Richard joins CP24 anchor Nathan Downer to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including strange and beautiful period drama, “The Favourite,” the critic’s favourite “Roma,” the zombie musical “Anna and the Apocalypse,” the animated “Henchmen” and the documentary “Almost Almost Famous.”
A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the Golden Globe nominated “The Favourite,” the heartfelt “Roma,” and the zombie musical “Anna and the Apocalypse.”
All the trademarks of Alfonso Cuarón’s most popular work is carried over to his latest film “Roma;” there’s long uninterrupted takes and stylish, innovative visual style. The movie’s most remarkable feature, however, the thing you’ll remember long after viewing, is its humanity.
Set in the Roma section of Mexico City of Cuarón’s youth, this semi-auto-biographical slice of life plays like a sense memory, a dream. Although based on his early childhood Cuarón focuses the story on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), maid to a middle-class family. She raises the kids, cooks and cleans up after the dog who cannot seem to stop pooping. Dutiful, she loves the family as if they were her own, a feeling that is mutual despite their occasional dismissiveness.
The family is like many others, rambunctious kids barely kept in line by Cleo and her boss Sofia (Marina de Tavira). The father, a doctor who always seems to be away at a medical convention—a cover for his philandering—is mostly absent. Cuarón lovingly details Cleo’s daily routine at the house and even spends time on her off hours as she goes to the movies with her intense boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero).
It’s a slice of life, not plot driven. It feels like a recollection of the long-ago time brought to life. When crisis comes both for Cleo and Sofia the power of their humanity and family solidarity comes to the fore.
Shot in beautiful black and white this Spanish language film is a tribute to Cuarón‘s second mother, the maid who he dedicates the film to.
It may put you in the mind of other movies like “Amarcord,” films that could be described as intimately epic, telling stories about people set against a backdrop of wide societal change. It is picturesque but occasionally horrific, naturalistic yet heightened, a film as a snapshot of a place and time and its people. It drips with empathy and affection for its characters, particularly Cleo, played by first time actor Aparicio. She grounds the movie with a performance that is both warm and stoic, never once betraying her character’s fundamental sense of decency and humanity.
Movies like “Roma” don’t come around often anymore. Daring in its simplicity and lack of sentimentality it has the power to devastate and uplift, sometimes in the same scene.
TOP THIRTEEN HITS (click on the title to see trailer)
1. 12 Years a Slave. There’s a key line near the beginning of “12 Years a Slave, “ the new drama from “Shame” director Steve McQueen. Shortly after being shanghaied from his comfortable life as a freeman into a life of slavery Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) declares, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Based on Northup’s 1853 memoir the movie is an uncompromising story about will, suffering and injustice.
2. American Hustle. “American Hustle” is one of the year’s best. It’s an entertainingly audacious movie that will doubtless be compared to “The Wolf of Wall Street” because of the similarity in tone and themes, but this time around David O. Russell has almost out-Scorsese’d Scorsese.
3. Before Midnight. “Before Midnight” is beautifully real stuff that fully explores the doubts and regrets that characterize Jesse and Celine’s (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) love affair. Done with humor, heart and pathos, often in the same scene, it is a poignant farewell to two characters who grew up in front of us.
4. Blue Jasmine. Darker than most of Woody Allen’s recent output, “Blue Jasmine” doesn’t go for laughs—very often anyway—but is an astutely crafted psychological character study. Jasmine is a modern day Blanche Du Bois, a faded bright light now forced to depend on the kindness of strangers. Getting in her way are delusions of grandeur and a continued sense of denial—likely the same sense that kept her guilt free during the years the illegal cash was flowing—that eventually conspire to fracture her psyche. “There’s only so many traumas one can take,” she says, “ before you end up in the street, screaming.”
5. Captain Phillips. I don’t think it’s fair to charge audiences full price for screenings of “Captain Phillips.” While watching this exciting new Tom Hanks thriller I was reminded of the old Monster Trucks ads that bellowed, “You Pay for the Whole Seat but You’ll Only Need the Edge!”It a film about piracy and I don’t mean the sleazy guys who bootleg movies but the real pirates who were responsible for the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in two hundred years.
