2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Documentaries

The documentary shorts nominated for this year’s Oscars had a combined running time over three hours. So it’s understandable why I chose to see the Animation and Live-Action shorts one day while seeing the Documentary nominees another day. The documentary nominees for this year are an impressive range of films. All have a unique topic of focus that gets one thinking. Some were positive stories while some were more on negative issues. All have something to say. And here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees:

Audible (dir. Matthew Ogens): The film focuses on the football team on the Maryland School For The Deaf. For sixteen years, they’ve had the best deaf football team in the nation. But the film begins as they show their first loss in sixteen years. Although the film showcases the school’s students and the football team, the prime focus is on student Amaree McKenstry-Hall. We see Amaree as he bonds with the team and conversates with the students. Sometimes it can get heated. We learn that he and the team play in memory of a former student who committed suicide after being send to a regular school. We learn of his family background of how his father left the family shortly after his birth. Soon he reunites with his father, who’s now recovered from his drug addiction and is the head pastor of a church. Then the homecoming game happens. This is to be the last game for many of the players.

This story couldn’t have come at a better time, just as CODA is a heavy favorite to win Best Picture! And just last year, The Sound Of Metal was a Best Picture nominee! The unique thing about this is it’s about deaf athletes. You learn about how deaf football players play, you learn how they communicate. However you also get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a deaf teenage. You see they have the same fun stuff you and I had as a teenager, but you also see they have problems, concerns and insecurities all their own. It’s not only about deaf teenagers and how they live out their teenage years, but it also shows us about Amaree and his own issues, his own battles. It’s a story that goes through so many angles, but is very insightful, and very much an eye-opener.

Lead Me Home (dirs. Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk): The film focuses on the homeless situation in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle between 2015 to 2019. The film also focuses on some individuals whom they interview. They’re various men and women, and one trans female. They come from various races. The come from various backgrounds. The interviewees are asked three main questions: their names and ages, how they ended up as homeless, and would they live in a home. The people range in ages from 26 to their 50’s. How they became homeless are a mixed bag of scenarios from drug addiction to a criminal past to the trans female disowned by the family to abusive family scenarios to the mental illness of some one messed over by the welfare system. Many would like to live in their own house, but one does not. He says every time he moves into a place, he finds himself back to being homeless soon. He would like his own van.

This is an inciteful film about the homeless situation we rarely see. We see the people interviewed on how they deal with whatever sleeping situation they can fix up, their bathing or showering opportunities they can seize, the food they’re lucky to eat and whatever counseling they get. In some cases, we’re shown the homeless in their surrounding areas, and the homeless camps in that area are large in size. We’re also shown how the homeless are in debate in their civic and state rallies and how some citizens speak their disgust at them. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some with Trump-fueled rage at the time. The film doesn’t exactly have too much of a beginning, middle and end. Nevertheless this film is a good showcase to a problem that we don’t really know a lot about, but think we do.

The Queen Of Basketball (dir. Ben Proudfoot): Lusia Harris is possibly the greatest basketball player you’ve never heard of. Born in Mississippi in 1955, she grew up poor in a segregated town. At the time, there were very few opportunities for African-American girls. However basketball for her was a way out. She would watch NBA games with her brothers and they would try to imitate the moves. Lusia stood out with her moves and her 6’3″ height. Her basketball prowess helped her pursue post secondary education at Delta State. During her first season (1974-75), the goal was to dethrone the Mighty Macs of Immaculata University who were considered the best female college basketball team ever. It paid off as Lusia and the girls were able to win over Immaculata and a new era had begun. The following year, Lusia and the Deltas did it again. Her prowess allowed her to represent the US at the Montreal Olympics where women’s basketball was being held for the first time. The US team won silver behind the Soviets. The following year, Delta repeated their win, duplicating Immaculata’s feat, and Lusia was crowned MVP. But it ended right there. There was no WNBA for Lusia to go to. She was also diagnosed as being bipolar over time. She was offered to play for an NBA team and was offered big publicity, but she turned it down. Instead she devoted her life to administration at Delta State, coaching and teaching. She married shortly after she graduated and bore four children. Looking back she has no regrets.

