Tag Archives: what to watch on Netflix

TIFF18: Roma

Roma is the kind of movie that births film criticism. It will be used as the golden example in so many future texts I ache to think how many words will eventually be written about it and can’t quite fathom it.

Mexico City, 1971, a young family is having a rough time. Mom and Dad were fighting a lot, before he left, and now they do it on the phone, when he remembers to call. Four young kids are feeling vulnerable and acting out. Two young servants are trying to keep it all from falling apart. But one of them, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is going through her own private crisis as well. She’s pregnant, and the father has run off. Fearing for her job but unable to return home to her religious family, her current situation is tenuous and her future uncertain.

This is the semi-autobiographical work by Alfonso Cuaron about that crazy time in his MV5BNGEyMTgxZDYtOGUyZC00NDk5LWEwYjUtODcxYmZjNjFmZTFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA2ODMzMDU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_childhood when his beloved maid’s unexpected pregnancy collided with his parents’ bitter divorce. It marked him for life, and all these years later he’s strung together the haunting images from that period and used his memory to paint in the rest. He’s only a minor character in the film, it’s really an ode to the women who raised him: his mother, the two servants, and Mexico herself.

Cuaron immerses us in Mexico circa 1971. Filmed in starkly beautiful black and white, you can’t help but drink it all in, everything from the airplanes overhead, to the geese in flagrante delicto, the muddy markets and the local cinemas, the grassfires and New Year’s Eve traditions, rooftop laundry and candlelit chores, every scene is packed with loving details to a time and place Cuaron clearly treasures. His camera moves slowly, soaking up detail, lingering lovingly in quiet places. His trademark long takes emphasize time and space – the big house compared to the servant’s quarters, and the time Cleo devotes to undoing the naughty work of busy children. The sound design is incredible. At times I was overwhelmed by the layers of noise in the city – hawkers, vendors, tradespeople, cars, trucks, buses, dogs barking, children playing, marching bands tooting their various horns in seemingly random parades.

Roma is of course shot in Spanish and subtitled with care. It is obviously composed with great care as well, with so many interesting angles and viewpoints (a Christmas party filmed at child height, for example) and depths of field. Lensed by Cuaron himself (Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable, but his collaboration in pre-production means his DNA’s all over it, Cuaron assures us), he often keeps his entire shot in crisp focus, with as much going on in the background as the foreground – but when the focus goes soft, it’s for good reason. Take note.

This film brims with the kind of personal detail that makes it truly unique. I especially liked seeing the young boys clearly obsessed with outer space – posters, toys, and astronaut costumes – you can’t fail to think that these are the origins of Gravity. Indeed, Cuaron has left a little piece of his heart on the screen. It is not sentimental, but it is affectionate, made with love. And I think it will be received, by audiences and the Academy, with nothing but.

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TIFF18: Outlaw King

Well, if you can’t beat Braveheart, you can beat horses. I mean, literally ruthlessly kill horses. Hundreds of them at a go. My god it was rough watching.

Outlaw King follows a different character in the Braveheart cinematic universe – Robert the Bruce. He starts the movie out as a defeated nobleman, having just surrendered his land and castle (but never his heart) to England’s King Edward. Oh he is pitiable in his lovely green frock, belted low on the hips – a dress that accentuates his piercing blue eyes and his hand-crafted mullet. King Edward gives him a wife (Florence Pugh) as a reward, and they are married in a ceremony celebrating the love of naps and political alliance, but not necessary each other. But since you can only mollify a man with one wife at a time, soon enough he’s riding around the beautiful Scottish countryside, trying to unite the people (impossible) and rally an army (near impossible) to mount the campaign against their English oppressors anew.

As you can imagine, King Edward and his sadistic, bowl-cut sporting son the Prince of MV5BYzE1Njc4MmQtNjFhMS00MGQwLWJiMGYtZjQzYzljZDQ3ODkwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_Wales are quite enraged, so they’re only going to come at Robert (Chris Pine) harder – including declaring him an outlaw, and seizing his wife and daughter (which is poor gift-giving etiquette on their part). So Robert just gallops around raising hell and hopefully spirits until the two sides meet in an epic, EPIC, horse-murdering battle.

Outlaw King reunites Pine with his Hell Or High Water director, David Mackenzie. Unfortunately, lightning hasn’t struck twice. Theme and tone and conviction are all noticeably weaker, as if neither Mackenzie nor Pine is entirely convinced this Robert the Bruce fellow is really worthy of the mantle this film bestows upon him. They raise the stakes by painting him a devoted family man and thoughtful lover, a conceit I’d expect to see in a bodice-ripping romance, not a historical war movie. But it still doesn’t quite add up to a towering hero, perhaps in part due to lazy editing. The movie, at 137 minutes, is too long by quite a margin. There’s a lot of repetition that could easily be cut down without losing a damn thing.