6. Dallas Buyer’s Club. In “Dallas Buyer’s Club” Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has made an emotional drama that never stoops to melodrama. Instead it’s an inspirational film about standing up for what you believe in.
7. Frances Ha. The seventh film from “Greenberg” director Noah Baumbach isn’t so much a traditional narrative as it is a character study of Frances (Greta Gerwig), an underemployed dancer struggling to find herself in New York City. It plays like a cleaned up black-and-white version of “Girls”; an emotionally rich and funny portrait of twenty-something ennui. “Frances Ha” is a collection of details. There is an engaging story, but it’s not exactly laid out in three acts. It feels more intimate and raw than the usual twenty-ish crisis flick and with each detail we get another piece of the puzzle that makes up Frances’ life.
8. Fruitvale Station. It’s important to remember that “Fruitvale Station” isn’t a documentary. Director Ryan Coogler has shaped the movie for maximum heartrending effect, and by the time the devastating last half hour plays out it’s hard to imagine any other movie this year packing such a emotional wallop.
9. Gravity. “Gravity” isn’t an epic like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or an outright horror film like “Alien.” There are no monsters or face hugging ETs. It’s not even a movie about life or death. Instead it is a life-affirming movie about the will to survive.
10. Her. “Her” is an oddball story, but it’s not an oddball film. It is ripe with real human emotion and commentary on a generation’s reliance on technology at the cost of social interaction.
11. Inside Llewyn Davis. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a fictional look at the vibrant Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” come to life. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed.
12. Nebraska. The humour doesn’t come in the set-up-punch-line format but arises out of the situations. A scene of Woody’s gathered family—his elderly brothers and grown sons—watching a football game redefines the word taciturn but the subject of the sparse conversation, a 1974 Buick, is bang on, hilarious and will likely sound familiar to anyone with a large family.
13. Wolf of Wall Street. “Wolf of Wall Street” makes for entertaining viewing, mostly because DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are able to ride the line between the outrageous comedy on display and the human drama that takes over the movie’s final minutes. Both are terrific, buoyed by the throbbing pulse of Scorsese’s camera. With its fourth wall breaking narration, scandalous set pieces and absurd antics “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an experience. At three hours it’s almost as excessive as Balfort’s $26,000 dinners. It feels a bit long, but like the spoiled brats it portrays, it will not, and cannot, be ignored.
TOP FIVE MISSES
TREND: Big stars don’t guarantee box office!
1. The Fifth Estate – Budget: $28 million, Global box office: $6 million, Return: 21% Late into “The Fifth Estate” Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) says, “most good stories start at the beginning.” I argue that he’s right– about 99% of the time. Unfortunately this look at WikiLeaks and hacker-turned-whistleblower Julian Assange falls into the 1%.
2. Bullet to the Head – Budget: $25 million, Global box office: $9 million, Return: 36% With a name like Bullet to the Head you know the new Sylvester Stallone movie isn’t a romantic comedy. Although he paraphrases the most famous rom com line of all time, “You had be at BLEEP BLEEP!” the movie is nothing but an ode to testosterone.
3. Getaway – Budget: R180-million, Global box office: R105-million, Return: 58 percent. On a scale of zero to stupid, ”Getaway” ranks an eleven. It is what we call in the film criticism business a S.D.M. (Silly Damn Movie). OK, I made that last part up, but I couldn’t really think of any other category to place this movie under. Maybe E.S.D.M. (Extremely Silly Damn Movie).
As “Alien” famously reminded us, “In space no one can hear you scream,” but they didn’t mention anything about heavy breathing. “Gravity,” a new space thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts adrift in the wild blue yonder, features more heavy breathing than a Linda Lovelace movie.
Beginning with an uninterrupted fifteen-minute opening shot, director Alfonso Cuarón presents a spacy story about medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). She’s an uptight novice; he’s a wisecracking vet on his final mission.
