Alfonso Cuarón’s intense and personal Roma is in limited theatrical release Nov 29th and streams on Netflix Dec 14. It is a marvel, one of those rare, life changing, breathtaking masterpieces that challenges one’s worldview, pays attention to the tiny details that form our lives, and bathes us in compassion and love. First time actor Yalitza Aparicio is a housemaid living with a boisterous family in the Roma section of Mexico City over the course of a tumultuous year. Without her the family would be lost, but she’s taken for granted. The children adore her but the parents are wrapped up in their troubles, particularly their crumbling relationship and blame her for the things they could have done but failed to do. She saves the day time and time again, and is a more loving mother to the children than their mother. The family witnesses major external events – an earthquake, an uprising, a forest fire, threatening ocean waves, teeming volatile streets, but they are remarked upon in passing, secondary to the day to day story of Cleo and the grace of her spirit. Cuarón brings in eastern philosophy, mysticism, reflected planes, dog poo, an unusual amount of water and other confounding and wondrous things. It is vibrant, compassionate and profound but to describe it seems wrong, it must be experienced. Don’t blink or you’ll miss a man shot out of cannon in the deep background or a lizard running to escape a horse. Utterly mesmerising and an emotional wallop, especially as it’s based on Cuarón’s own childhood maid.
Willem Dafoe is Vincent Van Gogh’s doppelgänger in a stunning biopic from renowned painter turner filmmaker Julian Schnabel. He paints avid portrait of Van Gogh’s final years in At Eternity’s Gate (VVG’s phrase to describe horizons). He moved to the south of France for the sunlight for his work and to lift his depression and it changed his life. His best known works were painted there including the sunflower and villager ones, all imbued with sun and vivid happy colours. Even so, he cut his ear off, was institutionalised and suffered a great deal. He was eventually shot dead by some kids. This marvellous film is poetic, sparse and mystical and in love with nature. I love the film so much and want to live in it.
If Rosamund Pike isn’t nominated for her portrayal of the late American war correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War I’ll eat my toque. Pike’s transformation is astounding – she appears to change her sex, voice and physicality, and there is a strong sense of imbalance as she struggles with an eye patch after losing an eye in a war zone. She’s rail thin and haggard, a bundle of raw nerves, eye on the target at all times. She a hardnosed Sunday Times reporter with thirteen years covering war zones to her credit, experiences which led to escalating post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the horrific suffering and inhumanity she witnessed. She knew it, but kept pushing driven by a myriad of forces including her deep sense of justice and desire for a better world, to get the big story and distract herself form her own demons. The Syrian government ordered her killed; she died in a 2012 IED attack in Homs. It’s a searing story with little emotional relief from the strain of Colvin’s perfectionism, but it is also a worthy film tribute to a singular woman. Jamie Dornan plays her photographer, fully dressed, and Tom Holland is her boss.
Ali Abbasi’s Border which won Un Certain Regard award at Cannes this year and is Denmark’s Best Foreign Language Oscar entry is enchanting and dark like old time fairy tales. Tina (Eva Melander) is a young woman with Neanderthal features and body type with an acute sense of smell which gives her an advantage as a border security guard; she can smell fear, anxiety, guilt and shame. She endures frequent insults and finds solace living in the woods communing with the animals who love her. She has a live-in boyfriend but they don’t have sex. One day at work, she helps captures a man by smelling a SIM card of child pornography in his luggage. Another day, a man (Eero Milonoff) comes through security and he looks just like her. They begin a passionate affair, and have sex like wild animals and he tells her why she is chromosomally different. He claims their roots go back to Norse mythology and they aren’t really human. This fascinating sci-fi story is grounded in realism and imbued with grace.
Ralph Breaks the Internet opened Wednesday and I’m sure it brought a lot of delight to audiences young and old. John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman are video arcade heroes Wreck-It-Ralph and Vanellope who wade into unknown waters in a thing called “the internet” in search of a new joystick – what they find is beyond their wildest imaginings. After adventures in searching, shopping, dealing with all new ways of doing things they must decide whether to stay or go home to the arcade. It represents our lives as constant searches for what’s important, and the true meaning of friendship, and it’s also really fun! And a candy coloured visual delight.
