Monthly Archives: December 2018

“Children of Men” Movie Review

My God. The things that Man will do to one another when they forget the sound of cries and laughter from children. This science-fiction drama thriller initially premiered at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival, where it won an award for achievement in cinematography. And although it debuted to the top spot in the United Kingdom, when it was released in the U.S. on Christmas Day of that year, it failed to really make a dent. The Universal Pictures production ended up only making back $70 million against a $75 million  budget. Although, it was nominated for various year-end awards, and has grown dramatically in reputation in the years since its release. Directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, the film is an extremely loose adaptation of P.D. James’ novel of the same name, the first draft of which was written back in 2001. Shooting was temporarily pushed back while the director worked on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, during which he drew several influences from The Battle of Algiers as well as his own experiences living in Britain. During production, the infamous 7/7 London bombings occurred, but this apparently did not deter the cast or crew in much capacity. Set in the year 2027, humanity has been completely infertile for nearly two decades, causing most of society as we know it to collapse. The few functioning governments left create massive, harsh sanctions against immigrants or refugees of any kind, causing consistent violence. In the city of London, a bureaucrat named Theo Faron, played by Clive Owen, is approached by a militant, pro-immigrant activist group called the Fishes and is strong-armed into escorting a young refugee named Kee away from the chaos. It becomes especially important since Kee is, miraculously, the first woman to become pregnant in 18 years. As the 24th and final film in my New Year’s resolution, I wanted to tackle yet another highly regarded picture that I had never seen before. I had heard many a great chatter about this film for a long time, with some people even going so far as to say that it’s the best sci-fi movie of the 21st Century so far. And I have loved virtually every film that Alfonso Cuarón has made since Y Tu Mamá Tambien, so this felt like a completion of sorts. Plus, it was super enticing to see what his take on a near-apocalyptic future would look like. And I couldn’t have picked a better film to round out my resolution with because Children of Men is an essential, moving, and utterly captivating film to behold. I’m sure many people have said it already, but I feel one of the biggest reasons for its power is how it has- unfortunately -only become more relevant in recent years. 2027 is not that far away anymore and while there has yet to be an infertility pandemic, more and more countries are closing off their borders and turning to fear-mongering as their next generations are seemingly ignored or forgotten. Through context, we learn of the decadence that the remains of humanity have turned to in a child-less world, one where there’s seemingly no hope for the future. What makes Children of Men so terrifying is how much Cuarón grounds the story in reality, creating a plausible scenario where the last hope of our species is surrounded by a bleak world. I’ve liked Clive Owen in various projects over the years, but his turn as Theo Faron is easily the best performance of his career. Having apparently been heavily involved in early writing, he completely owns this character as a cynical man who’s lost nearly all faith in his fellow man. But when the time comes, he truly steps up to the plate in complete selflessness to protect what’s really important. Julianne Moore and Michael Caine do respectable work as Faron’s ex-wife/the leader of the Fishes and his drug dealing friend, respectively. Although they’re not in the movie for very long, each leaves a lasting impact as they relish roles unusual for their careers and we really feel a past history they had with Theo. There are also a number of unexpectedly strong supporting players such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan, Oana Pellea, and Pam Farris. Then, there’s Kee, played by Claire Hope-Ashitey. Although her character doesn’t exist in the original novel, she stands as the embodiment of the recent single-origin hypothesis- that all human life began on Africa. It’s a beautiful allegory and she carries many of her scenes with all of the confusion and strength and weight of a young mother-to-be. We immediately grow to care about her, and not just because she potentially has the key to human survival, but that others seek to take advantage of this. Meanwhile, the filmmaking aspects of Children of Men show Alfonso Cuarón being in complete control of his craft once more. With his regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematography helps to make an utterly bleak future look quite gorgeous. There are a number of extremely impressive long takes, such as a mounted perspective of an attack on the group in a car or a shaky camera following Theo through a violent war-torn city. The use of natural lighting is especially effective as we get to gradually see details of this world come into focus through the sunlight or by other ways. Cuarón also edits the film like many of his other works, this time in collaboration with longtime friend Alex Rodríguez. There are thankfully a number of good cuts to go around, as some of the one-take scenes begin to get exhausting after a little bit. It also manages to help capture certain parts of the action from different angles and perspectives, which keeps things consistently interesting. There is a instrumental film score, albeit a minimal one, composed and conducted by the late John Tavener. It’s not a traditional score, as the few tracks written feel extremely fluid with one another. The most predominant track is “Fragments of a Prayer,” which uses both dynamic vocals and ethereal strings to create a spiritual atmosphere. Some of the others use full-scale choirs and even flutes and unique percussion instruments. Many of these elements come together for a scene near the end that creates a true sense of emotional beauty. My jaw dropped and my heart stopped as it went on, a momentary pause in a fictional world so devoid of any hope. I can’t really write about it here because it’s so hard to describe in its power, despite its apparent simplicity, but all I can say is that I was left stunned. Frighteningly relevant today, but never succumbing to its bleakness, Children of Men is a hauntingly stark vision of human nature in dystopia. It celebrates some of our best qualities while simultaneously condemning the ones that make us worse off. Alfonso Cuarón is a true master of finding incredible subtext within even the simplest of stories, painting a sci-fi world in a way that feels like it could become a reality. Let’s hope that it never does.