It’s routine stuff—or as routine as space travel ever gets—until a debris storm, comprised of bits and pieces of old satellites, chunks of metal traveling as fast as bullets, crashes into their space shuttle. Stone is knocked “off structure” and drifting through the inky darkness while Kowalsky uses his experience and calm to rescue her. Cue the heavy breathing as her oxygen slowly runs out and panic sets in.
The storm has knocked their communications offline and they are forced to become Space MacGyvers in order to survive.
“Gravity” is an ambitious film. A two-hander set against the bleak backdrop of space, it relies on the cast and some tricky camerawork to maintain interest over the film’s deliberately paced but slight 85 minute running time.
The story is one of survival, but screenwriter Cuarón (who co-wrote it with his son Jonás) hasn’t simply written a horror film about imminent disaster. Stone signed up for outer space travel to isolate herself from a personal tragedy, but when the chips are down she finds new meaning in her life.
It’s a good way to ground the story. The isolation of space is well portrayed, the “off structure” sequences are tense and effective and the shots of Bullock drifting in the void or floating through her space shuttle are beautiful, like interstellar ballet. As effective as the human story is in Gravity, however, I could almost imagine turning the sound down and being content to just watch the pictures. Like Laser Floyd in Space.
But “Gravity,” while beautiful to look at, is occasionally too in love with its technique. The seventeen minute long uninterrupted shot that starts the film is spectacular and overall the look will make your eyeballs dance but then there’s a scene where we see Sandra Bullock reflected in one of her own, gravity free, tears. It’s a great image but one that feels a bit too clever. It was one of the few times in the film that I thought I was watching a special effect.
The look is an achievement, but when you find yourself daydreaming about how a scene was shot, it’s a sure sign the technique has taken you outside the story.
“Gravity” isn’t an epic like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or an outright horror film like “Alien.” There are no monsters or face hugging ETs. It’s not even a movie about life or death. Instead it is a life-affirming movie about the will to survive.
This is a spacey story about medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). She’s an uptight novice; he’s a wisecracking vet on his final mission. It’s routine stuff until a debris storm, comprised of bits and pieces of old satellites, crashes into their space shuttle. Stone is knocked “off structure” and drifting through the inky darkness while Kowalsky uses his experience and calm to rescue her. The storm has also knocked their communications offline and they are forced to become Space MacGyvers in order to survive.
• Richard: 4/5
• Mark: 4/5
Richard: Mark, Gravity is an ambitious film. From a technical point of view it’s a wild outer space adventure, but it is grounded by Ryan Stone’s personal story and her search to find meaning in her life. It’s not an epic like 2001: A Space Odyssey or an outright horror film like Alien. There are no monsters or face hugging ETs. It’s not even a movie about life or death. Instead it is a life-affirming movie about the will to survive. What did you think?
Mark: Richard, I think the movie is about our deepest fear: the fear of being alone. Sandra Bullock is literally adrift and detached from everything and the effect is powerful. It may take place in space but reminded me of films like Castaway and 127 Hours.
RC: It does have a lot in common with those movies, plus some mind-bending special effects. The isolation of space is well portrayed, the “off structure” sequences are tense and effective and the shots of Bullock drifting in the inky darkness or floating through her space shuttle are beautiful, like interstellar ballet. As effective as the human story is in Gravity, however, I could almost imagine turning the sound down and being content to just watch the pictures. Like Laser Floyd in Space.
What did you think of Bullock?
MB: She was great; very moving. But it’s the cinematography that’s the real star. Pure visual poetry. If there were ever a movie that deserved to be seen in 3D IMAX this is it. But the music was kind of overwrought, wasn’t it?
RC: It’s strange, but I don’t really remember the music. There is no sound in space, I guess. For me the movie is all about the visual beauty. The 17-minute-long uninterrupted shot that starts the film is spectacular and overall the look will make your eyeballs dance, although I wonder though if it isn’t just a bit too in love with its technique in places.
