ROMA

“…He said, “I know a cure for everything. Salt water.” “Salt water?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said, “in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.” ~ Isak Dinesen

 

In the first few moments of the film “Roma”, while the opening credits are playing, there is an exquisite, relaxing scene of soapy water gently ebbing and flowing across a tile floor.  Rolling in… and rolling out, rolling in… and rolling out.  It was so hypnotic that I began to wonder whether I could find a way to play this footage on a loop, as a tool for meditation and relaxation.  It was just that lovely.  And then, reflected in the pool of water, the teeny tiny image of an airplane flying in the sky overhead…whoa!

The director now had my full attention.

And this was no small task, this stirring of my interest, because I’ve gotten a little lazy.  Dull, sluggish, apathetic, indifferent, and complacent.  I used to be the person to walk through a dreadful snowstorm to sit in a dank, old theater just to see a movie I was excited about.  I would stretch myself intellectually and emotionally, and I would seek out things to help me grow.  But I lived in New York City then, and that kind of effort is quite commonplace and pretty much required if you want to keep up.  Now I live on Hilton Head Island, which is nice and has its advantages, but I think you catch my drift.

So I almost missed out on seeing this wonderful movie that is currently streaming on Netflix, and here’s the main reason why:  Because I knew it had…SUBTITLES.  Eegads!!  Picture this:

Lying on my comfy couch with my Netflix Special Remote in my hand, I just didn’t know if I wanted to exert the energy to deal with subtitles.  (!)  However in my prone position, propped up by pillows, I kind of reluctantly selected the movie.  This was in part because Netflix was continually hounding me to do so (RECOMMENDED FOR YOU!), and also because I know this film has received major Oscar buzz.  (The Oscars are my Super Bowl…I tolerate all the hype and ridiculousness and petty controversies because, no matter what, I just love movies.)  And that’s when I realized:

It would have been a mistake to overlook this film.

“Roma”, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, is filmed in black-and-white, and that is fine with me because if it is done with care there can be so many tones of silver, gray, and pearl as well.  It’s just stunning to look at.  But here’s the real deal:  the story itself, and the lead character.  It takes place in Mexico City in the early 1970s and is apparently autobiographical.  It definitely has the feeling of a memoir… really a full exploration of the director’s memory…of a specific time and place, and a series of events, as well as a person who made a lasting impression on him.

I won’t try to give a plot summary here, because that is just plain old insufficient.  I will merely say that there are a lot of different themes and ideas, and I was particularly struck by the theme of water.  Over and over again the director uses water very effectively to help tell his story:  It’s a tool, it’s an obstacle, and it’s a savior.

Since the Academy Awards are actually intended to honor “artistic achievement in film” I do hope this movie wins Best Picture this year.  But listen up my friends:  if the thought of sitting through a 2 hour black-and-white movie with subtitles by a Mexican filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of immediately sounds like torture to you, then don’t bother.  No worries!  Watch “Black Panther” instead, or better yet, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  They are both awesome and much more popular and accessible.  However, if you do have a taste for high quality movies that are more personal and thoughtful, I encourage you to watch this one.  You can’t do better right now than “Roma”.

 

 

 

 

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Phantom Thread

**This is a slightly dated post that I never published, but I think it still holds up so I went ahead and did it now…let me know if you ever saw this movie!

Well, it sure ain’t Star Wars!

 

When I started to type the title of the movie, Phantom Thread, into my search bar to check for showtimes, many many Star Wars things popped up first.  So just a head’s up:

Star Wars is an entertaining movie franchise that broke new ground when it started, continues to do well due to likable characters, entertaining adventures, clearly defined heroes and villains, and satisfying conclusions.  Pretty much everybody likes it.

Phantom Thread, on the other hand, is a weird movie about unlikable characters, where actually not much happens, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the conclusion is just kinda like:  Huh.  Hmm.  Okay..?  And I don’t think that many people are gonna like it.  I’m talking about regular movie-going people, not professional film critics.

Oh listen, the critics are positively SWOONING!  They are falling all over themselves to praise the “attention to detail” and the “finely woven narrative” and “another committed performance by Daniel Day-Lewis”.  Phooey!!

Here’s the deal:  this director, Paul Thomas Anderson, positively takes the cake on narcissistic finicky-ness.  *bleah*  And all that attention to detail?  For what?

I r-e-e-a-l-l-y don’t like it when you feel like you need to go to Film School to understand a movie.  There’s a condescension inherent in that.  I love a sophisticated, educated director who has something to say.  But this guy!  You can positively feel the obsession of the filmmaker and it is stifling.  He spends what must have been countless hours poring over the details of place, period, and presentation.  But somehow he doesn’t deliver a movie with enough there to match.  This is truly style over substance.