But don’t worry, it’s not totally without merit. The men, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson (does anyone play deranged as well as him?) and Tony Curran love to roll around in the mud. The boys spend 97% of the movie caked in dirt and bathed in blood – it’s a real sausagefest that should sprout at least 10 new chest hairs for all who watch. And you’ll learn some handy Scottish customs such as: it’s not just kilts they don’t wear under with; and the old smacking people to wish them luck (“Let this blow be the last you receive unanswered”) – a real swindle if I’ve ever seen one; and weird swan oaths that are perhaps better left to history, or at least what passes for history on Netflix.

Outlaw King is often intense and often gory and often brutal. But just when it’s getting to be too much, Mackenzie cuts to a long, sweeping panorama of the countryside, giving me space to breathe. But then he zooms in tight on Pine so we see that Bruce is demented with grief – it’s right there in his eyes. Sure they might be sheep shaggers and horse killers, but they’re also just super chivalrous men who politely wait for each side to make their impassioned, inspirational pep talks before commencing slicing and dicing. It’s real beautiful stuff. I would hesitate to recommend it if it was being released in theatres, but since you’ve got Netflix anyway, why not wait for a day when you’re really mad at a horse, and live vicariously.

TIFF18: The Kindergarten Teacher

Lisa is having a mid-life crisis. No, Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is having an existential mother fucking emergency. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years and she’s tired of teaching a curriculum she doesn’t believe in. She feels invisible at home, a mother to grown kids who don’t need her anymore, a wife to a man she doesn’t feel connected to. A continuing education class in poetry only highlights her unrealized potential and stifled creativity.

So Lisa is ripe for a prodigy, and what do you know, she “discovers” one right in her own classroom. Five (and a half) year old and full-time cutie-patootie Jimmy (Parker Sevak) MV5BMTYxODY2NDU5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE3MTgyNDM@._V1_composes poetry that is beautiful and eloquent beyond his years. Lisa feels an addictive high when she recites it as her own in poetry class, receiving praise by peers and teacher (Gael  Garcia Bernal) alike. But mostly she just becomes obsessed with this kid, believing she’s the only one who can nurture his talent. Her behaviour becomes increasingly troublesome, though even on the mild end of the spectrum (depriving him of naps, luring him into bathrooms, alone, with candy bribes), I was uncomfortable.

Lisa is a complex character. You’re picking up on that, right? She legitimately believes she’s got a Mozart-level genius on her hands, and also that our current culture crushes creativity. And she’s not wrong, definitely not about one of those things, and maybe not about both. But she believes that gives her the right to overstep her bounds in some pretty major, pretty outrageous ways.

Maggie Gylleenhaal deserves every good word you have to say about her performance. It’s melancholy, human, and desperate. There’s something universal about a woman’s unsatisfied needs. But you don’t quite know where or how far Lisa will take this – it’s just slightly unhinged, which keeps you riveted despite the fact that the film sometimes feels like it’s not quite sure what it should be.

Director Sara Colangelo explores the many facets of her protagonist even when motivations are muddled and compromised. There’s almost a dark comedy running through the veins of this movie, throbbing and daring in a way that’s surprising given it takes place in a kindergarten class. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince, you’ll sympathize, you’ll condemn, but you won’t look away, even when it stumbles, even if it can’t commit. The Kindergarten Teacher offers a confident performance and a fascinating character study.

 

 

Catch The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix October 12.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel. It was occupied by Germans during WW2, and the people of Guernsey suffered deprivations of course. So it was the Nazis’ fault they had to form a Literary AND Potato Peel Pie Society one night, spur of the moment. For the rest of the war, five friends read books and then met to discuss them, whilst eating awful potato peel pie. With only a limited amount of books, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) writes to a stranger in London, a name he finds randomly in one of the second-hand books he reads, to ask for the name of a bookstore from which he may order more. Juliet (Lily James), a writer and book lover herself, is quite taken by the request, and she writes back, including several titles for he and the society to enjoy. They MV5BNDE5MjM3MTg4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ5MzE5NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_keep up a correspondence for quite some time, and when the war ends, she heads to Guernsey to meet the characters from the letters in the hopes that she may write to them.

Juliet is welcomed warmly but meets with resistance when she broaches the topic of writing. The society wish to remain anonymous. They’ve suffered more than just deprivation during the war. One of the society is missing, and the rest are secretive, protective.

I loved this book. The movie feels a little less special, not even living up to its quirky title. It’s predictable and conventionally told, but gosh darn is it pretty to look at. It’s a satisfying period romance with a great ensemble cast. It’s too bad the script plays it safe, but it’s still a sweet little movie. It’s not breaking any new ground, and you’ll have to make due with London standing in for Guernsey. But Lily James is her sparkling, charming self, so if the movie is hard to love, it’s easy to like.