“Creed II” Movie Review

I’m not even lying when I tell you guys that this franchise consistently remains the only instance when I even get remotely interested in boxing. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor’s humongous publicized showdown from last year’s got absolutely nothing on these guys. This boxing-focused sports drama marks the eighth overall installment in the long-running Rocky franchise. It was jointly released in theaters by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. around the world on November 21st, 2018, and managed to score the largest Thanksgiving opening for a live-action film in history. It has thus far grossed about three times its $50 million budget at the worldwide box office and has enjoyed positive responses from critics and audiences, albeit a little less so than its predecessor. Following the huge success of Ryan Coogler’s Creed in 2015, Sylvester Stallone initially signed on to both write and direct the sequel, in addition to reprising his iconic role. However, in an unexpected move, he stepped down from the helm and gave it to Steven Caple Jr., fresh off of his acclaimed Sundance debut The Lands. The film’s production was pushed back considerably to give extra time for its star’s schedule and promotion of Black Panther. It’s also rumored to be the final film featuring Stallone as the Italian Stallion. Michael B. Jordan returns as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, illegitimate son of the deceased boxer Apollo and current World Heavyweight Champion. His reign is disrupted when he and his mentor Rocky Balboa are confronted by Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, a disgraced Russian boxer who killed Donnie’s father in the ring 33 years prior. He comes to the United States and publicly challenges Creed’s championship title in a fight against his son Viktor, in hopes of gaining favor with his home country once more. Realizing how tough of an egg Viktor is to crack, Donnie begins rigorously training with Rocky, all while anticipating the possibility of a new life with his girlfriend. I really, really loved the first Creed movie when it was released a couple years ago. Considering that the original Rocky from 1976 remains maybe my all-time favorite sports movie, I was so impressed with what Ryan Coogler was able to accomplish. His incredibly personal, character-heavy approach to the material was both in spirit of what made the first one amazing and still make it appeal to a new generation. And although he was still involved as an executive producer, I was still skeptical of what it would be like without his touch. Plus, let’s be honest, Rocky IV does not hold up well at all, so what would be the point of revisiting this Cold War story? Especially with current U.S. tensions with Russia at the moment? I was quite surprised because, while Creed II definitely follows the well-worn path of its predecessors, it still manages to be very entertaining and engaging. One thing to keep in mind is that most sports movies, especially those centered on boxing, are fundamentally built the same way. What makes this series so successful is that it puts character drama at the forefront, while still traveling familiar beats. Creed II still does this well, and I’m really impressed with how much trust over these characters Stallone is giving to young filmmakers. Caple Jr. may lack the chops of Ryan Coogler, but he still has a clear understanding of this story of where the characters in it are placed. Better yet, all of the characters are given human flaws, making their contributions all the more believable. Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors of his generation in the titular role. His boundless charisma and incredible physique are only matched by his touching vulnerability. By his side is Tessa Thompson returning as his headstrong girlfriend Bianca Taylor, a singer with a degrading hearing problem. While she is definitely supportive of her husband’s career, we can honestly feel her concern that he might not come out of the ring alive. And if this is truly Stallone’s last bout as the Italian Stallion, then he gives a whole lot of dramatic energy. This is a man nearly broken by a long history of pain, loss, and some superficial victories. But I was most surprised by Dolph Lundgren’s return as Ivan Drago, as well as Romanian amateur kickboxer Florian Monteau as his son Viktor. While Rocky IV was an extremely silly movie, this one grounds the same villain in a very believable and realistic environment. In fact, I really empathized with the two of them because the situation they’ve found themselves in is quite sad, fighting not only for titles but to regain favor with their country. And while Steven Caple Jr. may lack the chops of Ryan Coogler, he sure knows how to keep Creed II engaging through the technical aspects. Kramer Morgantheau’s cinematography is very steady and focused, but never quite showy. During preparations and also during the fight sequences themselves, the camera likes to rove around its subjects, capturing a lot of things in detail. Combined with the gorgeous lighting and wonderful production design, the whole picture feels extremely lived-in. The editing was a triple-job done by Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Halder, and Paul Harb. They do a pretty good job at cutting the matches together in a kinetic and exciting way, making sure that the impact of every punch is felt. And of course, what the Rocky franchise be without a little training montage thrown in? While “Eye of the Tiger” is not played at all, the segment still feels  little out of place, even if it is admittedly intense. Ludwig Göransson, who’s just having one hell of a year, returns to provide the musical score for the sequel. It’s definitely an interesting soundtrack, once again fusing hip-hip beats with orchestral music for various scenes. He also utilizes vocals to great advantage, such as the aforementioned montage training sequence, mixing singing and rapping with a huge sweeping background song. There’s one rousing moment when the classic Rocky theme by Bill Conti comes up, rearranged into a brilliant symphonic sound. It’s a near-knockout that almost made me want to get up from my seat and cheer for the main hero. Creed II may be predictable and formulaic, but it continues on a powerful saga of legacy. While it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of the first one, it’s still tough and heartfelt enough to rank among the better entries in the long-running series. Michael B. Jordan has been long overdue for his own leading franchise role, and this is a magnificent way to start that path. If only more sports films could be like this.

