NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year

If you notice one thing about Roma, it will likely be its size. It’s a big, big, big movie, with landscapes that extend out into infinity, scenes that seem to last forever, and emotions so wide and deep they could swallow you whole like a well. It makes sweeping political commentary, shows births and deaths and poverty and heartbreak, focuses on the vastness of the ocean and the sky. Its camera likes to slowly sweep left and right, constantly looking outward and upward.

Through all this big-screen grandeur, it would be so easy for Roma to drown itself in itself—and in less skilled hands, it may have done just that. But with Alfonso Cuarón at the helm, creating the most personal work of his entire career, Roma is as sharply focused and intimate as it is grand, and it never for an instant loses sight of the woman at its center.

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Yalitza Aparicio in ‘Roma’ © Netflix

That woman is Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young, indigenous Mexican maid to an upper-middle-class family living in Mexico City in 1970, a time of state-sponsored violence against political dissidents. Cleo is thoughtful and deliberate, always tending to the needs of her employers, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and their four children. But she is also keenly aware of her own needs and limitations, even as the line between work and life becomes more and more blurred.

Language creates an almost helpful boundary—Cleo speaks Spanish in Sofia’s home, but slips back into her native Mixtec with her friends and fellow maid Adela (Nancy García) in their little apartment above the garage. She and Adela find joy in each other’s company and do all the sorts of things young women do together—race through the city streets to get lunch, go to movies with their boyfriends, and exercise and gossip by candlelight every night so as not to waste electricity and disturb Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Verónica García). Even when surrounded by sequences of high drama, these small scenes of tender normalcy are some of the film’s most mesmerizing. Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year”

NYFF ’18 Review: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a Wild, Witty, and Hollow Patchwork

Tim Blake Nelson in 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' © Annapurna

Gather ‘round, folks, because the Coen Brothers have another tale to tell—six tales, in fact. With their anthology project The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the pair revisit some well-tread ground—death, greed, and comedy in the Old West—through a series of storybook vignettes that are just as violent (and twice as witty) as any Grimm fairytale. None of the film’s individual chapters achieve anything the directors haven’t already given us in spades, but the pieces come together to form an intriguing, if somewhat hollow, collection, resembling more of a patchwork quilt from a forgotten civilization than a feature-length Hollywood film.

Tim Blake Nelson in ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ © Annapurna

Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a Wild, Witty, and Hollow Patchwork”

‘BoJack Horseman’ Takes Risks to Explore Regret in Inventive, Poignant Season 5

After a tumultuous, watershed year in real-life Hollywood, BoJack Horseman has invited us back to the not-so-fictional world of Hollywoo for the show’s fifth season. Yet even as the comedy nears veteran status in the fast-paced context of streaming – and the absurdity and horror of the entertainment industry threatens to make all parody moot – BoJack manages to remain as smart, funny, and brutally poignant as ever, using inventive narrative devices to explore complex ideas and catapult the show into a stratosphere of greatness all its own.

If the first four seasons of BoJack are about the myriad ways we cope with the deep, dark shit of life, season five is about the work that comes after we survive. How do we move on from our lowest lows without digging the same holes – or falling into someone else’s – all over again? How do we forgive the unforgivable? And who does forgiveness actually benefit?

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Diane and Bojack in ‘BoJack Horseman’ © Netflix

Continue reading “‘BoJack Horseman’ Takes Risks to Explore Regret in Inventive, Poignant Season 5”

Let’s Go Back In Time: Much Ado’s Favorite Period Pieces

From Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly-anticipated The Favourite to Greta Gerwig’s star-studded interpretation of Little Women, 2018 will be the year of period pieces. In anticipation of these films, the Much Ado crew has put our heads together and shared some of our favorite period pieces. They span genres, directors, and countries, but one thing is for sure: We are a group who loves a good period piece.

Atonement (2007) dir. Joe Wright

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I’m not here to introduce you to a hidden gem of historical fiction about a marginalized population or oft-ignored perspective – I’m here to talk about Atonement. Yes, the Ian McEwan adaptation starring Keira Knightley and directed by Joe Wright. The combination of those three names yields a period piece so period piece-y, it’s quintessential genre viewing.

This movie’s got everything: war-torn lovers, smoking parlors, sexual tension, an evil chocolatier played by Benedict Cumberbatch, family secrets, precocious Saoirse Ronan, dramatic deaths, and betrayal. Set against the backdrop of the First World War, Atonement follows the sweeping love story of beautiful, snobbish Cecilia and working class Robbie, played by Keira Knightley with a jaw so sharp it could kill a man and boy-next-door James McAvoy, respectively. Saoirse received her first Oscar nomination for her role as Cecilia’s incredibly annoying theater kid sister Briony (or at least that’s how I viewed her when I first saw the film as a preteen). But most of the gooey, decadent drama of the film draws itself from everything but the acting.

Continue reading “Let’s Go Back In Time: Much Ado’s Favorite Period Pieces”

‘Sorry to Bother You’ Apologizes for Nothing

Boots Riley has asked critics not to spoil his movie, so this is me telling you that I won’t. But if you want to experience Sorry to Bother You in all its glory, I would recommend coming back to this review (and others) after your first go-round.

In a quieter moment within the off-the-wall final act of Sorry to Bother You, artist Detroit (Tessa Thompson) stares up at a giant, vulgar statue, erected haphazardly in the night, that shows sarong-wearing CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) fucking an animal. The statue is lovely in its awfulness, with comically inaccurate proportions and a flimsiness that suggests it might be made of papier-mache. As a crowd gathers to admire the monstrosity, one woman asks, “But what does it mean?” To which Detroit responds, “Maybe the artist is being literal.”

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Tessa Thompson in ‘Sorry to Bother You’ © Annapurna Pictures

While nothing more than a small, satisfying in-joke in the context of the onscreen action, this line is the closest Sorry to Bother You gets to a thesis statement. Like the protest statue, the film is loud, declarative and unsubtle, delightfully surreal yet demanding to be seen for what it is—and like Detroit suggests, that might just be the point. Continue reading “‘Sorry to Bother You’ Apologizes for Nothing”

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Isn’t Just an Invitation, But a Call to Action

“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved, and capable of loving.” It’s statements like these – sweeping, painfully earnest, and deeply resonant – that characterize Morgan Neville’s latest documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film follows the life of the late Fred Rogers, host and showrunner of the influential children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, yet it’s not so much about Fred Rogers the man as it is about the philosophy he birthed and tried his hardest to live by through his work. Neville knows, as all documentarians should, that the best way into a person’s life is through the world they build for others. By taking this approach, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? evades all the myth-making and sentimentality that once seemed inevitable in reflecting on the life of someone as venerated and impossibly good as Rogers, resulting instead in a film overflowing with true emotion and poignant, necessary lessons for the American future.

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Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ © Tremolo Productions

Continue reading “‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Isn’t Just an Invitation, But a Call to Action”

Much Ado’s Best Films of 2018 (So Far)

We may only be halfway through the year, but there have already been plenty of great movies to sink our teeth into. From slow-burn indie darlings to crowd-pleasing blockbusters, the past six months have provided something for all tastes, proving that we don’t have to be mid-awards season to experience great cinema. Check out the following 15 films that we think are the best of the best:

Continue reading “Much Ado’s Best Films of 2018 (So Far)”