The Flow of Life in Roma

There’s something paradoxically both achingly intimate and frustratingly passive in watching Alfonso Cuaron’s quasi-autobiographical familial drama, Roma.  There are few, if any, close-ups, and his famous tracking shots display a gleeful chaos bubbling up as we flow in and out of the everyday life of an upper middle class family’s nanny/maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) in Mexico City (and later the countryside and then the coast).  The first two-thirds of the film are intermittently fascinating (in an “oh, look at how amazing that shot, or that framing, is!” kind of way) and meditatively boring (in an, “oh, huh, what just happened and who is that?” kind of way).  We’re just kinda there, floating along with his camera (Cuaron epically does his own cinematography here – and it is astounding), awash in heavy water symbolism.  It drips, drips, drips, much like the scattered details of these people’s lives.

But there’s an external political chaos brewing in the background, Cleo gets pregnant by a martial-arts loving deadbeat, and the family’s patriarch flakes off and never comes home after a business trip to Quebec.  Suddenly there’s a political riot while Cleo is shopping for a crib, and all emotional hell breaks loose.  The last third of the film is an engrossing, unforgettable revelation, and the water that once merely dripped or washed away dirt is now swelling (literal ocean waves) and washing away regret and grief, simultaneously threatening and bringing loved ones closer.  The quietly thrilling beach sequence involving Cleo and her young charges is one of the most beautifully shot enthralling pieces of emotional suspense ever captured on film. Continue reading

The Perfect Pull of Gravity

GRAVITY's stunning opening sucks you in.

GRAVITY’s stunning opening sucks you in.

In our era of instant interconnectedness, ADD and immediate gratification, Alfonso Cuaron’s bold new film, Gravity, demands viewers to Watch…and Listen.

The film opens with a spectacular continuous long shot of planet Earth from outer space.  Slowly we begin to hear the static-laden chatter of astronauts and mission control grow louder and clearer while the camera leisurely pans in closer and closer to those working outside of a shuttle docked at the Hubble Space telescope.  First-time space traveler, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is installing a new scanning device to give NASA a better way to watch the skies in deep space.  Longtime astral cowboy Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is out for a “Sunday drive” around the shuttle and telescope overseeing things while telling tales and keeping things light with mission control.  But then a frantic warning comes from Houston.  Stay calm.  Get back inside.  The Russians have taken out one of their own satellites.  The debris is traveling high above the globe at breakneck speed slamming into other satellites and anything in its way causing an avalanche of deadly metal to come hurtling right towards our dear crew.  Suddenly, in the vast distance of blackness above a blue and white sphere, the debris is coming into view.

The next ninety minutes become an epic cosmic ballet of white-knuckle suspense, eye-popping visuals and ensorcell acting.  Shot in 3D, the photography of Emmaneul Lubezki (who previously luxuriated in the magic of the cosmos in Malick’s The Tree of Life) is wholly immersive under Cuaron’s self-assured direction.  Cuaron spins his Oscar-winning mega stars through the calamities like a choreographer or puppeteer without strings.  There’s not a single moment in the film’s airtight run time where the director isn’t in complete control.  Continue reading

A Review of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”

Interesting but Overcooked Speculative Drama, 9 January 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Alfonso Cuaron (most well known for directing the overrated and raunchy coming-of-age story “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and the third–and the best–of the “Harry Potter” series) does a nice job of setting the mood with his gritty and eclectic take on a dystopian future where women have become infertile and Britian is a volatile police state where the biggest crime is being an illegal immigrant. This central conceit is mildly interesting, but the screenwriters populate the allegorical fiction with stock characters: people and ideas painted with broad strokes and little development, and peppered with quirky side-stories and characters who are often more interesting than the overly symbolic main plot line.

What emerges is quasi-entertaining movie bubbling over with overcooked details and a few good scenes. Though dropping the ball in the intimate interludes that are supposed to add dramatic weight (the screaming match on the bus between Clive Owen and Julianne Moore about grief seemed especially staged and unreal), Cuaron directs the suspense and action scenes with appropriate zeal. Sadly, everyone in the film constantly looks tired (Owen taking a nap in a car and Moore actually yawning in one pivotal scene), so between the good stuff I often felt the same.

There are three really well constructed sequences that on their own are very thrilling: a reverse vehicular escape from a an angry mob that ends tragically, another vehicular escape at dawn down a dirt farm road where the car just doesn’t want to start, and one of the closing scenes of a lonely rowboat in a choppy bay surrounded by fog.

The rest is haphazard filler that had me distracted most of the time. “Children of Men” eventually became of movie of frustrating details. For instance, the title makes no sense when you think about it. Unless sprung from immaculate conception, we are currently all children of men, so this would only be an appropriate title if all the women in the world were dead and men started having babies. The movie cost over $80 million dollars to make (and it looks great) but why couldn’t they fork out the extra cash to pay for the real Rolling Stones’ version of “Ruby Tuesday” instead of a lousy cover? The song plays a crucial part yet becomes aggravating to hear. Finally, instead of caring about what happens to the two lead characters during the excellently filmed siege of the refugee camp, I cared more about what was going to happen to some poor gypsy woman and her little dog.

Though it has plenty of interesting minutae to keep things entertaining, the film never coalesces as a whole. Despite three really good scenes, “Children of Men” unfortunately solidifies Cuaron’s status as the best director yet to make a great film.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

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