This appears to be a great story sold in a simple manner, but when you look at it, it makes for a great story worth telling. It often appears like the story of a pioneer in female basketball. Like she’s one of the many women who brought women’s basketball to where it is now. It showcases her achievements and her big moments and her post-basketball life. In that same manner, it’s told through her. It’s like it’s her story and it’s rightful that she is the narrator of this story. It makes sense as she’s the one who made it happen. In recent time, it also appears like a retrospect. Back on January 18th of this year, Lusia died at the age of 66. The documentary almost appears like a case where Lusia is looking back on her life. I’m glad she had the chance to do this documentary. A great way to remember her. That’s why I give it my Will Win prediction.

Three Songs For Benazir (dirs. Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei): Shaista Khan is a man living in a camp for Afghanis displaced during the war in Kabul. He is recently married to a woman named Benazir, and he sings a song of his love to her. He has plans to start a family but he also has ambitions to join the army along with starting a family. He doesn’t know how hard of a balance this will be. His father does not look upon his goal of joining the army as a good thing. Finally he is given the opportunity to join the army as he will have a meeting with a sergeant. He celebrates with friends and with Benazir, who is pregnant in expecting their first child. He again sings to her. However when he goes to the military base, he learns he needs to be endorsed by a family member if he’s to join. Strict rules in the Afghani military. When he goes to his father and brother, they refuse. Shaista is distraught. The film flashes ahead four years. Shaista is now in an addictions treatment centre. Benazir comes to visit. He is overjoyed at seeing her and his two songs. He sings one last song to her.

This is a poignant documentary. Shaista is simply an Afghani man who wants to make something of himself for himself, his family and for his family to be. We should also remember that Afghanistan is the poorest nation in the continent of Asia. What you see in Shaista appears to be the common struggle of the Afghani people as they try to pick up their lives now that the war is over. Sometimes the losses end up bigger and more hurtful in the end. Nevertheless the film ends with an image of hope. It’s needed now especially since we learned six months ago that the Taliban have returned to power. This is a film that does get you thinking and hoping.

When We Were Bullies (dir. Jay Rosenblatt): While director Rosenblatt was watching a bullying film from the 50’s, a single incident brought back a memory of an incident when he was in the fifth grade. That was when he started a fight with a boy named Richard, who was the odd kid in the class, and other classmates joined in. This Richard was also the inspiration for his first film The Smell Of Burning Ants (1994). Soon he wanted to investigate more into this. What happened to Richard? Do the other students from the class remember that moment? Did they participate? Are they remorseful of it? What does the teacher feel of it? He goes to the school to look into more pictures. He meets with other former classmates at a school’s reunion. Over time, he was able to talk more and find out how they felt about Richard and the incident. He even learned his teacher from his grade is alive and mostly well and he’s able to talk with her. She’s able to give her opinions on bullying and even mentioned her late daughter was bullied too. Later Jay reveals he lost a brother the year before so he was carrying burdens too.

This is a surprising documentary. It’s surprising how one image can suddenly trigger back an unfortunate memory of the past of when you were young and stupid. It’s full of clever imagery mixed with animation as it goes about telling the story. The visuals and the audio make for a good mix. You can call it what you want. Some will say this is a very inciteful story, especially sine bullying is a hot topic. Some will say the film was done in a ridiculous manner. Some will even say this film was a work of Jay’s egotism. Nevertheless it does get one intrigued about human nature. Even its ugliest sides. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

Additional Note: Although we don’t know who this Richard is or see what his face was back then, we do learn that he’s still alive and he’s actually a film producer.

And there you have it! That’s my review of the Best Documentary Short nominees. We’ll see on Sunday not only which one wins, but if it’s one of the eight categories whose award won’t be broadcast!