What saves this movie, and gives it some weight, is of course Daniel Day-Lewis.  In this instance the director is one lucky duck.  As an actor Day-Lewis is wily, and subtle, and deep.  His performance as Mr. Woodcock doesn’t leap from the screen, it oozes and emanates and gradually permeates the entire theater.  He’s very skilled and deserves a full, rich script to work on, not this lame doodleybop.

The actresses are good too.  Vicky Krieps is perfectly cast as Alma, Woodcock’s muse, lover, nemesis, and lion tamer.  I have never seen her before, but I can’t imagine anyone else in that part.  She has a radiant quality that glows on screen.  She portrays Alma as entirely underestimated, and it was curiously heartening for me to see a female character who can give as good she gets.  In fact, that element of the movie is really the only satisfying thing!

Lesley Manville is so crisp and intelligent as Mr. Woodcock’s tough, clear-eyed sister/business manager that I could watch her all day.  For me, she is the true power center of this movie.

So I don’t know…if you admire Daniel Day-Lewis this movie is definitely worthwhile, especially since he says he is done with acting.  But otherwise be warned:  to paraphrase Darth Vader “the Force is not strong with this one”.

MOLLY’S GAME

Some people learn the hard way.

 

I know I do…but is there really any other way?  How do you really know the depths of your integrity or the dimensions of your heart unless you bump up against life in a way that tests it?

Although her story is extreme, the experiences of Molly Bloom (the so-called “Poker Princess”) really started me thinking about lessons and motivations in my own life.  Well…that’s when you know you’ve seen a great movie, when it reaches in and gets you pondering like that.

Insanely well-written (by the great Aaron Sorkin) and barreling along at high speed, we follow the trajectory of a woman who was seemingly raised to train hard, push herself, achieve excellence, and go for the gold.  Literally.  And she ends up applying those skills in the dice-y arena of high stakes (VERY high stakes) poker.

Ah…but there’s more to the story.

Not just the “HOW?” but the “WHY?” is fully explored here, and I was reminded that there is a lot more going on in life than just the surface events.  Not everyone has a taste for these deeper motivations, but ya know what?  They are there, and they are RUNNING THINGS, whether you choose to examine them or not.

Every level of gambling is explored here:  financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and of course, addiction.  You may start out risking just money, but at what point does it turn and you are wagering your very soul?  I’m not kidding.  It both captivated and scared the bejesus out of me.  (Some of the poker game scenes got me so nervous I wished I had one of those fidget spinner things to take the edge off.)

As the character of Molly, Jessica Chastain is on her best game (pun intended).  Whip-smart and intense and mesmerizing to watch, she is believable both as a sharp, opportunistic young woman who goes too far down the rabbit hole, and also one who painfully learns who her friends are, what she stands for, and where she draws the line.  She gets my vote for a Best Actress Oscar.  Especially this year, when women all over the country have been wrestling with much the same thing.  #metoo

Ultimately Molly must answer this question:  I may be able to gamble with and destroy my own life, but can I do that to others?  Under enormous pressure, she has to dig deep for the answer, and no bluffing this time.

When you leave the theater ask yourself, honestly, what would YOU do?

 

 

The Revenant

Uncompromising.  That’s what they say about this film.  What I say is “They sure don’t make Westerns like they used to.”

 

More terrifying than any horror film, the challenges faced by The Revenant’s protagonist are relentless.  The story is inspired by a real-life frontiersman and takes place in the early 1800s in the northern Louisiana Purchase territory, which is now Montana and South Dakota.  (I tell you this, but I had to look it up.  The film-makers don’t bother with the usual informative titles like “This is Where” and “This is When”.  They just throw you into the snow and dirt and start moving.)

Uncompromising?  You bet.  The story, the landscape, the acting… just WOW!  It absolutely delivers.  From one ordeal to another, it is masterful film-making that draws us subtly and imperceptibly into this dramatic adventure.  At one point I realized that I was completely invested in this character’s harsh odyssey, and that I was literally on the edge of my seat.

I happen to really like movies like this:  tough and gritty.  It’s you, the land, the elements, and whatever your idea of God is.  Which even that is a bit indulgent:  these folks are too busy in an “Extreme Outward Bound” situation to trifle over such issues.  But there IS an underlying spirituality to it all… mother nature, life and death, and the painfully transcending experience of grief.

Oh dear.  I’m afraid you’ll think this movie is a grind.  “Two and half hours?” you may think.  “Of snow and dirt and terror??”

Actually, it is extraordinarily beautiful and richly expansive, IF!… you have a taste for such intense films.  I was deeply moved and completely engaged throughout.