“Green Book” Movie Review

That was perhaps the most stereotypical depiction of an Italian-American in movies that I’ve seen in many years. Seriously, he eats in literally every scene… and I’m 100% here for it. This historical buddy dramedy initially premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Despite a low amount of expectations, the film unexpectedly won the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award, giving a big boost of confidence to the studio. It was then released in theaters by Universal Pictures on November 16th, 2018, before expanding into more screens after Thanksgiving. It has already won back more than its $23 million budget and scored some positive reviews, albeit ones that were quite a bit cooler after its premiere. Directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly, generally known for making screwball comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, his brother and longtime collaborator Bobby retreated from the spotlight after suffering a personal tragedy. He then came upon a script written by Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga (The main character’s real-life son) and decided to take it on as his first solo gig. There was also a bit of controversy garnered prior to its release when its primary star said the N-word during a Q&A screening, for which he profusely apologized afterward. Based on the true story, Viggo Mortensen stars as Tony “Lip” Vallelonga,” an Italian-American nightclub bouncer working in 1962 New York City. After his mob-run establishment gets closed down for months-long renovations, he seeks a new job to keep his working-class family afloat. Eventually, he comes upon Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, a highly educated African-American pianist looking for a chauffeur and bodyguard as he’s about to embark on a tour of the Deep South. Aided by a copy of the titular book, a guide for navigating segregated restaurants and hotels in various towns and states, the two set off on a road trip where they learn more about each other than they could have ever realized. It’s very interesting to watch this movie in our current cinematic and social environment. Had it come out about a decade earlier, I guarantee it would already be in the conversation for Oscar buzz, possibly even the big front-runner. Not that the genre has necessarily died out, but perhaps because audiences have become a lot more cynical since then. Truth be told out, it wasn’t until the film won big at TIFF that I became interested, especially because it stars two of my favorite actors currently working. Especially because this is Peter Farrelly’s first foray into more dramatic territory, a move that either heightens or damages a director’s career. And yes, Green Book is undoubtedly an enjoyable movie, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t sit quite right with me. Look, every now and then, I’m all for watching a nice, feel-good movie like this one. And on the whole, there really isn’t anything particularly wrong with Green Book or what it tries to be. What’s a tad troubling is that it’s primarily told through the eyes of a white man with some racist attitudes. His employer, meanwhile, is so well-spoken and insightful that it nearly borders on the infamous “Magical Negro” stereotype. In fact, the whole message of the movie is how stereotyping other people is both bad and counterproductive. A good sentiment, indeed, but it certainly could’ve worked on it a little more, especially in scenarios such as the two of them eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in the car together. Viggo Mortensen has made some interesting role choices ever since retiring as Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. Here, as Tony Lip, he provides yet another committed lead performance. Putting on 40 to 50 pounds for the role, his lack of intellect makes for some funny moments on the road and his large physique makes him a convincingly intimidating bodyguard. Riding in the back seat with him is Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali, who breaks type from his usual roles. Behind all of his intelligence and incredible musical ability is a man disillusioned and alone in a world that doesn’t know what to do with him. The two share great chemistry together on-screen and make a great dichotomy over the course of about 2 hours and 10 minutes. In a supporting, more thankless role, Linda Cardellini is caring and concerned as Tony’s wife Dolores. Perhaps the most open-minded person in the whole film, her scenes brought something endearing and sweet-natured. Other players include Iqbal Theba, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimeter Marinov, and Mike Hatton, many of whom do great work but rarely find an interesting angle. As far as technical aspects go, Green Book is about as old-fashioned as its story execution. Sean Porter’s cinematography seems to utilize a certain grainy feel in an effort to make it feel more like the 1960s. It uses a lot of medium shots early on, often to convey the distance between the two protagonists despite their physical closeness. During some of Shirley’s concerts, it does these nice long-takes to show Ali’s incredible skills at the piano. The fact that it always shows his whole body and not just his hands is a testament to the actor’s power. Also, Patrick J. Don Vito deserves a mention for how it was able to keep things interesting during the duos travels. Considering nearly half the movie is just Tony and Don in the car together, it managed to cut between the two of them pretty well most of the time. It also knew when to drag shots out or rack focus for comedic purposes. Jazz pianist Kris Bowers composes and conducts the instrumental film score, fittingly so considering one of the main subjects. Much of the soundtrack infuses a lot of the lush, classical pieces that Don Shirley plays throughout the film. It can be either exciting or relaxing, but it’s always interesting when they’re used in scene transitions.  The rest of the soundtrack mostly consists of more dramatic, understated fare that does its best to wring out strong emotion without trying to be manipulative. Despite what you may have read in this review, I’d like to clarify that I didn’t actually hate this movie at all. I just think that these kinds of movies are becoming a little bit too obsolete for their own good. It’s nice that some high-profile filmmakers and actors are still game to do something more old-fashioned , even if the end results aren’t always that amazing. Green Book is an old-school, shamelessly charming crowdpleaser with some problematic subtext. Peter Farrelly certainly has decent dramatic chops, but there wasn’t a whole lot of mat on this bone to chew. They may not make them like they used to, but sometimes, there’s a decent reason for why.

