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Josh Reviews Roma

January 7th, 2019
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Alfonso Cuarón’s new film, Roma, released on Netflix, follows approximately a year in the life of a young woman, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who serves as a maid for a family in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970’s.  The film is based on Mr. Cuarón’s memories of his childhood and the woman who helped raise him (along with his biological mother).  Mr. Cuarón has said that the film “is autobiographical, in the sense that 90% of the scenes come out of my memory.”

Roma is a lush, beautiful film, gorgeously shot, and deeply moving.  Mr. Cuarón has crafted a beautiful peek into the life of this woman, Cleo, who is a slightly fictionalized version of the woman who clearly meant so much to him as a child.  Ms. Aparicio, who plays Cleo, has shockingly never acted before.  This is astonishing, because her performance is incredible.  She’s heartfelt, warm, and impressively naturalistic.  Cleo doesn’t have a tremendous amount of dialogue in the film, and therefore so much of the story has to play out across her face, and in her eyes.  This would defeat many talented actors.  But Ms. Aparicio is incredibly effective at bringing us into Cleo’s inner life and heart.  It’s an astonishing performance, and one that I give both Ms. Aparicio and Mr. Cuarón tremendous credit for creating together.

I love that this film is a salute to this type of woman who was so important to so many families’ lives, and yet is so easily overlooked.  (I love the scene in which we see Cleo doing the family’s laundry up on the roof, and then the camera tilts upwards and we see so many other woman just like her, doing similar work atop all the other buildings of the neighborhood.)  There are many unsettling moments in the film in which we see Cleo looked down upon or talked down to.  And yet, every frame of the film makes clear that she is an integral part of this family that she lives with and works for.  Of the woman who inspired Cleo, Mr. Cuarón has said that “we end up becoming part of her family, or she becoming part of our family.”  That’s a beautiful sentiment, and by the time we arrive at the ending, the film has driven that point home with power and beauty.

Mr. Cuarón has proven himself capable of crafting extraordinarily large-scale fantasy-spectacle films.  Many consider Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which Mr. Cuarón directed, to be one of the strongest of the Potter films.  (I like it a lot, though personally I think that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the best of the films.)  … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2013 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013, and click here for part two!  And now, let’s complete my list:

The_Wolf_of_Wall_Street

5. The Wolf of Wall Street This is a very polarizing film.  I’ve had a lot of debates with folks ever since I published my very positive review of the film.  I stand by every word I wrote.  This is Martin Scorsese back at the very top of his game, telling a raucously entertaining but also fiercely angry story about Wall Street scumbags.  This is an epic film, three hours long, but I felt that it flew by and felt like a film half its run-time, so engaged was I by the story unfolding before me.  There are some spectacular performances in this film, particularly a very, very funny Jonah Hill and an absolutely magnetic Leonardo DiCaprio, using every watt of his charisma to show us how this man, Jordan Belfort, rose from nothing to become a man of huge wealth, all on the backs of others.  This is a film that might offend some, as Mr. Scorsese and his team don’t flinch away from showing us the sex-and-drugs-fueled antics of Jordan and his cronies.  How great is it that 71-year-old Martin Scorsese is still making movies that can push people’s buttons!  Personally, I was spellbound by the bravura filmmaking on display.  (Click here for my original review.)

GRAVITY

4. Gravity Speaking of bravura filmmaking: Alfonso Cuaron’s thrilling survival story in outer space is a visual effects extravaganza, gloriously beautiful and dazzlingly ambitious.  Mr. Cuaron’s filmmaking is beyond anything I have ever seen before, taking full advantage of the 3-D to pull the audience right into the middle of the story.  Watching this story unfold in IMAX 3-D was a riveting experience.  Mr. Cuaron’s lengthy, seemingly uninterrupted takes are incredibly inventive and impressive from a filmmaking aspect, but they’re not just empty cinematic exercises — they give this fantastical, sci-fi story a you-are-right-there-in-the-middle-of-it reality that is extraordinary.  All of this would be useless, though, were not this sci-fi story balanced by a small-scale, deeply personal tale of one woman’s struggle to find a reason for living again in the wake of grief, and were it not anchored by Sandra Bullock’s gripping, gritty performance (and great supporting work from George Clooney).  This is a marvelously original movie that pushed the boundaries of cinema while also telling a heart-pumpingly engaging story.  I loved it.  (Click here for my original review.)

