Film Review & Podcast: “Roma”

Posted: December 16th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

Having fashioned a few blockbusters — “Gravity,” one of the Harry Potter franchise & more — director Alfonso Cuarón earned the cred to pick and choose his projects.

He eschewed going big again.

As auteur Federico Fellini once did, hearkening back to distinct memories of his youth with “Amarcord,” Cuarón has fashioned an indelible masterpiece of a remembrance with “Roma,” titled for the middle class neighborhood of Mexico City in which the director was reared. This is significantly more intimate than the nostalgia of the Italian fantasist.

Cuarón has said that most every set piece is as he remembers the early 70s moments as a sub teen.

Yet what the director/ writer/ editor/ director of photography has done is not to center the film on himself but on the beloved domestic of his household, here named Cleo and poignantly portrayed by first time indigenous actor Yalitza Aparicio.

She serves a family of three boys, a girl, a maternal grandma, a mother, a dog, and a mostly absent father — the same as Cuarón’s — with much of the film taking place in a home, which is an exact recreation of that of the creator’s youth.

Shot in high definition black & white — a brilliant choice most always — the movie is both epic and very personal.

There is an emotionally wrenching scene depicting childbirth, and an equally unsettling one when Cleo goes to the countryside to find the father of her child. There is scene much resembling Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” when the family visits a holiday party at a lux spot away from the city. There is a scene near the end, when the family is vacationing at the beach, which depicts allegorically but true to life, Cleo’s existence in microcosm.

But the one that most represents the director’s memories and focus is a simple one. The family is sitting around together, watching television. Cleo comes in to serve them snacks, and comfortably joins in, sitting beside the couch. At which time, assumably Cuarón as a kid, casually puts his arm around her.

Mexico, having been governed by a less than beneficent regime for decades, there is a political presence to the film. Military in the streets. A force of young and disenchanted training in the hinterlands. A student rebellion, quelled mercilessly. But it is presented — brilliantly so — only as context for the interactions of the family and those who serve them.

The scene when grandmother takes Cleo to buy a baby carriage will haunt you.

So you might wonder from this cursory representation how a two hour film about a Mexican servant might be the best film of the year, as many noteworthy critics have suggested?

To which I would reply: Simply watch the film now available on Netflix.

In its detail and vision and execution, it is filmmaking of the highest order. There is subtle craft in every shot and edit.

“Roma” is one arresting film.

Should you want to hear my voice say much the same as I’ve expressed here — OK there’s a bit more — listen up:

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Film Review Podcast: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

Posted: November 21st, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

I am a fan boy of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Which means I am predisposed to appreciate their always unique cinematic output, the genius of the verbosity they put in their characters mouths, the visual acuity of their frames and the underlying absurdity of life that is usually present in their work.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” if a bit darker than I would have preferred, is still a keeper. And among the best of the Coens’ recent work.

It is set in the old west, and presented as a series of vignettes, framed as a book of tales from that time.

There are shootouts and wagon trains and bank robbers and singing cowpokes and prospectors and a group of erudite eccentrics on their last stagecoach ride.

There is loads of humor here. As well as the contemplation of death.

There is the yin. There is the yang.

It is always interesting, ever unique, as the Coens tend to be.

For a deeper contemplation of the film, listen up:

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Film Review Podcast: “Homecoming”

Posted: November 16th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

Paranoia strikes deep/ Into your life it will creep/It starts when you’re always afraid/ You step out of line, the man come and take you away

Homecoming is the name of the 10 part, 5 hour Amazon Prime series, and also the name of the Department of Defense contracted facility it depicts, set up to ease soldiers with PTSD back to civilian life after a deployment on the war front.

Bobby Cannavale works for Geist, the corporation running the facility, and he hires recent social work school grad Julia Roberts to administer to the men housed there.

All is not as it seems. Duh!

This creepy but seriously engaging exercise unfolds expertly and with a brisk pace, but one that is never rushed.

The tale is told in a couple of time sequences, mingled together. 2018, when the events in question occur. And four years later when there is a DOD investigation, instigated by a complaint from the mother of one of Roberts’ patients, Stephan Jones.

The screen is slick, the soundtrack eery. Both add to the suspense.

What’s really going on? I’ll never tell, but I was enamored with this series, I powerwatched it over two days.

I love that the episodes are short, but effective. I love that, about episode 7, just when you think the creators are going to fall into clichés, they don’t. I love that the ending isn’t what you think the set up will bring.

For more, listen up:

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Film Review Podcast: “The Other Side of the Wind”

Posted: November 9th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

At age 26, in 1941, Orson Welles fashioned what is considered by most accounts, the best film ever made.

Citizen Kane.

I do not disagree.

Through the decades, he made several more that intrigue and beguile.

Like “Touch of Evil,” to name but the one that is my favorite. It opens with the most famous tracking shot in film history.

By the end of his lifetime he had become the enemy of many in the biz, an eccentric crank and a shill for Paul Masson wine.

He was notoriously difficult to work with.

He shot a hundred hours of footage, yet still never finished his final vanity project, “The Other Side of the Wind.”

Now, underwritten by Netflix, and available for viewing there, others have finished the flick decades after Welle’s death.

It’s a mixed bag, I’d say.

For more details, listen below.

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Film Review Podcast: “A Star is Born”

Posted: October 12th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

What is this the third or fourth ideation of the classic Hollywoodland fable? At least.

Will Ms. Lady Gaga be up to the role previously portrayed by icons named Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand?

Can writer/ director/ star Bradley Cooper be a manly man like Kris Kristofferson and, gulp, James Mason before him? As for the latter, no problem.