Image result for green book poster

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Movie Review

If anyone ever tells you that there’s no more fresh air to be found in the Spider-Man mythos, just point them in the direction of this movie. Either they’ll fall head over heels for the web-slinger all over again or there’s no hope left for them. This animated superhero film was released in theaters worldwide on December 14th, 2018. Made on a budget of $90 million, it has thus far grossed over $138 million at the international box office, breaking various records for animated openings in December and becoming Sony Animation’s biggest hit. It has also been the recipient of overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences and professionals, receiving some early nominations. It was even named the best film of the year by a film critics’ group in Utah. Conceived, produced and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, the film was one of many projects leaked by the Sony hacks of November 2014. From the get-go all parties involved, including director Bob Perischetti, wanted to make a movie that was stylistically different from anything the medium had offered at that point. If all goes well, the studio hopes they can launch a series of animated Web-Slinger films in the future. Shameik Moore stars as Miles Morales, a young half-black, half-Puerto Rican teen living in modern-day Brooklyn. Bored by his new private school and frustrated by the relationship between his police officer father and criminal uncle, he gets pulled into a conflict involving the famous Spider-Man. During a battle, they accidentally open up a multiverse where several other Spider-People from various dimensions have leaked into his version of New York City. With limited time, Miles must get everyone back to their dimensions while discovering his own powers and avoiding the power of crime boss Wilson Fisk. To say that the current cinematic market is flooded to the brim with superheroes would be a massive understatement. In all seriousness, it took this movie several months to get on my radar because of that very reason. It shot up to the top of my December watchlist when I discovered that it was made by Lord and Miller. I absolutely adored their work with The Lego Movie, so I was curious to see what their whip-smart and hilarious stamp would like for a comic book superhero story. Especially because the new comic book-eque style of animation looked so different and original. I’m so, so happy to report that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exceeded all my expectations and is easily the best Marvel film Sony has produced in a long time. Perhaps better than the Sam Raimi trilogy, or Homecoming, or even the 90’s cartoon show, what makes Into the Spider-Verse so great is how well it understands the character of Spider-Man. Here, he’s not simply a person, but an idea. A mask for anyone to put on whenever they feel like they’re ready to conquer any big trials they may be facing. Whether it’s the affable Peter Parker or a smart but lonely Afro-Latina kid from Brooklyn, they all wrestle with the expectations of it all. As one person tells Miles, “I see this spark in you. It’s amazing. Whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.” There’s a lot of weight that comes with wearing a costume, and to see Miles find the strength to do so is inspiring. Shameik Moore has been a rising star for a couple years now, and his performance as Miles Morales might just be the big break he needs. Through solely his voice, he carries all of the charisma he showed off in The Get Down and Dope, and gives off a relatable charm. Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld also do great work as Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Though they’re kind of messy people, they turn into unconventional mentors for Miles while also realizing that they can’t do everything on their own. The other three Spider-People are Nicholas Cage, John Mulaney, and Kimiko Green as Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, (No, that’s no joke) and SP//r, respectively. Cage is perfect in the role, delivering Bogart-eque lines with deadpan pleasure, while Mulany is hilarious as the cartoony version. Other voice actors include Leiv Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn, Lili Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, and Zoë Kravitz in roles as various comic book characters, both major and obscure. Meanwhile, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is just as technically astounding as the hype has made it appear. This may have some of the most unique and memorable animation of any movie in recent memory. Yes, it is mostly computer-animated, but it also blends it with comic book artwork, with certain textures on the screen at all times. It occasionally throws in a couple of other styles, such as anime and traditional 2-D, but they’re all in service to creating something that feels brand new. The blending of comic art and CG creates these gorgeous, vibrant colors for the city of New York, and makes the action scenes- particularly a jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic finale -come to life, big exclamations and thought bubbles included. Daniel Pemberton, who gave a great soundtrack to last year’s underrated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, composes the musical score for this film. He continues to expand his wings because, in many ways similar to Black Panther, this score infuses traditional orchestral beats with hip-hop tunes. It works to great effect, as a number of tracks that leave a lasting impression. This includes a leitmotif for one of the villains, which has rapid strings and percussion undercut by a menacing distorted roar. Rapper Post Malone also contributed heavily to the soundtrack, writing an original song called “Sunflower” with Swae Lee. It’s a catchy anthem whose lyrics are pertinent to the core of the film, urging its listener to believe that they’re special in some way. It plays during the beginning and end of the film, serving as a nice bookend to the insane story. What’s more is that there is an unexpected yet heartbreaking tribute to Stan Lee in the credits, as well as Spider-Man co-creator Steven Ditko. For those unaware, these two legends died earlier in the year. Lee obviously has his obligatory cameo in the movie, but the way the filmmakers paid homage was both moving and appropriate; a fitting tribute to what he had intended with the character(s). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a wildly inventive and fun take on a well-worn property that celebrates inclusion. Even with my high expectations, I’m still amazed with what Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and all other parties were able to accomplish here. This sets a new bar for animated superhero movies, and I can’t wait to see what else Sony can offer in this department.

