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 *****

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 *****

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 *****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (Boris Karloff) and his mate (Elsa Lanchester)

The first time I saw Bride of Frankenstein, I had not seen the original Frankenstein (1931). Funny enough, I really did not need to see the first film at all, which I found out after revisiting the sequel. That is not to say the first film is a bad one, but that Bride of Frankenstein may have been the first sequel to ever outshine it’s predecessor.

The film starts off with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the bride, though in the credits she is simply refered to as ? ) telling her friends (as well as the audience) that the monster (Boris Karloff) survived the crash at the end of the first story. His quest for meaning and friendship is thwarted at every turn (though he gets close with a blind man), so his anger is unleashed on all he crosses.

Eventually, he meets Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former co-worker of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive). Henry is recovering from the events of the first film, and wants to finally marry Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Pretorius tells the monster that he is able to make him a mate, but needs the help of Frankenstein.

I will leave the plot there, since it is rather simple and one I don’t want to give away (thought it is safe to say you know the bride is made). Even if you never heard of this movie, you know what the bride looks like, with her hair like it was hit by lightning. It is just as famous as the original monster’s make up, if not more so.

Of course, you could argue against certain things in the plot, such as “the lever”. “Don’t touch that lever!” a character yells. Keep in mind, the movie was from 1935. Still, like all great old flicks, Bride of Frankenstein has aged better than wine.

Parents, while this is a classic horror movie, there is nothing that young kids would be too afraid of. There is no swearing or nudity or blood. Basically, I would say age 7 and up.

The 1930s produced many a monster movie, but Bride of Frankenstein is the cream of the crop. Recently, Universal has started to make their own “dark” universe with monster movies (though I have not seen 2017’s The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and judging by what I heard, it ain’t pretty). Their next remake will be of this film (with Javier Bardem in the role of the monster). While I am not entirely on board with the idea, the fact that they don’t even need to remake the original (which has been done before) shows how superfluous the original Frankenstein is when compared to its far superior sequel.

To a world of Gods and Monsters, indeed.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

 

67% is where Snow Angels stands on Rotten Tomatoes. It made a little over 400,000 dollars GLOBALLY. I state these facts not to turn you away from the movie, but as proof that this may be one of the most underrated films I have ever seen. I named it my favorite movie of 2008, and I still stand by that.

It starts off at a Marching Band practice (I did Marching Band in High School, and this movie gets it right). We here two gun shots, and we know this movie is about a small town. The story is a slice of life. There are two main characters (the first is Arthur) that we see the lives of. The first is Annie (Kate Beckinsale, in what may be her best performance), a run down, divorced mom of one living with her own mother. She works at the local Chinese Restaurant with Arthur, (Michael Angarano), who Annie used to babysit. The dialogue here is so real it is almost scary (notice the scene at the begining where Annie is talking about a time she “married” Arthur to another kid when Arthur was young).

Both characters have flaws that are not like ones you will find in cliche movies, but that you would find in life. Annie is trying to recover from her divorce from Glenn (played outstandingly by Sam Rockwell), who is trying to recover from his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her co worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). Katt plays Nate as someone who is (like so many in real life) really REALLY bad at lying.

Arthur’s parents are on the eve of divorce, and then meets the new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby, also great here). There are seldom scenes in any movie I have ever seen that are truer than those with Arthur and Lila. Their chemistry together is truly magical, and is a testament to the young actors’ talents. It is one of the best examples of young love I have seen on celluloid (the scene where they say they like each other is sensational).

Things happen in “Snow Angels” that are funny, but also things that are very sad. I won’t ruin them for you. All I will say is that the director (David Gordon Green, who made this before he was making comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”) has made a film about normal people with normal struggles. There are so many examples of human behaviors that are hidden in site on the screen: a kid opening their eyes during a prayer, people saying “Cool Beans”, a school getting out early to help with a community issue, and so on.

Parents, the movie is rated R for Language and some sexual material. There are a lot of swears, but none that the normal High Schooler has not heard. The sexual material is there, but very brief. That all aside, this movie is a forgotten masterpiece, that deserves more attention.

Rating: Five Stars *****