 

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

What Happened to Monday

The world is overpopulated and we are consuming resources at an untenable rate – these are facts, not fiction. It’s kind of depressing that in a dystopian, sci-fi future, the architect of our demise is real, but our willingness to do something about it is the fiction.

In this particular 2078, a strict one-child policy has been made law and is brutally enforced. The GMOs in our food has led to unfathomable rates of multiple-births, so every human is braceleted and check-points are set up to monitor for siblings, who are then removed from the population in order to be cryogenically frozen for a time  when the earth may sustain them. But as Willem Dafoe watches his beautiful and beloved daughter die while giving birth to septuplets, he vows to keep the seven sisters secret. Named for each day of the week, they are raised behind closed doors to be smart and MV5BOGE5ZmVjOGUtZmQzOS00OGQyLWEwNDEtNjkyNDRiZTBhNDA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_self-sufficient. Each one may only venture outside on the day of the week for which they are named – outside their home, they live as “Karen Settman”, a character that all 7 must be equally devoted to keeping sacred.

Of course, when Monday goes missing, the remaining 6 are going to have a heck of a time tracking her down since between them they only have the one avatar allowed to exist in the world. So the script basically forces itself into an anything-goes amalgam where we’re never sure if we’re watching a gritty crime thriller, or a family drama, or a murder mystery, or jagged social commentary. There are a couple of really great set pieces that may get your heart pumping quickly enough to sustain you during the more aimless scenes in between. It’s an uneven movie, overstuffed for sure, but an interesting premise even if its denouement is somewhat predictable.

Noomi Rapace gets to play all seven juicy roles, and she gives each Settman sister a twist of her own. It’s fun to watch her interact with herself, and it’s a trick pulled off rather deftly. But for me, personally, the  most interesting part of this movie is imaging myself and my sisters (there are “only” 4 of us, luckily – the world could not take a single one more) co-existing even nominally peacefully in an apartment for years, sharing one single identity. The four of us are nothing alike and I can’t even imagine what a compromise would begin to look like. One of  us lives and breathes hockey, and one of us cannot physically stand upright on skates. How do you even do that halfway? One of us is covered in tattoos and one of us refers to them as “prison ink” with a judgmental eye roll. Growing up, we couldn’t agree on a single television show to watch. How would we agree on a single hairstyle, job, boyfriend, drink preference? And let’s face it: whoever pulls the Saturday shift will never have to go to work or school, while poor Monday will forever be stuck without a single drop of fun.

Sean watched this movie and had a very different takeaway. He saw only potential: since we are childfree by choice, he thought our right to a child could be sold to the highest bidder, and he envisioned us living comfortably off the proceeds. So in summation: Jay can’t even imagine a fictional world in which she is capable of compromise, Sean is mercenary, and What Happened to Monday is an entertaining but not quite brilliant addition to Netflix’s sci-fi catalogue.

Cargo

If (when) the zombie apocalypse happens, please feel free to refer back to this post, which will justify your bullet in my brain. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. The truth is, I am not a survivalist. I don’t want to live without hot baths, good wine, soft cheese, manicures, memory foam, air conditioning, smooth legs, clean fingernails, diamond earrings. I never want to run because I have to. I don’t even like to camp. Fight for my life? I avoid sales so I don’t have to fight for the last pair of 7.5 patent leather Mary Janes. So if shit hits the fan, I’m checking out. Even if it turns out the zombie outbreak was really just a particularly gross strain of the flu, I promise not to mind. This is a risk I’m willing to take in order to ensure that I never spend a day hungry, or cold, or scared out of my mind, or wearing yesterday’s underwear, or having unminty breath – and yes these things are all EQUALLY repugnant to me.

Cargo is about a man who is not as smart as I am (I could start every single review save The Theory of Everything with that sentence, and I just may). Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife and baby daughter are surviving by avoiding land altogether and sticking to their house boat. But when his wife gets injured, it’s either probably die from zombies or MV5BMjUwNzYzNzg1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM1MDcyNTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_definitely die from blood loss. And again they choose wrong and head inland, where poor Andy has the unenviable task of keeping his family alive when every single other thing wants them dead.

Cargo is newly arrived on Netflix, where we are promised both a “thrilling” and “emotional” ride and ohmygod yes. I hid under the blanket so much, both to convince my rapidly beating heart to vacate my throat and get back into the cavity from whence it came, and to sob unobserved (the dogs get overly concerned).

This movie wins because it’s not about the zombies. In fact, the zombies aren’t really the villains (and why would they be, any more than lions are villains; they’re simply acting the way they must). Instead we focus on just a handful of people fleeing them. It’s character-driven, and casts some very capable people to show that off, not least of all Martin Freeman who broke my fucking heart. And the film is further improved by the baked Australian landscape, which is all that and a bag of Tim Tams.

I don’t normally have the heart, or the stomach, for a zombie movie, but exceptions must be made for one this good.