“The Other Side of the Wind” Movie Review

There is quite possibly nothing more weird and ironic than seeing the Netflix logo and the title card, “An Orson Welles Picture,” in the same movie. But alas, here we are, my friends. This satirical mockumentary dramedy officially marks the final feature-length film by writer, director, and producer Orson Welles. Although it spent the better part of over 30 years locked in a Paris vault, some loopholes allowed to be brought into the light of day, premiering out of competition at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. It was subsequently released in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 2nd, 2018. It was also released alongside a companion piece documentary by Morgan Neville called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. After two decades of making avant-garde pictures in Europe, Welles intended this film to be his big Hollywood comeback. Following a grueling 6-year production period, the project further became embroiled in various complex political, legal, and financial troubles that prevented its completion. Even after the director’s death in 1985, the surviving cast and crew worked furiously to bring the infamous and seemingly hopeless film to public light. It wasn’t until early 2017 that producer Frank Marshall and Netflix were finally able to get a hold of the original negative and dallies to finish the film, aided by extensive memos and notes that Welles left behind. Loosely autobiographical, the story revolves around John Huston as Jake Hannaford, an aging Hollywood filmmaker who has been in a self-imposed exile for the past several years. Inspired by a renewed confidence and seduction of the movie industry, he decides to put together his comeback film, an experimental epic called The Other Side of the Wind. The entire film is told through a mockumentary style, and we witness firsthand as Hannaford attempts to finish it in spite of fan skepticism, anticipation, and conflicts with his cast and crew. What does it say about modern technology and filmmaking that we’re able to watch a brand new Orson Welles movie in the year 2018? On a streaming service, of all places? And this being the first feature-length Orson Welles movie I’ve finished, (I know, I know, late to party) I was particularly interested in seeing the infamous production finally in my laps. Not even Terry Gilliam’s notorious The Man Who Killed Don Quixote had such a hard time getting released by distributors. While The Other Side of the Wind certainly feels disjointed and incomplete in parts, there’s certainly quite a bit of meat to chew on. However, before you click the Play button, I would highly suggest that you watch the accompanying documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead first. Not only does it do an amazing job at contextualizing the decades-long struggle at finishing and releasing the film, but is a unique retrospective into the careers of one of the most interesting filmmakers in history. The sad truth is that there are number of amazing ideas in Hollywood that ultimately never come to fruition, and even a handful that are never finished after production wraps. One character in the film mentions, “Inevitably, the need to make money creates the need for a certain kind of picture,” and the film as a whole is a scathing critique of the film industry. Welles exploits his real-life friendship with John Huston to great effect, because the late thespian is virtually perfect as Jake Hannaford. His deep, raspy voice is rather soothing to listen to, even as he does and says outrageous things to his colleagues and critics. Speaking of critics, Susan Strasberg is utterly remorseless and hard-edged as Juliette Riche, Hannaford’s biggest skeptic. Inspired by Welles’ real-life feud with film critic Pauline Kael, she is extremely cynical of the once-revered auteur’s chance of making it again. Then, there’s Peter Bogdonovich as  Hannaford’s young protégé Brooks Otterlake, a burgeoning filmmaker himself. Although there’s clearly a connection between the two of them, you can feel a hesitation in keeping it going; Otterlake sees his mentor as a waning drunkard on the verge of being lost. There are a host of other small roles, including Norman Foster, Bob Random, Lilli Palmer, Paul Stewart, and Mercedes McCambridge, as well as cameos from people like Dennis Hopper, Les Moonves, and Cameron Crowe. Oja Kodar, co-writer and star of the film-within-a-film, is mysterious and enticing as “The Red Woman.” Although she has virtually no lines in the entire movie, she leaves a major sense of intrigue as to who (Or what) she is both to Hannaford and those around him. As far as technical aspects go, The Other Side of the Wind is extremely unique, no matter what era it might have been released in. Gary Graver deserves a special award for sticking with Welles as the cinematographer throughout the whole 6-year process. His cinéma vérité approach to the story serves the mockumentary style well, creating a very naturalistic world of filmmaking. There’s some genuinely appealing imagery, such as catching a plane flying directly over a car ride with many of the characters or in a dark drive-in movie theater. The use of techniques like sudden zoom-ins and handheld roving allows for characters to talk over each other and give sage observations. Welles also did a good chunk of editing before his death, which was finished up mainly by Bob Murawski and countless other people along the way. Cutting over 100 hours of raw footage into 122 minutes must have been no easy task, especially with adding sound, but it is remarkable. It moves rapidly in scenes, adding a visceral feeling to the “crew” documenting everything. There also numerous changes between color frames and black-white frames, which is debatable as either a convenience or an artistic choice. The prolific French New Wave veteran Michel Legrand contributes the instrumental score for this film, his second for Welles after F for Fake. It’s quite an interesting soundtrack to be sure, if not a particularly Earth-shattering one. The most consistent element is that of jazz, and is as dynamic as the genre itself. Some of the fast-paced scenes feature exciting swing bands going on and on, while some of the more somber scenes are layered by a melancholic track. Quite literally 40 years in the damn making, The Other Side of the Wind is a fascinating, if necessarily incomplete peak into the creative film process. If anything, I think it does a pretty good job at introducing what to expect from some of Orson Welles’ other work, which I intend to watch in the next year. Although it isn’t quite as extraordinary as the decades-long struggle to get it finished, I still applaud Netflix for putting the money behind the project for the director’s final vision to be seen by the world.