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: The Irishman

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Robert de Niro (second from left)  plays Frank Sheeran and Al Pacino (second from right) plays Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. A story about loyalty and betrayal.

Just when you think Martin Scorsese has done everything he could in film, along comes The Irishman. This film may not be his best, but it adds to his stack of films one can call great works.

Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly the master of gangster films or Mafia films. We have sensed there would be successors in the likes of Quentin Tarantino, but that has not yet come to be. Tarantino has his own gangster style, but Scorsese films are the Mona Lisa’s of gangster movies, if you can truly call a gangster movie a Mona Lisa! Scorsese has shown his versatility in film making since the beginning of this century. His films since the new century began have taken a wide range of genres from epic to fantasy to a family film to business-scam drama to dark comedies to religious biopics. However when watching The Irishman, his first gangster movie since The Departed, it only seems natural that gangster movies were what Scorsese was born to do. Although films in the other genres he tackled are very good, it just seems natural that way. Even the excitement of having Scorsese ‘all-stars’ like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel adds to the excitement. Additions like Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Anna Paquin also add to the excitement.

Now the film has a lot of common elements you’ll expect from a Scorsese gangster movie. It tells of a man and his involvement with the mafia and of his daily duties. It also goes back to his past in how he developed the right type of insensitivity to become as consistent hitman. It also tells of some of his more legendary kills. The film also adds something different. It adds in the story of the ‘vacation of a lifetime.’ It’s not something you’d expect to be in a Scorsese film, but it’s done in a fashion you’d expect to see from Scorsese.

However it’s the aftermath that one would not expect to see in a Scorsese film. It’s like it almost shifts to a completely different film for the last half-hour. That’s what hit me about the film. It not only tells the story of a man who committed a lot of murders and also allegedly committed the murder of the man behind the most intriguing missing person case in the past half-century. It tells of the aftermath of how he would come to regret his actions over the years. Even of how he appeared to have it all and win it with fear during his lifetime, but would be doomed to die alone. You can pinpoint exactly where in the scene where Peggy ask Frank about Jo and Frank calls a distraught Jo up trying to comfort her, but knowing he’s the one who killed her husband. That’s a change of pace from Goodfellas about a mobster who lived the mob life, was imprisoned for it and regrets nothing. Even before the scene of the killing of Hoffa, there are freeze-frame montages that mention of the aftermaths of others involved in the Philly mob Frank Sheeran and Russell Bufalino were a part of, including those shot dead or imprisoned for life.  I think the whole theme of the movie wasn’t just mob life, but how everyone involved pays in the end.

Now one thing we should remember is that we should not completely embrace this story as a true story, even though it’s very accurate. The film is based off the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Brandt is a former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney and he’s the man who interviewed Frank Sheeran shortly before his death. During the interview, Sheeran told of his life as a hitman and of his own involvement with Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran confessed it all to Brandt months earlier and saw a priest the last few months of his lives so he could die with a clear conscience in December of 2003. The case of Jimmy Hoffa is still unsolved and his body has never been found. The FBI have had a lot of stories and sources, but it’s Sheeran’s story that’s the one they’re most going with. However there are still some naysayers that are claiming that Sheeran lied in the interview. Whatever the situation, this missing case is still unclosed. I won’t completely call Sheeran’s story the whole truth, but I believe he makes a strong case and it’s hard for me to sense him lying.

Once again, Martin Scorsese proves himself to the be master of gangster movies. Quentin Tarantino may take ruthless killers to a new level, but Martin is still the master. This film that he directs with a script written by Steve Zaillian is a complex film to pack into 3 hours and 20 minutes. Usually if a film is that long, I would expect the director to justify it. Martin has delivered a lot of three-hour films in the past, but I’m convinced he has justified the time here. If you yourself are one of the people that has been fascinated by Jimmy Hoffa and his missing story, this will be a film that will intrigue you.

