Roma (2018) directed by Alfonso Cuaron

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film (streaming on Netflix).

[1] …this was a very personal movie for Cuarón, a lot, if not most of the details came from his childhood. (It was based on his real life nanny named Libo…) He tried to show the struggle of domestic workers in Mexico as well as the differences between social classes that only Mexicans can understand. … for Mexicans see this film as a journey to the past and for younger Mexicans an opportunity to see the Mexico they never knew.

[2] We see so much through Cleo’s eyes, that to expand the focus would have weakened it structurally and thematically. The events were not fleshed out, because Cleo had no way to analyse or see the wider picture. For the vast majority of the population, the political events shown would also have been merely glimpsed or read about.

[3] The turmoil in the streets are a mirror of Cleo and Sofias’ inner lives. This is an honest reflection of the lives of many, many women.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio- a first time actress/former preschool teacher) is a 20-something maid in the household of an upper middle-class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970s. In this household are Sofia (Marina Tavira), her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), their four young children (Tono, Paco, Pepe, and Sofi) and Sofia’s mother Teresa, along w/ another maid, Adela. The thoughtful blonde-haired youngest boy (Pepe) is a stand-in for Alfonso Cuaron (winner of the Golden Globe for Best Director). Unlike his two older brothers, he doesn’t make fun of or fight much with his sister (Sofi). Cleo shares an especially strong bond w/ Pepe and Sofi; they play, joke, and laugh together often.

Cleo’s daily life with the family incl. cleaning, cooking, taking the kids to and from school, serving them meals, putting the kids to bed and waking them up. Cleo and Adela share a room and are good friends; they sometimes speak in their own (native) language, aside from Spanish. Antonio (who is a medical doctor) leaves for a conference in Quebec; Sofia becomes quite emotional as they say goodbye. On their days off, Cleo and Adela go out to eat and to the movies with their boyfriends (Fermín and Ramón). Several months pass and the children start asking about their father; Sofia agonizes over what to tell them. Antonio is living in town w/ his mistress, having callously cast away his family. Cleo, Tono, and a cousin nearly run into him outside a movie theater one night! After some time, Cleo learns that she is pregnant; she gets no support from Fermin (who denies that he’s the father). He rejects Cleo with a rather nasty attitude (in front of his friends)! Adela urges Cleo to visit her mother; Cleo doesn’t go because she feels like it’d be too upsetting.

This is a slice of life film that has some very emotionally powerful scenes, though it starts out slow. You can see it as a women doing it for themselves film. The men are mysterious; we don’t learn much about them. Notice how Antonio (who represents Cuaron’s absentee father) is revealed bit by bit in his first scene; first we see the large sedan, then the radio, then his hand, and (finally) he emerges from the car. At times, Sofia (who has a strong personality) speaks harshly to Cleo; she doesn’t have her husband to blame. Over time, Cleo and Sofia (who come from quite different backgrounds), have to rely more and more on each other to keep the household (and family) going.

The look of this film is unique, as it is in black and white and the picture is super sharp (clear) in every shot. As one movie critic noted: “Every scene looks like a painting!” There isn’t always a lot of dialogue, but something is always going on within the frame. You hear bits and pieces of conversations, just as Cleo would going about her work. Even when revolutionaries are running the streets, this family has to deal w/ their ordinary concerns, such as furniture shopping. In one memorable scene, the family silently eats ice cream together, their heads lowered in sadness; a noisy and happy wedding party is seen in the background. The most intense scenes in the film show Cleo acting in a selfless (and heroic) manner to rescue Paco and Sofi from drowning in choppy waters of the ocean. She doesn’t know how to swim, which adds more danger to the mix! As the family (all safe) gathers on the beach and embraces, you can’t help but become emotional. I saw this film on Netflix; most critics are suggesting you see it on the big screen (if possible).