“Roma” Movie Review

Do you ever have that one moment or two when you realize that you’re watching something really special unfold before your eyes? If you are unable to find one of them while watching this film, then I don’t know if you’ll ever experience it. This historical black-and-white drama was originally selected for competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival but was pulled at the last minute due to a dispute with its distributor. It was instead unveiled at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Golden Lion award. Following a very lengthy festival run over the next few months, in an unprecedented move, the film was released in a large number of theaters beginning on November 21st, 2018, before landing on the streaming service Netflix on December 14th. While Netflix never releases its official numbers, it has reportedly managed to gross over $1.4 million from various specialty theaters, although Mexico’s two largest film chains refused to screen it. Written, produced, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón,  the film has been a passion project for him for virtually his entire career and is said to be roughly 90% autobiographical. After meeting up with executive producer David Linde, the American production company Participant Media was able to pull the funding together and have it shot in the filmmaker’s home country. There was also an incident where the crew was robbed by city workers during filming after a brawl broke out, and the actors were apparently not told everything that would happen from scene to scene. Set in the early 1970s in Mexico, we follow a year in the life of a large middle-class family living in Mexico City. The entire story is told from the perspective of their indigenous live-in housekeeper Cleo, played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, who constantly tries to find a balance between her work life and her time out of the house. However, when the mother and father’s relationship becomes increasingly strained, she has to step up and take care of the children for an extended period of time. Roma is the rare movie that is hard for me to put down into words. I had heard of Cuarón’s proposed film for quite some time, having been a very big fan of his previous directorial works such as Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Y Tu Mamá También. Hearing that he was returning to some very personal territory was extremely exciting. I had tried my hardest to see this film in a theater before it landed on Netflix because all of the reviews and reactions I read highly encouraged me to do so. However, after spending 135 minutes with this family, I can now firmly say that whichever way you watch it is totally irrelevant, as long as you just watch it. Because Roma is a genuinely beautiful masterwork and one of the best films I’ve seen in quite a while. And no, I’m not just saying this because of all of the awards season hype that it’s been garnering in the months since its premiere. Rather, the reason why I speak so highly of it is that it is one of those films that actually made me… feel something. While Roma does start off pretty slow and deliberate, it gradually takes hold of you and soon explodes into something that’s both ambitious in scope and intensely intimate in scale. There are at least three scenes, all of them occurring in the back half, that conjured up a wide range of complex emotions that I don’t ever think I’ll be able to properly articulate. It’s clear that Cuarón is coming from a deeply felt place in his life, dedicated to his real nanny Libo. Yet he still offers a universal resonance with its story and never lets nostalgia get in the way of anything. One of the best things he did was use a local cast, made up mostly of non-professionals. Yalitza Aparicio may have never acted before, but she delivers one of the best, most