Can the story be updated in a way that is current, holds true to the original and even improves upon it?

The answers: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And in the comparison with James Mason, a thousand times Yes.

America has justifiably fallen in love with this mainstream blockbuster, which is big and bold and brash, yet surprisingly intimate at those moments when it is necessary.

Very little that doesn’t fit here. The leads soar. Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay are marvelous in support.

For more, listen up:

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“The Norsemen”: TV Review Podcast

Posted: October 5th, 2018 | Filed under: Film Reviews Podcast, TV | No Comments »

I’m not going to say a whole lot about the Netflix comedy series “The Norsemen,” now in its second season.

Because it is most difficult to describe. Since it’s a comedy set in Norway in the year 790 and features all Norwegian actors, speaking English thankfully.

It is intelligent. It is droll. It cleverly weaves current day social motifs into its ancient setting.

Most important: It’s funny. Very very funny.

For more, listen below:

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“Love, Gilda”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: September 30th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

In retrospect, given her comedic talent, fame and influence, it’s hard to comprehend that Gilda Radner’s career arc, such as we know it, really lasted but her five years starring on “Saturday Night Live.”

Her post SNL career was essentially of little consequence, though her marriage to Gene Wilder brought her the love and sense of self worth she always craved. Less than a decade after she left the show, she was felled from ovarian cancer.

There is nothing creatively unique about Lisa Dapolito’s documentary, “Love Gilda.” Footage of Radner’s performances. Reverent interviews confirming her influence on later generations. Back story depicting her human foibles behind the public perception.

Yet, so charismatic was Radner, so contagious that smile of hers, so damn funny her characters, most memories of her are justifiably oversized.

In “Love, Gilda,” we relearn why we continue to love her so much. And understand the heritage her untimely death fostered for those fighting cancer.

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— c d kaplan


“The Wife”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: September 19th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

It’s that time of year when serious films with serious award aspirations start arriving at movie houses across the land.

Such is the case with “The Wife,” which features a statuette quality performance by Glenn Close as the spouse of a novelist, who finds out early in the film that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

What evolves is the story behind the story.

That is, the real contributions of the apparently stand by your man wife.

It’s a shade melodramatic, and the ending is a bit heavy handed, but “The Wife” is a needed contemplation of a cultural imperative that needs to be fully disposed of.

For more, listen up:

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“Operation Finale”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: September 6th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

It takes a deft hand to craft a dramatic portrayal of international political intrigue with which we know the outcome from history.

“Operation Finale” is an old school, linear drama about the capture by Israeli intelligence of Nazi mastermind Adolph Eichmann, and how he was spirited away from Argentina to Israel for trial on his heinous war crimes.

Always reliable Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann with the actor’s attendant attention to detail and nuance. Eichmann is far from a caricature here. Nor is Oscar Isaac’s performance as Peter Malkin, the Mossad operative who in a way gains the trust of the Nazi mastermind of the Final Solution and closes the deal to get Eichmann out of Argentina.

The film isn’t painted in black and white. The confusion of both the captured and capturers are presented, their thoughts, confusion and contradictions.

For more, listen below:

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“Juliet, Naked”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: August 31st, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

I am a sucker for movies based on the work of Nick Hornby. He was responsible for “High Fidelity,” which you should be aware of.

His work is infused with his rock & roll soul.

In “Juliet, Naked,” we get a big dose of how music can affect and change peoples’ lives. All dressed up in a charming romantic comedy featuring the almost always lovable Chris O’Dowd, Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke.

After learning of this movie just this morning, the day it arrived in my burg, I was immediately predisposed to love it.

Which I did.

Here’s why:

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“Yellow Submarine”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: August 17th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

It was fifty years ago this year that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band jumped on the big screen to save their land from the Blue Meanies.

For this signature anniversary, the classic Beatles animated romp has been restored.

It can be viewed at the Speed Museum Theater next weekend, August 24, 25 and 26. It’s also available right now to be streamed at home from Amazon, and possibly elsewhere. (That’s where I watched it.)

The imagery is as groundbreaking as ever. The colors. The characters.

The punditry remains cute and clever. “Funny, you don’t look Blueish.”

But, to be honest, I was not enthralled again as I intended to be. There was a time back in the day when I was of the firm opinion that the film should be viewed at least once a year in order to maintain some personal equilibrium. Now . . .?

Ah, but that’s the hook. To hear specifics of my minor reservations about the classic full length cartoon, you will need to take a few minutes and listen below.

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“BlacKkKlansman”: Film Review & Podcast

Posted: August 12th, 2018 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

It is a sign of our ever contentious contemporary national dialog that Spike Lee’s in your face manner is now just part of the norm.

The Brooklynite auteur’s style has always been provocative. To legitimate effect I would opine.

These days, his latest film — among his best ever — as intense as it is at times, as full of polemics as it is at times, seems rather even handed. Of course, there’s the continuing unveiling of the racism he sees in our culture, but it’s a relatively even handed reveal.

As if to show that such enmity hurts everyone, not just people of color.

OK, that politics out of the way, do not misunderstand.

“BlacKkKlansman” is very funny at times, alway engaging, very clever cinematically, well played, full with some adroitly crafted tension, and based on a true story.

Seems there was a cop in Colorado Springs in the late 60s, who along with a white cohort infiltrates the local chapter of the Klan in Colorado. He even has phone conversations with David Duke, and is his security when the Grand Kleagle, or whatever he’s called, visited the area.

Lee’s intransigent viewpoint can be hard to swallow at times, even if one’s views are aligned.

But this latest of Spike Lee’s joints is eminently palatable. And entertaining.

For more, listen up:

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