It’s not just the story that will intrigue you, but how the Scorsese/Zaillian creates it and arranges it from beginning to end. It starts as the audience visits a nursing home, tours around seeing family after family and comes across a lonely man: Frank Sheeran. Then it jumps into 1975 and the story of how Frank, his wife, his mob boss Russell Bufalino and Russ’ wife Carrie were going on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ from Philadelphia to Detroit. Then it paves on how it led to all this from Frank’s days of truck driving to introduction to the mob to being a hitman for hire to a close friend of Jimmy Hoffa. The story shows of Hoffa’s rise, downfall and attempted comeback. It also shows Frank’s struggle of who should he be loyal to: Hoffa or the mob? It slows the moment of the ‘big day’ down and it delivers the aftermath with feeling that cuts deep. Also it treats the film as if Sheeran is giving us an interview. Almost like we’re Charles Brandt! I have to say the format of the film works and will keep one intrigued whether they’re a fan of Scorsese films, fan of mob films, or just have an interest in Jimmy Hoffa. It’s interesting how the film begins with “In The Still Of The Night” and it’s nice to hear and is replayed at the end, but it sounds haunting at the end. The film and its layout of the story makes it work.

Big credit to Robert de Niro for playing the role of Frank Sheeran. To do Frank, he has to cut deep into the man and how he went from a fearless killer who was able to adopt the coldness of killing to being the man with regrets in the end and wants to die with a clear conscience. Robert does an excellent job of it. Also excellent is Joe Pesci playing the mob boss who wants to call the shots of Sheeran and Hoffa. Pesci really knew how to steal the scenes in the film. Al Pacino was also great as Hoffa. He did an excellent job in delivering a multi-dimensional and complex performance of a man in history who was just as complicated as he was a legend. There were a lot of good supporting performances from Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Harvey Keitel. However one of the biggest standout performances came from one with little dialogue: that of Anna Paquin. Her role of Peggy Sheeran required her to say with her physical actions and facial expressions and she did an excellent job. Even one of the few spoken lines she had in the film “Why haven’t you called Jo?” would pave the way to where the film changed from a story of mob work to the story of regret.

The film should also be admired for its technical merits too. There’s the visual effects team that did the top-notch CGI effects to take the ages of de Niro, Pesci and Pacino back 30 years without them needing heavy make-up. It’s not just the actors acting younger than their ages but the CGI too! There’s also the costuming of Sandy Powell and the set designs by Bob Shaw and Regina Graves to take the film back to the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. There’s also the inclusion of music into the film that takes the film back to its set times. The score from Robbie Robertson also ads to the film.

The Irishman may be a true story, or it may be one big lie. However you put it, it’s a very telling story that paints a vivid but dark picture of what might have happened in one of the most intriguing missing cases ever. It’s also another film Scorsese directs and puts together in excellent fashion. It’s easy to see why it’s another contender for this year’s Oscars.

VIFF 2019 Review: In The Tall Grass

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In The Tall Grass is a thriller of people lost in a field of tall grass and come across something of the paranormal that’s terrifying to their existence.

With the VIFF comes the return of films in the Altered States category: of thrillers, horror and even the paranormal. My first chance came with the film In The Tall Grass. It was worth it.

The film starts with a pregnant Becky DeMuth and her brother Cal traveling to San Diego to find a way to give up her baby. They pass an old bowling alley and stop by a church. Just as they stop by, they hear the voice of a young boy crying for help. The voice is coming from a field of tall grass they’ve parked beside. They also hear the mother of the boy begging anyone to not come in. Becky and Cal are naturally curious and walk in top help the boy. It’s only a matter of time they find themselves lost and even risk getting stuck by the wet sticky mud. Even as they’re distant, they hear each other’s voices which is not really theirs, but mystically transmitted. They decide to leave, but they can’t and are stuck for the night.