towering, and sincere performances from any actress this year. Previously trained as a pre-school teacher in a small village, she brings a natural empathy and radiant warmness to the children. It’s truly unique to see the film unfold through Cleo’s perspective, as she not only puts up with harsh difficulties outside the house but also observes the children’s reaction to everything. Opposite her is Marina De Tavira as Sofia, the struggling matriarch of the family. While she clearly loves her family, she constantly worries about the status of her marriage and how that could affect them. As a result, she frequently lashes out on impulse, one night drunkenly telling Cleo, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” The children, played by Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortine Autrey, and Carlos Peralta, are surprisingly great and empathetic as well. Two other standouts are Nancy García as the other housemaid Adela, who also consulted on the Mixtec dialogue, and Jorge Antonio Guerrero as Fermín, Cleo’s problematic boyfriend. Meanwhile, from a pure filmmaking perspective, Roma is a film made completely in Alfonso Cuarón’s own original voice. When his usual collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki couldn’t come onboard due to scheduling, the director had to fill in the role as his own cinematographer. And the results are absolutely astonishing, utilizing a 6K 65 mm camera to capture 1970’s Mexico in amazing widescreen. Many of the scenes are told through extensive, fluid long-takes, often centered in the exact same spot throughout the ordeal, making it feel like we’re observers inside a vivid memory. The stark black-and-white imagery also helps to give it a sense of timelessness but still make it feel like a faded event from the past. Cuarón also continues his career-long tradition of editing his own movies, this time in collaboration with Adam Gough. Cuts are very sparse throughout the film, but the ones that are there feel extremely calculated and purposeful. It also works to let many of the actors say a lot using simply their body language or facial expressions. Interestingly, there is no musical score or soundtrack in the movie at any point. Instead, the director utilizes state-of-the-art Dolby surround sound systems to capture nearly everything in its audio. Whether it’s something like soap on a dish, an airplane flying overhead, or daily vendors in a suburban street, it makes the whole experience even more immersive. The choice of no soundtrack also helps to better plant the viewer in any environment the characters are in, whether it’s in a store during the infamous Corpus Christi Massacre or on a lovely beach in Tuxpan. As cliche as it may sound, we’re right there with Cleo wherever she goes. However, because it’s such an intensely personal film for the filmmaker, it can be relatively understandable if some audiences aren’t as taken away by the story. It’s worth questioning how many people are truly willing to sit down for a black-and-white, 2-hour and 15-minute film about a Mexican family and their housekeeper that’s subtitled almost entirely in Spanish. But if you know what you’re getting into, it’ll practically be impossible not to be blown away by everything going on. Perhaps the director’s best work yet, Roma is a beautiful, intimate, and fundamentally human masterpiece of cinema. Alfonso Cuarón is a true master of the medium, and we are so unbelievably lucky to have him be able to tell stories like this to the world. It absolutely deserves all of the awards it will inevitably be nominated for, and Yalizta Aparicio is a genuine discovery. This is a film that has left me inspired as a hopeful filmmaker, both in its immaculate craft and tough-but-tender character examination. I can only hope that I can somehow measure up to this standard, and others like me can share the same feeling.