There’s a scene where we see Bullock reflected in one of her own, gravity free, tears. It’s a great image but one that feels a bit too clever. It was one of the few times in the film that I thought I was watching a special effect.
MB: I noticed the tears too, although I was just grateful she didn’t have a runny nose.
It’s one thing to feel cut off from other people. It’s another thing to be alone thousands of miles above the earth.
A new film from Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón does a great job of showing the isolation felt by two cosmonauts who, in the words of David Bowie, are “sitting in a tin can, far above the world.”
Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who get pelted by a debris storm, comprised of bits and pieces of old satellites. With their space shuttle disabled and their communications offline and they are forced to become Space MacGyvers in order to survive.
Bullock and Clooney aren’t the first movienauts to be cut adrift in space. From animated films like WALL-E to epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey Hollywood has mined the vastness of space in some unforgettable movies.
In the film Moon Sam Rockwell is astronaut Sam Bell, a Lunar Industries employee living and working on a space station on a three year contract.
His job is to tend to machines that are “harvesting solar energy from the dark side of the moon” and providing almost 70% of earth with power. His only companion is a robot / cup holder named Gerty (voiced by the appropriately named Kevin Spacey) although he can receive taped messages from his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott). The loneliness of the job is broken, however, when he discovers that he may not be truly alone.
The comparisons to 2001 are obvious, made even more apparent by Spacey’s HAL-like delivery of his robot lines, but director Duncan Jones has simply used Kubrick’s film as a visual reference on his way to creating a unique and fascinating film. Another thing he borrowed from Kubrick and many other sci-fi films of the 60s and 70s is his emphasis on ideas rather than special effects. Michael Bay this ain’t.
One of the earliest alone-in-space movies came in 1950. Destination Moon is noted as the first Hollywood movie to contain scientific representations of space travel. The story involves a two-man journey to the fifth largest moon in the Solar System and the difficult decision to leave one behind. Heralded at the time for its realism, through today’s eyes it looks somewhat corny. For example: “I know one thing,” says a spacesick General Thayer (Tom Powers), “unless these pills work, space travel isn’t going to be… popular.”
“I think we need to make another movie about how we made this movie,” says Sandra Bullock on the filming of Gravity, her new lost-in-space film.
The Heat star plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut untethered from her space shuttle following a debris storm. Cut loose from her space partner (George Clooney) and her ride to Earth, she drifts through the inky darkness until discovering a way to survive.
“The film is about adversities, and we were going through adversities,” says director Alfonso Cuarón. “Everything was a big challenge.”
Technically, the shoot was arduous. Recreating the zero-gravity of space required Bullock to learn to move at 30 per cent of her usual speed, and to be trussed up like a marionette on a 12-wire system and other torturous devices.
“We had a consultant from Guantanamo Bay come in,” jokes Cuarón.
Emotionally the shoot also presented issues. How could Bullock portray the impassioned inner life of the character when covered with a helmet and spacesuit for much of the performance?
“I think every actor will tell you that they are always panicked about being able to convey something with the least amount of preciousness,” she says. “If all you have are your eyes or your face, just feel it truthfully. For me, I didn’t think about being behind the visor. It was still my whole body feeling it.
“But a lot of times you’d feel yourself emoting something and they’d say, ‘No, we didn’t see anything.’ I just had to trust in what (Cuarón) saw. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I had him in my head and I just had to trust that.
“It’s a weird profession. You have to unscrew your head and screw on this other head of what this other person is going through and you go, ‘Wow, that’s not a pretty place to live all day.’”
Working with Clooney, who she’s known since before they both were famous, also provided support.
When she was having trouble with a particular scene, Clooney sent an email with a some suggestions on how to make it work. “It’s not my business,” he wrote, “so throw this in the trash or use it.”
As it turns out, his ideas were bang-on. “That’s the gift of knowing someone for so long,” she says. “He gives you gold tidbits like that. It’s sweet.”