Inevitably, I was reminded how completely spoiled we are.  With our ya know, ELECTRICITY, and our of course, RUNNING WATER.  And, it randomly occurred to me while watching this outdoorsy freeze-fest, “Thank God for blow-dryers!”  (If you see it, you’ll know why.)  But I actually started being grateful for a ton of stuff while I was watching.

And I thought about that word uncompromising, how in this time in history we CAN compromise with life and even death, if we want to.  Whether it be through science, modern medicine, or just communications technology, we have so much more control over our experiences than these folks did.  And yet the universal truth that The Revenant focuses on is:

“Life is definitely one damned thing after another… But ultimately we are redeemed by the strength of our character and the purity of our inner souls.”

  

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Iris

I gotta be honest… Getting older freaks me out. All the clichés you’ve ever heard start to ring in my ears:

“Getting old…it ain’t for sissies!” and

“Youth is wasted on the young!” and

“My get-up-and-go just got-up-and-went!” and so on.

*Bleah*

I start to wonder how I’ll survive that seemingly long, difficult period that heads inexorably towards…well, let’s just say it: Death.

Then I went to see the dazzling, life-affirming movie “Iris”, which is about a woman… IN HER 90s… who has been kicking ass all over the fashion world: magazines, museums, runways from New York to Paris, and now of course, a documentary by a super-influential filmmaker. Hello! Not bad for someone who was apparently “discovered” only about 10 years ago!

Iris Apfel is being celebrated for her extraordinary style, but it goes much deeper than that. It is also who she is, and her unique-yet-straightforward approach to life. It’s also a look at the culmination of all the experiences… all the influences… which have made her so fabulous and have caused such a stir.

This is an audacious, accomplished woman and watching her made me realize not only is it OKAY to follow the beat of your own drum, to be truly creative you MUST do so. How rewarding and fun life can be when you stop trying to please everyone else and just start suiting yourself!

Iris Apfel may be one-of-a-kind, but the film’s message about her bold spirit and willingness to continue to say YES to life is inspiring to anyone and at any age.

Now, the filmmaker himself is no Spring Chicken, and perhaps it took his OWN age and experience to capture her unique vitality. He has since passed away, but I wish I could thank him because THIS is the quote about aging that I believe now:

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

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Unbroken

Ugh!  My sister-in-law said “Well THAT was certainly the FEEL-GOOD movie of the Holiday Season!”  (She is a Brit, and quick with the dry humorous observations.)

The fact is, the real-life hero of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini, led a truly extraordinary life.  It’s a shame that it became a mediocre movie.  And a grinding, unrelenting one as well.  Don’t go see it if you are hoping to experience the full arc of his exceptional story, or even to learn exactly HOW he overcame his traumatizing experiences and had a book written about him.

The film is marketed as a inspirational-albeit-tough story.  But it is l-o-o-n-g on the Tough and short on the Inspirational.  And that is a big mistake because it ends up being emotionally unsatisfying.

You know what I think happened?  Angelina Jolie, the director, wanted to focus on the parts that really resonated with her.  You know, certain BIG EVENTS, the suffering and unspeakably cruel stuff.  I get it.  You get it.  We all get it.  But a good director is a STORYTELLER, and never forgets that this is a MOVIE, and that we really don’t need to be hit over the head, and anyway she’s not very good.  (Please see Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese, who are better.)

Unbroken is broken….and doesn’t work.

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The Trip to Italy

My husband surprises me with the movies that he enjoys.  Please realize that he has not seen ANYTHING.  (For example:  He just watched Road House on cable, and was transfixed.  I thought to myself “I know he lived in Hawaii for a long time, but did he spend the 80s and 90s in a frigging yurt?”)

Now we go see everything, and honestly he has the most discriminating, thoughtful, excellent taste in movies.  I am such a movie buff that it is ridiculous, so I take him to black & white indie films that would be a stretch for most people and he is delighted.  Just laughs, cries, and thoroughly enjoys himself.  Thank God!

My husband LOVED The Trip To Italy.

Granted it is a charming movie, with great scenery, and discussions of great food.  But the two stars verge on the annoying, and then…just when you wish you could reach up and SMACK them silly, they do a “bit” that makes you laugh right from your belly.  They have captured that elusive thing:  a long, close, complicated friendship.  And the delights and frustrations of traveling with someone.  It just feels frank and true and at times unedited…hence the occasionally annoying part.  Close friends are annoying at times!

All their little foibles and adventures, (and moral failings) on this trip become completely absorbing.  When the lights came up at the end, I realized I had been totally drawn in, and that I forgot I was in that stuffy little theater.  I felt like I had taken a trip to Italy.

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