ROMA

“The Social Network” Movie Review

Going through college life as a nerd really puts this movie into a brand new perspective for someone like me. I’m not entirely sure if that is necessarily a positive, but that just is what it is. This tech-based biographical drama was first unveiled as one of the opening features at the 2010 New York Film Festival. It was then released in theaters by Columbia Pictures a week later on October 1st, 2010, where it supplanted middling expectations among people in the industry. It went on to gross nearly $225 million at the worldwide box office as well as some of the best reviews of that year. It then went on to practically dominate awards season, including winning 3 Academy Awards and nominated for 5 others. Directed by David Fincher, the film was originally written by celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in the mid- to late 2000’s. It pulled largely from the book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich. Although its primary subject had no involvement with the production whatsoever, he did apparently buy out a whole theater so that his employees could all go see it. Based on the true story, the film starts in the Fall semester of 2003 and stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, a young, socially awkward but brilliant computer science major attending Harvard University. Following some emotional circumstances, he and some friends decide to create Facebook, a social networking site that would allow users to connect with others online. We witness as he gains enormous global success from the invention, as well as the aftermath with two separate lawsuits. One concerns twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra, who claim Zuckerberg stole the idea from them, and the other is his former best friend Eduardo Saverin, for a variety of personal reasons. Truth be told, The Social Network is one of those movies that took me a little while to really grow on and love. In fairness, I was probably a tad too young when I first watched it; there were a whole lot of things in the story that didn’t make sense to me and I felt cold watching it. It also has the distinction of being the first film of David Fincher’s that I ever watched, though I wouldn’t get a hold of his other work until much later. In retrospect, the whole idea of a feature film centered on the founding of something as mundane as Facebook seems extremely boring and outlandish. I have no social media at all, aside from this Blog and Letterboxd; so it would be especially hard for me to relate. And now, after a rewatch or two this year, I have finally come around to see how truly amazing this film really is. The largest reason for its success is how Sorkin and Fincher are able to compromise and find common ground for this story. I love Aaron Sorkin’s work on The West Wing and Steve Jobs, but his writing sometimes comes off as either overly optimistic or too bitingly cynical. Fincher is able to balance things out because he empathizes with Zuckerberg so much, a young visionary who very few people believe in. Yes, there are numerous factual inaccuracies with the story, especially in the way certain motivations are portrayed. But unlike many other films that do this, (See: Bohemian Rhapsody, or don’t) The Social Network gets by because nothing about it feels cheap. Social media has come to define our very ways of life, so its relevance will only increase as the 21st Century rolls along. Say what you want about his later roles, Jesse Eisenberg is practically perfect as Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t let his lanky, small physique fool you; this is a brilliant, ruthlessly calculated performance, able to spit out incredibly complex sentences in a very precise manner. His lack of eye contact and general social ability makes him seem almost inhuman in his intellect and disconnected as a person, telling a lawyer, “Did I adequately answer your condescending question?” We empathize with him a lot, as all he really wants to do is fit in somewhere or be respected by his peers. In early roles, Armie Hammer and Andrew Garfield are excellent as the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin, respectively. Hammer pulls double duty using new facial technology to play the two brothers, whose frustration at Facebook’s success is both darkly humorous and understandable. Garfield, meanwhile, is captivating because while he wants the best for Mark, himself, and their partners, it’s clear they’re not on the same wavelength and are headed for a tragic end. Other people include Justin Timberlake as a manipulative businessman swaying Mark to his darker impulses, Brenda Song and Rooney Mara as irritated love interests for Mark and Eduardo, Max Minghella as the concerned friend of the Winklevi, and both Rashida Jones and David Selby as pragmatic lawyers trying to get the deposition finished with as little bloodshed as possible. Meanwhile, the technical aspects show The Social Network to be yet another film that David Fincher has complete control of his craft. The first time he worked with future collaborator Jeff Cronenweth, the cinematography showcases the director’s signature steely color palette through which we see the world. The lack of major colors creates a cold atmosphere, reflected by the immense amount of technology present at our fingertips. It uses extremely precise movements following a character’s actions, however big or subtle, making the audience totally in sync. The film is edited by Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, who deservedly won an Oscar for their work here. They splice all of the scenes together in a highly stylized and energetic manner, much like the snappy dialogue that Sorkin has cooked up. Most importantly, it makes a plot revolving around computer screens gripping and cinematic. Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross team up to compose and conduct the instrumental film score, the first of many collaborations between the two. It turned out to be one of the most innovative and defining scores of the decade, challenging many ideas of what we expect from one. Minimalist but never content to background noise, the most famous track is “Hand Covers Bruise,” using a deceptively simple piano riff against the backdrop of skipping distorted violins. It doubles as both a genius idea just burgeoning from the mind and a melancholy feeling for things that could have been. They also make use of an extremely creative cover of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and the song “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles for the final scene. Considering how protective EMI is of their license, it was money well-spent as it perfectly illustrates Mark’s state of mind after success. It’s unquestionably a great achievement for all parties involved, but it still suffers the same issue as a lot of Aaron Sorkin’s work. While his dialogue is extremely smart and enticing to listen to, it feels as though all of the characters talk exactly the same way. He puts huge words and metaphors into the mouths of so many individuals, it sounds more like solely his voice processing this situation, not to mention the lack of character development in certain areas. Despite this small aside, The Social Network is a superb marriage of direction and script, with a timeless story at heart. If anything, this film has aged like a fine wine as more social media apps get created and used every day. It isn’t my favorite work by David Fincher, but it certainly measures up to his other directorial works and is perhaps his most humane cinematic effort. Power and privilege are highly tempting, but they often come together at the expense of those around you. No matter what your invention is.