During the night, Cal encounters Tobin, the lost boy, who is scared, bruised and holding a dead crow. Becky meets up with a man named Ross, who is very friendly and offers to lead her. Tobin reveals to cal that the field the grass does not move dead things and Becky will not make it out of the field alive. Tobin leads Cal to the centre of the field which consists of cut grass bordering a big mystical rock with hieroglyphics which Tobin tells Cal to touch. Before he does, Becky arrives, but is taken away by an unseen figure.

Travis, the father of Becky’s child, arrives in the same area of Becky and Cal. He notices the car parked by the church. He also notices the field of tall grass. He hears Tobin’s voice and is led into the field. Tobin leads Travis to Becky’s corpse. Travis breaks down, but loses sight of Tobin. At the same time, we see Tobin with his father Ross and mother Natalie at the church along with their dog Freddie. Possibly a reference of what happened earlier. Freddie runs into the field of tall grass and the three chase after him. It’s there where Travis hears Tobin’s voice and the three of the family are scattered around the field. Ross comes to the centre with the rock and touches it as night falls. Tobin is discovered by Becky and cal all all are confused by the timelines.

As the three are one group, Becky and Cal decide to leave and use Tobin to navigate a path back to the road on top of Cal’s shoulders. Becky receives an unknown phone call saying that Cal should quit hunting Travis.The grass soon appears to be entering Becky’s uterus and she becomes unconscious. Cal and Tobin come across Ross, who reunites with Tobin. Ross brings them to the rock but are startled when they see Natalie and she says she saw Becky’s corpse earlier. As they try to make their escape, Ross is chasing them all down and gives them the impression there’s no escape and they’re all under Ross’ control. Ross tells them all the rock shows them of what’s happening.

Becky, Cal, Travis and Tobin succeed in escaping the field into the abandoned bowling alley. As Cal and Travis make their way to the top, they discover the dog Freddie escaped via a hole. However a spat between Travis and Cal brew as Travis brings up he senses incestuous feelings between Cal and Becky. Cal throws Travis off the roof. That succeeds in alerting Ross to their location. Tobin, knowing how this alerted Ross to their whereabouts, runs back into the field. Becky and Cal try to escape together, but Becky won’t leave Travis alone in the field. After she runs off to find Travis, Cal is strangled by Ross. It’s evident anyone in the grass field is affected by a time loop. If anyone dies, there will be another of them alive. If anyone touches the rock, they get a sense of control and invincibility.

During the return to the grass, Becky admits she was going to give the baby up for adoption. Becky is soon captured by Ross who tries to sexually assault her, but she escapes. Grass creatures however emerge and grab a hold of her and carry her to the rock. There, the rock develops imagery that detail the baby will die and Becky will be tortured. Becky passes out in reaction. As she awakens, she is tricked by Ross who poses his voice as Cal. Travis meanwhile stumbles across Becky’s unconscious body. Ross then kills Travis and captures Tobin to get him to touch the rock. Becky stops him, but dies. Travis decides to touch the rock to get a better understanding of the grass.

The film ends with one last scene involving Becky, Cal, Tobin and Travis. It gives the impression that all know what is happening and the film ends with what should be.

This film is a film that is based off of a short story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. We’ve had Stephen King adaptations before and often adapting a Stephen King story to the big screen is hit-or-miss. This is a very complex story. This involves six people who go into a field of grass with paranormal powers. It threatens their lives and creates another life for them. Then there’s the rock that gives whoever it touches a sense of invincibility and control and threatens others.

Overall this film is a maze and a puzzle. Trying to piece this puzzle together is a tricky thing. Trying to create this maze of confusion is also a tricky thing. Watching it, it’s easy to get thrilled by the paranormal and nervous for what will happen next. However in looking back, I felt there were some areas that didn’t make too much sense. Even when it becomes clear that Ross starts as the controlling one and then it becomes Travis, that seemed odd. Even how Ross was the controlling conniving one, that even seemed cheesy at times.