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Nothing to Hide, or Le Jeu (2018) starring Berenice Bejo

It featured truly interesting characters, and dealt with a subject that most of us wonder about, but generally never act in…

Funny, realistic, well acted, emotional, and passionate in equal measure.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

To enjoy Nothing to Hide, you have to suspend your belief to enjoy the scenario. There is no way on God’s earth that a group of couples would agree to this game. -Daniel Hart (Ready Steady Cut)

Nothing to Hide certainly grows more and more compelling as the aforementioned game adopts progressively salacious qualities – which ensures that the picture’s midsection boasts a sporadically spellbinding quality that proves impossible to resist. –Reel Film Reviews

Le Jeu (“the game”) is a French film (on Netflix); it’s a remake of an Italian film. One of the ensemble cast is Berenice Bejo, the talented and gorgeous co-lead of The Artist (2015). FYI: The director of that Oscar-winning film is Bejo’s husband, Michel Hazanavicius. There is also a Mexican version of this movie- Perfectos Desconocitos (Perfect Strangers)- currently playing in limited release at U.S. theaters. To play the game, 7 close friends (3 couples) put their cell phones in the middle of the table during dinner party, and when an email, text, or call pops up, they MUST reveal who and what it was. Yikes!

The couple hosting the dinner party are a well-to-do/sophisticated professional couple in their 40s- a plastic surgeon named Vincent (Stephane De Groodt) and his psychologist wife Marie (Bejo). They have a 17 y.o. daughter- Margot (Fleur Fitoussi)- who is going to a party w/ her friends. Their marriage seems to have grown cold/distant. Somewhat neurotic businessman Marco (Roschdy Zem) and his (heavy drinking) wife Charlotte (Suzanne Clement) have been married 15 yrs; Marco’s mother lives w/ them and helps w/ their two young kids. Charlotte resents her MIL who is critical of her choices. A handsome taxi driver, Thomas (Vincent Elbaz), and his bubbly hairdresser wife, Lea (Doria Tillier), are newly married and seem VERY much in love. They can’t keep their hands off each other- it’s somewhat awkward for the others. The one single friend, Ben (Gregory Gadebois), is a gym teacher who recently lost his job and is dating for the first time (after his divorce). Though everyone was looking forward to meeting his new lady, Ben didn’t bring her (saying she had stomach flu).

We learn that the men have been friends since childhood (35 yrs); their wives seem to be close also. They drink wine, tell jokes (incl. insulting each other), and eat foie gras (which is a luxury food made from liver of fattened duck or goose) and different types of cheese. Marie proposes they play the game, which brings out secrets (big and small), lies, and drama! Ben, for a while, tries to be the peacemaker among the group. He hopes to get some photos of the gang (w/ the eclipse moon occurring that night).

This movie poses MANY questions! Are cell phones ruining interpersonal relationships? Should we accept out bodies as they are, or work to improve them (incl. w/ plastic surgery)? How well do you know your spouse/partner? If something is left unsaid, is it just as bad as a lie? How well do we relate to our children? In one (particularly touching scene), after Margot calls Vincent, he gives his daughter some GREAT advice re: her personal life.

The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant & Irene Dunne/His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell

The Awful Truth

Before their divorce becomes final, Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) BOTH do their best to ruin each other’s plans for remarriage. They divorced (hastily) b/c they suspected that cheating was going on; Lucy learns that he lied re: going away to Florida and Jerry is VERY disturbed upon learning that she was stuck (overnight) w/ her (suave/French) music teacher. It’s up to the audience to decide IF they actually cheated! Lucy meets an earnest Okie oilman- Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy)- while living w/ her outgoing auntie at a fancy hotel. Jerry visits their pet dog (a fox terrier), Mr. Smith, as was decreed by the judge; the dog (obviously) doesn’t like the couple being apart. One night, while Lucy and Daniel are out at a fancy club, they run into Jerry and his date- a wanna-be actress named “Dixie Belle Lee.” She is young, blonde, and Southern; she reveals that she changed her name (b/c her family disapproves of show business). They all watch (w/ bemusement) as Dixie Belle happily screeches out a song; at certain points, her skirt blows up (a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). One day, BOTH the music teacher and Jerry show up at Lucy’s hotel and confusion ensues! Jerry seriously begins seeing a socialite- Barbara Vance- who is covered in the society pages. Jerry tells Lucy that he’s going to meet the parents; she barges in on them, calling herself Jerry’s “sister.” The Vances, a humorless bunch, look on w/ horror as Lucy does her own impression of Dixie Belle, complete w/ a burlesque-style dance.