Did you know that a collector couple in a Manhattan high-rise decorate with billions of dollars of art? Or that a New York taxi cab company owner bought a piece for $10 M that is now worth $100 M? Or that high priced pop artist Jeff Koons doesn’t actually touch his pieces? They are made by a team of artists? $1 M for a big Koons metal bunny worth $1 M in 1991 is now worth $65 M (and I wouldn’t have it in my house). These are just a few mind-bending facts about the volatile art world, and the unimaginable amounts of money that changes hands and the people who compete to pay the most, according to Nathaniel Kahn’s doc The Price of Everything. The art world is capricious, we learn. Some artists lose traction, some gain, buyers buy and the market is hot. What is a hot art commodity? We are told it is a combination of quality, clarity and consensus. The overwhelming money versus value question is exhausting and after a while we wonder what it says about the players. An art journo believes rich people insecure and neurotic. Look at Donald Trump’s gold toilet!
Stacy Cochran’s romcom/heist film Write When You Get Work set in Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side stars Emily Mortimer, Finn Wittrock and Rachel Keller as folks struggling to get through their days. Ruth is a young woman with a lower class upbringing and some knowledge of the corrections system who now works for an exclusive private school. As she attempts to reinvent herself to fit in, her old boyfriend and his criminal ways resurfaces, threatening to undo all her striving. Meanwhile a wealthy woman with a child in the school is in a precarious place. Her husband is about to go down for a major financial crime, so she plots a getaway, suitcases bulging with money and jewels. Bit by but the film reveals a huge scam that affects all our characters in surprising ways. Be prepared for some loco twists and turns and to admit you were too quick to judge. It’s a hard edged story that has us on our toes till the end. Available for DVD and Digital Download.
Amazon Prime Video’s remarkable limited series The Romanoffs continues to amaze and bedevil. Each story stands on its own, but is connected to the whole by association with the Russian royal family murdered by Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Christina Hendricks and Isabelle Huppert star in the episode The House of Special Purpose as the star and director of a film about the Romanoffs. From the moment the actress arrives onset in an unnamed Eastern European country estate, she is thrown off kilter. She sees ghosts of murdered Romanoffs accompanied by bad smells, and can’t sleep. The director heaps abuse on her and forces her to humiliate herself. The director hits her head and suddenly speaks Russian and claims to be a Romanoff. Jack Huston plays Rasputin and seems to be on her side, but fails her then disappears. She asks to be removed from the picture and her agent shows up, just before the unthinkable happens and history repeats itself. This series, each episode with a different cast and a different city is outstanding.
The Romanoffs Episode Four Expectation stars Amanda Peet, Diane Lane, John Tenney and Mary Kay Place. A pregnant young woman and her mother, a Romanoff, spar over lifestyle choices over lunch at Bergdorf’s in NY. She’s not getting along with her husband but still meets with her longtime lover played by John Slattery who wrote a book on the Romanoffs that’s now shooting in Europe as a TV series. The mother and daughter are privileged, spoiled, self-centred and unlikable, as the grandmother says “the line continues” even as the family carries out its “noblesse oblige” duties.
The Romanoffs Episode Five Bright and High Circle also stars Diane Lane with Ron Livingstone as a wealthy and influential coupe in Los Angeles. She teaches Russian literature and fired her maid for breaking a piece of china from her great -great –great grandmothers Royal Russian tea service. There may be a pedophile in their midst; a popular piano teacher is under investigation by local police. Lane’s character is questioned as all three of her sons studied with the man. Police ask her to keep their conversation to herself but she spills to five people within a day or so. He comforts her when she feels pangs of guilt for living in their gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright home, as though she doesn’t deserve it. Complicated psychological issues arise like her fantasy that he told her that his entire family was murdered in the Russian revolution and she answered that hers was too. She feels protective of him as the walls close in. After all, her family knows that bearing false witness can ruin lives.
Escape from Dannemora the true eight episode crime series directed by Ben Stiller tells the sad story of Tillie Mitchell a prison employee who helped Richard Matt and David Sweat, both serving life sentences for particularly brutal murders escape custody. Mitchell allegedly had intimate relations with both men and brought them gifts, and eventually the tools they used to “go over the wall”. The stranger than fiction episode embarrassed prison and state officials, as it uncovered extreme negligence that allowed the men to use power tools under the prison over a six month period and go unmarked in 400 headcounts. Matt and Sweat eluded capture for three weeks, costing the state $23 M. Patricia Arquette is unrecognizable as Mitchell, a married woman with low intelligence and self-esteem, who was enthralled by the bad boys. Paul Dano and Benicio Del Toro play Sweat and Matt who also formed a close jailhouse attachment. Great true life tale and Arquette is a marvel, but I found it super creepy and dark and clocked out early. Sundays on Crave.
Are you watching Monica Lewinsky’s documentary limited series The Clinton Affair on A&E? Twenty years on, the former Clinton White House intern spills details of her two year long affair with President Clinton that rocked the world and ended with his impeachment. Episode two airs Sunday night.
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