles the phone conversations. It works so well they even get to convincing the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (a nearly unrecognizable Topher Grace, and not just because he has a mustache). There is also a side romance between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier), a local college student known for being vocal about her race.

If reading this review (or seeing the trailer) has made you feel a little guilty on laughter, don’t worry, because there will be a lot of it. The characters know they are in a situation that is ludicrous, but go thru it anyway. There are many characters that do come across as somewhat stereotypical, mainly that of the married couple Felix and Connie (Jasper Paakkonen and Ashlie Atkinson, respectfully). Still, there are others who do actually seem like they are right in their life choices, even if that is racism.

All the acting is stellar. Washington does show some signs of his (arguably more famous) dad, but still makes it his own performance. I am now becoming more and more convinced that Adam Driver will be able to have a much more standout career as a talented actor and not just the guy who killed Han Solo (I would say spoiler, but you should know this by now). One of the most dramatic moments comes when two characters are making speeches. The first is David Dukes (again, was that really Topher Grace?), and the second is an old African-American survivor telling his story of racism. He is played by Harry Belafonte, who gives a prime example of making a great scene out of little screen time.

Parents, the movie is, of course, rated R (as almost every Spike Lee film is). There is no sexual scenes (just talking) and some violence. The R rating is mainly due to the language (mainly the N word, which is spouted an infinite number of times). I would say High School and above, but I should mention I did see at least one child in my screening who could not have been more than ten years old.

Now to the ending of the film, which is one that will be talked about for a long time. True, it does get political (it should not surprise us how Lee would feel about President Trump, especially when you see the cameo in the first five minutes of the film). Nevertheless, the film does end the way it should, stating that this problem of racism and hatred is still rampant today, and is right in front of our eyes.

Kind of reminds me of that quote from Rodney King.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), feeling proud of stealing coal.

 

As someone who is a dominate right-handed person, I can’t imagine doing anything with just one foot, but the left foot by itself is unthinkable. Yet that is what Christy Brown had to do for his life. He did not live to see My Left Foot (he died in 1981), his story is still one that resonates today, not just because he had cerebral palsy, but because (like everyone) he had more than his fair share of character flaws.

That is not to say he wasn’t extraordinary. Born into a traditional (and large) Irish family in 1930s Dublin, we see the story of Brown in flashbacks as the grown up Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at an event celebrating his memoir. He shares his book with a newly met Nurse, Mary (Ruth McCabe). At first, it is her eyes we see the life of Christy, but then we find ourselves seeing it thru his eyes.

It is beyond frustrating at first for the adolescent Christy (Hugh O’Conor). He has a caring family and siblings, though his father (Ray McAnally, who passed away after filming concluded) is not the best at showing his love. The one clear rock in Christy’s life is his mother (Brenda Fricker), as shown in the brilliant scene when he communicates with his first word, “Mother”.

As a young man, Christy learns the many things we all do: sports, first love, heart ache, and self discovery. A lot of this is also shown in Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who takes a huge interest in Christy and his art.

No review of this movie would be complete with out mention of the acting. Perhaps the only bad thing one could say about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is that it overshadows that of Hugh O’ Conor’s. Both are extraordinary, making it seem like one performance instead of two. Still, this is the film that brought people’s attention to Day-Lewis (it won him his first of a record three Best Actor Oscars).

The film won another Oscar for Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, who is stellar. It is clear that, without her, Brown would never have been able to be fueled to do all he accomplished. Still, as is the case in every movie he has been in, Daniel Day-Lewis showed us for the first time (and many times after) why he is one of the greatest film actors we have ever had (and if you don’t believe me, just look at the making of this movie and how in character he was. He was carried around the set when the cameras were off).

Parents, the movie is rated R. There is one bit of nudity (young boys see a nude photo in a book, and talk about sex). The main aspect though is swearing. I would say High School and above (though some mature middle schoolers may be okay at seeing it).

Had Christy not been flawed as a human, I doubt the movie would work as well as it did. To put it bluntly, he is no Helen Keller. I would say he is prickly, but that is understating it. Still, My Left Foot is a true inspiration of what the human spirit can accomplish, and a great study in how moving a performance can be.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso

Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) blooming into his love for film.

Recently, a good friend (and film critic) mentioned how every film goer has blind spots. In other words, certain movies just escape us and we miss them one way or another, unless we seek them out. That being said, I am still furious with my past self for not having seen the masterpiece Cinema Paradiso sooner. I can’t fathom how anyone would call themselves a movie lover and not want to see this film.

Set in present day (the movie came out in 1988, winning the Oscar for Foreign film), we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who has just been informed that a man he knows, Alfredo, has died. The funeral is tomorrow in his hometown, where he has not been for thirty years. In a series of flashbacks, the movie shows his life up to his decision to leave his home town and pursue his true passion: film.

As a child during World War two, young Salvatore (“Toto”) has one escape in his life of school: the local cinema. He soon befriends Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the protectionist, thought it is not easy. Toto learns the ins and outs, and then some.

Ok, you can get mad at me if you want, but I don’t want to give anything else away. All I knew about the movie (directed by Giuseppe Tornatore) going in was that it was about movies and was in subtitles. Sure, I felt I would get a lot of references, see some romance, and maybe even laugh a little. What I did not know was how moved I would be. Those who know me best know that it takes something special to make me cry (not just during movies). There was nothing to prepare me for the emotional impact that I was going to have at the end of this film, and what an impact! After spending so much time with Salvatore, seeing him grow up, learning life lessons, I guess the tears were inevitable. (It also does help when you have a majestic sweeping score by the hugely talented Ennio Morricone).

Parents, the version I saw was the PG version (a later, more mature version was released, unseen by me). The PG one had some swearing, thematic material, and sexual material (one movie being shown shows a woman’s bare back, and boys in the audience are clearly masturbating, though nothing is shown). I would say High School and above.

Like Singin’ in the Rain, Cinema Paradiso is one of the very best movies about movies. It shows one of the key elements of magic that movies have always possessed: the element of escapism.

Molto bello.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****