Much of the film (adapted from a Broadway play) was improvised by its director, Leo McCarey, and the cast each day. This caused Grant much anxiety, BUT it became a big hit. After a time, Grant realized that McCarey was deliberately creating nervous tension in him to enhance the performance. By keeping the cast slightly off balance, the director was building scenes from spontaneous moments between the actors. There is clever/fast dialogue, physical humor (incl. w/ the energetic dog), and great chemistry between the leads. The supporting actors do a good job, too; they add to this screwball comedy.

His Girl Friday

It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the Newspaper game- When to a reporter “Getting That Story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of Today. Ready? Well, once upon a time… –Opening title card for the film

Having been away 4 mos, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), walks into the offices of The Morning Post, where she is a star reporter; her purpose is to tell her boss/editor, Walter Burns (Grant), that she is quitting. She got a divorce in Reno (from Walter- who admits he “wasn’t much of a husband”) and had a vacation in Bermuda. Hildy wants to “have a home” and “live like a real human being,” instead of chasing after stories. She plans to take the 4PM train to Albany, where she will be getting married the next day to an earnest/doting insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy- yet again the guy who doesn’t get the girl). Walter doesn’t want to lose Hildy, as a reporter or a wife, so he does whatever he can to delay her trip and convince her that she belongs w/ the paper- and him!

You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’ Why divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. -Walter explains to Hildy

What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick... -Walter says

Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced. -Hildy retorts

Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. -Walter replies

He forgets the office when he’s with me. He doesn’t treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman. -Hildy comments re: her fiance, Bruce

This (fast-talking) screwball comedy influenced MANY films that came after it, from rom coms to workplace comedies. There are jokes aimed at the behavior, looks, and speech of journos (who were almost ALL men that time). I’ve seen this film several times over the years; I recently learned that Hildy was first written as a man (in the play- The Front Page). For the film, the studio (producers) decided to change it to a woman, so there could be a romance (instead of bromance) element. In the middle section of the film, Hildy is at the helm of the story, and we see things from her POV. The other reporters covering the case admire Hildy for her talent (writing); they even bet on how long she’ll last as a housewife! The female Hildy was a rarity for Hollywood; she had a career, was confident, smart, and independent-minded. She wears cool hats, coats, and (menswear-inspired) skirt suits. Grant (then in his 30s) looks great (as usual); he projects charm, humor, and mischievousness in his scenes. Walter (who rarely shows vulnerability, BUT is still easy to relate to) is one of Grant’s MOST known/loved characters.

Mary Queen of Scots (NOW PLAYING) starring Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film.

Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart. Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones – and change the course of history. -Summary from Focus Features

While cannot highly recommend this film, it does have it’s strengths: a very fine cast, enriching music, lush set design, and gorgeous costumes.

The film is a well-intended historical drama that nevertheless falls short of expectations for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, what should be palace drama that raises the hairs on your arms, plays out meekly for much of the movie. Second, the movie’s pacing is too slow… Lastly… the movie tries to set it up as “Mary vs. Elizabeth”, yet then forgets to provide an in-depth charter for Elizabeth.

There is no clarity in why one was either Protestant or Roman would be such an insurmountable issue, partly because John Knox was so poorly written (despite having hidden the very talented and capable David Tennant behind all the hair).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) were cousins and BOTH concerned w/ marriage (or avoiding it), as well as children (or succession). Mary ALSO wants the throne of England b/c she is a Stuart; Elizabeth is the (illegitimate to Catholics) daughter of Henry VIII and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. Ronan (NOT yet 25 y.o.) is a FAB actress, thus capable of playing the regal/powerful Mary. The talent is NOT in question; she tries to rise above the (mostly mediocre, sometimes laughable) dialogue. The screenplay is by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) and John Guy, author of the biography- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Many critics/viewers have commented on her Irish accent; it’s VERY noticeable in this film. Why did the director NOT have Ronan modify her accent to reflect Mary!? She could’ve done a Scottish accent or a French one (since Mary grew up in France). Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) used a Scottish accent.