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3. Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, filmed on a low budget over twelve days in Mr. Whedon’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Gravity

October 25th, 2013
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I had seen and enjoyed director Alfonso Cuaron’s 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien and 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but it was 2006’s extraordinary Children of Men that made me a fan of Mr. Cuaron’s for life.  Like so many, I have been eagerly awaiting Mr. Cuaron’s next film for the past seven years.

Gravity was worth the wait.

I went in with high hopes, but I was still deeply impressed by this mesmerizing film.  It is, first and foremost, an extraordinary visual achievement.  To call Gravity gorgeous is to not begin to scratch the surface of the film’s beauty.  Each frame of the film is a work of art, dipping the audience into a world of extraordinary beauty up in orbit of the Earth.  The immensity of the canvas in which the story is set — the staggering beauty and also the cold, quiet isolation of space — gives the film’s survival story an epic feel.   I doff my proverbial cap towards the hundreds of artists and animators who worked to bring this vision of space to life.

In Children of Men, Mr. Cuaron dazzled with his use of long, uninterrupted takes.  Enhanced by cleverly hidden edits and visual effects, there were extended sequences in that film — some over ten minutes in length — in which it appeared that the camera never cut.  I found the effect to be mesmerizing, giving one the sense of being right there in the story with the characters.  With the removal of the language of editing that we have become so accustomed to, the film felt less like watching a movie and more like we were witnessing real events happening right there in front of our eyes.  That effect has been taken many giant steps further in Gravity, in which huge chunks of the film elapse without any obvious cuts.  Mr. Cuaron’s gently moving camera not only pulls the audience into the story, but is also used extremely cleverly to simulate the effect of zero-gravity on his actors.

The film’s opening sequence is a bold announcement of the power of this stylistic device.  The first image we see in the film is a profoundly beautiful image of the Earth from space. It’s a long time before we see anything else, but gradually a small speck becomes the shuttle docked to the Hubble space telescope, effecting repairs.  The camera rolls around the image, pulling us close and then pulling away, a dramatic counterpoint to George Clooney’s astronaut Matt Kowalski’s zipping round and round the shuttle and telescope, as he tests a new jet-pack.  It’s an extraordinary scene, a dazzling visual sequence that makes the mind boggle when considering how … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

I’ve enjoyed reading Howard Kurtz’s writing — about politics, and about media — over the years.  He screwed up big-time in his reporting about Jason Collins’ coming out as gay.  But hoo, boy, this video of him getting mercilessly grilled — on his own CNN show — about the incident is pretty brutal.  Click here to see a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes.  I was like a deer in the headlights — I couldn’t look away.

Another great season (thank goodness it’s not the last!!) of Parks and Recreation has recently wrapped up, and so once again Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall has another great post-season wrap-up interview with Parks & Rec’s show-runner (who also has been playing Dwight’s cousin Mose on The Office for the better part of a decade).  Click here to read the full interview.  (Fortunately, soon after that interview was conducted, the news broke that Parks and Rec has indeed been renewed for a sixth season.)

Is Star Wars the most over-rated franchise ever??  Click here for another fantastic opinion piece from Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci.  One fantastic film and one very good film out of six?  It’s sort of hard to argue with that…

Speaking of Mr. Faraci, here is a great interview with Iron Man 3 director/co-writer Shane Black, and Marvel Studios head-honcho Kevin Feige.  (If you missed it, my review of Iron Man 3 is here.)

If you’re a comic book fan and you don’t know who Len Wein is, it’s time to learn.  Click here for a wonderful interview with the man who had his hand in creating the All-New X-Men back in the ’70s.

I’ve been waiting for Alfonso Cuaron’s next film for a while (I think Children of Men is pretty much a masterpiece), and this first look at Gravity has me drooling:

Jack Bauer might return — but not in the long-talked-about movie, but rather in a new 24 TV series?  That is a wild idea!  I loved 24 when it began, but the series’ formulaic story-telling caused me to lose patience by the end, and I didn’t actually watch the last season.  But with better writing, I definitely think there is still life in the character and the franchise.  I am bummed the movie never happened, but I’d definitely check out a new 24 TV series.  It’ll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere…  UPDATE!  It’s happening!  24: Live Another Day will run 12 episodes and premiere next May.  Wow.  Could it be good?  (That spin on the Die Another Day Bond title doesn’t impress me.)  Chloe, open a socket!

So they’ve finally made a movie of Ender’s Game?  Feels like this … [continued]