Ronan has zero chemistry w/ her love interest, Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden- a 28 y.o. from Scotland). Lowden is just TOO much of a lightweight (lacking screen presence, aside from conventional good looks- IF that’s your thing) for the role. Even in the emotional scenes, I was bored by his acting! During MOST of his romantic scenes w/ Ronan, the two desi 20-something gals sitting next to me giggled (perhaps they felt the awkwardness). Though we start out thinking that Mary and Hadley could be happy together, it’s NOT the case. Then the plot veers off the rails- MORE unexpected (and ludicrous) than I ever imagined!

In contrast to Lowden, Joe Alwyn (also in The Favourite opposite Emma Stone) as Elizabeth’s “special friend” Sir Robert Dudley seems a BIT more interesting. He also has V conventional good looks, BUT is brooding and believable. As you may recall, other Dudleys were been played by the powerhouse veteran actor- Jeremy Irons (HBO’s Elizabeth I w/ Helen Mirren)- and the dark/enigmatic Joseph Fiennes (Elizabeth w/ Cate Blanchett). Alwyn and Margot Robbie (who I hadn’t seen before) have a few moments; they relate well to each other. The main question I have: Did Elizabeth really send Dudley to the Scottish court as a (potential) husband for Mary?

Aside from Ronan, I just came away feeling V bad for the (older/experienced) actors; this includes Guy Pierce (Lord Cecil- Elizabeth’s loyal counselor), the FAB at nearly 50 y.o. Adrian Lester (ambassador Lord Randolph), David Tennant (John Knox- anti-Catholic leader), and Brendan Coyle (Earl of Lennox- Darnley’s father). Actually, Pierce does get a FEW nice moments, incl. one scene alone w/ Elizabeth. Lester (best known here in the U.S. for Primary Colors) is a tall/handsome/British theater actor who happens to be black. As in theater world (where director Josie Rourke hails from), this film uses colorblind casting for several supporting and MANY background roles. My good friend thought that was strange; it doesn’t fit w/ the historical period. I’m NOT saying there were zero POC in these royal courts. I wouldn’t have a problem IF there was a basis for it OR if the movie worked well! After all, one of my fave films- Much Ado About Nothing– has Denzel Washington as a Spanish nobleman and Keanu Reeves as his younger brother. Also, Lester has a FAB smile, BUT no smiles here!

It took me a few mins. to recognize Tennant (Doctor Who); he is nearly hidden under a long wig, heavy beard, and dark robe. His character is SO one note- it’s laughable (which is what a few in my audience did); he is TOO good for such a role! There was a LOT of anti-Catholic sentiment in court of Elizabeth (and perhaps also among MANY of the commoners), BUT why make Knox a cartoonish villain!? Even Jordi Molla’s King Phillip II (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was more nuanced. Coyle (beloved as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) doesn’t have much to do, aside from looking disgusted/disappointed (w/ his son) or smirking (as he’s plotting the overthrow of Mary). Sure, it MAY be fun to be a baddie for a change, BUT this is just a waste!

The scenery is quite lovely to look at and the costumes look historically accurate, though FEW students of history objected to the use of black cloth. MOST of the men, incl. the Scottish nobles, wear black. The ladies in waiting to Mary wear black, too. Bess (Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians) as Elizabeth’s confidante/lady-in-waiting wears shades of gray. Where is the tartan cloth which prominent in the Stuart family? The thick makeup and bright red wig worn by Elizabeth in the (pivotal) meeting scene reminded some viewers of a clown. We know that Elizabeth used white powder to cover up her pox scars (after being stricken w/ the disease in her late 20s). As for the action- that’s ALSO a disappointment. The military battle, where Mary’s soldiers face her older half-brother’s men, is more like a small skirmish.

Speaking of the half-brother, the actor has some potential. The men in this film are mostly drunk/useless/jokes or plotting/power-hungry; aside from Dudley and Cecil, none are loyal, thoughtful, or kind-hearted! Even Mary’s long-time ally, Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston), turns against her in the end; this is shocking/sudden. OK, that was a BIT interesting; this actor (who appeared on many TV series, incl. Monarch of the Glen) did well w/ his role. The ladies-in-waiting (incl. Chan) are a physically diverse group; they get almost zero character development. In real life, these were noblewomen who had personalities and lives of their own (aside from attending to their queens). In the eyes of MANY critics, Cate Blanchett is the ultimate Queen Elizabeth. I expected to see a BIT more of Elizabeth; Robbie did a decent job (and her English accent was good). Unless you really LOVE historical fiction, skip this film. Luckily, I saw it for free (w/ my Regal Club points)!


Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid & Claude Rains

Here’s Looking At You, Kid… & Immigrants & Refugees

This (classic) film LOVED all over the world wouldn’t have been made w/o immigrants and refugees (MANY of whom were fleeing war). The ONLY woman that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) loved- Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)- was Swedish; her husband/freedom fighter Victor Lazlo was Austrian. Capt. Renault (Claude Rains) was British, as was Sidney Greenstreet. Director Michael Curtiz was an immigrant from Hungary; the cast/crew sometimes had a difficult time understanding his accent. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) was also Hungarian; he who fled to London in 1935 before coming to the U.S. Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau), the young woman dumped by Rick early in the film, and her husband (Marcel Dalio- he plays the croupier), fled Paris before the German occupation in 1940. The Nazi officer, Maj. Strasser (Conrad Veidt), was actually a German w/ a Jewish wife. Carl (S.Z. Sakall), the jovial/elderly waiter, was Jewish and came from Hungary. There are MANY others; Warner Bros. claimed that 34 nationalities worked on Casablanca.

With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas… Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca… and wait… and wait… and wait. -Excerpt from the opening narration

An Unique Love Triangle: Rick, Ilsa, & Victor

No one is the baddie (or malicious) in this trio- VERY rare for a classic Hollywood film! At first, Rick is “neutral,” just content to run his business. Then he sees Ilsa again (after perhaps 2+ yrs, if you’re going by historical events); they met and fell in love in Paris. Ilsa (who is Norwegian) is married to Victor, a Czech man who survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp, BUT still sticks to his values. Victor (who is tall, blonde, and VERY composed/gentlemanly) is portrayed as a natural leader. He loves Ilsa and relies on her for support, incl. in his work. In one pivotal scene, he inspires nearly everyone in the Rick’s cafe to sing the French national anthem.

Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for. -Rick asks

You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die. -Victor replies

Rick (who is short, dark, and moody) is the reluctant hero. He also loves Ilsa; he never sticks w/ one girlfriend for long (as Renault comments). Seriously, WHO could compete against Bergman!? In the flashback scenes in Paris, we see a different side of Rick- he’s charming, relaxed, and optimistic. Once Rick realizes the difficult situation that Ilsa and Victor are in, he starts thinking what he can do to help (though he doesn’t reveal it to anyone- TOO dangerous). Rick makes it so the young Hungarian man wins at roulette, so he can fly to America w/ his wife. This pleasantly surprises his employees (and even the VERY cynical Renault); thus, love is a force for change in this film.

Play It, Sam: Friendship, Music, & Race

For this time period, it was a VERY bold move to have Rick’s BFF (and also employee) be played by a African-American man. Dooley Wilson was a singer, NOT an actor or pianist; he did a great job w/ his role. We don’t know how he and Rick came to be pals or why they’re so loyal to each other. Sam plays the (iconic) song which reflects Rick and Ilsa’s love story- You Must Rememer This. When Rick gets drunk/mad, he tells Sam to go away, BUT Sam refuses (b/c he is a supportive friend). The filmmakers received MANY positive comments/letters from black viewers who were happy to see such a prominent/developed character. There is an unfortunate line where Ilsa refers to Sam as “the boy”- cringeworthy to modern audiences, yet probably NOT rare in the ’40s.

The Beginning of A Beautiful Friendship: Rick & Renault

Renault gets a LOT of the best lines in this movie; he is cynical, opportunistic, yet NOT necessarily a villain. We learn that Renault served in WWI. The Nazis are the big baddies, though Renault operates in the gray areas of society. He gets a part of Rick’s gambling proceeds to look the other way. If a woman happens to be pretty, Renault will listen to her concerns. There is chemistry between Bogie and Rains; they banter w/ each other in a fun/quick way.

You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American. -Maj. Strasser comments re: Rick

We musn’t underestimate “American blundering.” I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918. -Renault replies