The film does however keep one intrigued in the paranormal elements. Depite its flaws in the script and storyline, it does succeed in grabbing a hold of your attention and keeping you intrigued in the story. The paranormal elements don’t come across as cheeseball as it adds to the thriller aspect of the film. Overall despite its flaws as a film, I feel this is a good story for fans of paranormal fiction. I just feel it could have been done better as a movie.

This story is a mixed bag for Vincenzo Natali. Yes, it’s confusing, but the paranormal will keep one intrigued from start to finish and it will keep one hoping for the best for the main characters. Laysla de Oliveira was very good as Becky. Isn’t it something how the first two VIFF films I saw starred Laysla? She captured the role well in both it’s comedic elements and it’s dramatic elements.

Avery Whitted was also good as Cal. Will Buie Jr. also did an excellent job as Tobin: the frightened boy in the middle of it all. His role was the best at keeping the horror/thriller aspect of the film and was the most no-nonsense performance of all. Patrick Wilson was hard to make sense of as Ross. He came across as a conniver, but I feel he lacked the sinister element. Harrison Gilbertson was good as Travis, but he appeared he could have done more.

In The Tall Grass is a Netflix thriller that works well to be shown on the big screen, if imperfectly. It may not make the most sense, but it does keep people thrilled and intrigued about what will happen next and how it will end.

Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: Roma

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Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio; left) is the maid to the changing household of Sofia (Marina de Tavira; right) in Roma.

For the record, no foreign-language film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture. They’ve been nominated before but never won. Roma could just be the first. It has the story and all the other ingredients to do it.

The story begins in late 1970 as the maid Cleo is cleaning the driveway to the garage of the house she tends to. The house she tends to belongs to a couple, Sofia and Antonio, the grandmother, and their four children in the affluent Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo and Adela, both indigenous, are the two live-in maids. The parents see Cleo as their maid while the children look up to her and talk to her often. The driveway and garage is the place where the dog is left to stay while the family is gone during the day.

The driveway and garage is too small for the big car Antonio drives, frequently bumping into the sides and driving over the dog droppings. That even comes in private conversation as Antonio angrily tells Sofia about all the dog droppings on the driveway. Cleo notices that, as normally Antonio is not that angry. Antonio, a doctor, mentions to all he’s going off to a brief trip to Quebec for a conference. He returns days later, but says he will be going to Quebec for a few weeks. The children believe it, but Cleo and Sofia sense something is wrong. Cleo knows it because she saw his wedding ring in the drawer.

Life for Cleo and Adela does not always revolve around the household. Both have boyfriends: Adela has Ramon and Cleo has Fermin. One night they all decide to go to the movies together, but Cleo and Fermin sneak away to rent a room. Before they make love in the bedroom, Fermin shows Cleo the martial arts skills he learned with a shower pole. Fermin tells Cleo that this is what gave him, an orphaned boy, his will to live.

Some time later, when Cleo and Fermin are watching a movie, Cleo tells Fermin she’s pregnant. Fermin says he has to be gone for a bit, but doesn’t return. Cleo tells Sofia that she thinks she’s pregnant. Sofia takes her to the hospital Antonio works at. While waiting in the maternity ward, an earthquake happens. Cleo learns from the doctor she is pregnant.

Cleo and Sofia try to carry on with their lives despite their difficulties. Sofia takes her children, Cleo and Adela on a New Year’s trip to a hacienda owned by her Norwegian-Mexican friends. Before the party, we hear a conversation about recent tensions over the land. The celebrations begin with festivities and fun for the children. However just before midnight, a fire erupts in the forest. As everyone is trying to put the fire out, a man counts down the seconds to New Years Day 1971 and sings a Norwegian lullaby.

Back in the city, Sofia organizes a movie night with the grandmother, the four children, Cleo and Adela. As they wait in line, Cleo notices Antonio. He hasn’t left for Quebec at all. In fact he’s holding the hand of another woman. Sofia has known this all along, but she wants to conceal it from the children until the time is right. Though one son, Paco, does notice it. Sometime later, Adela tells Cleo Ramon has been able to locate Fermin attending outdoor martial arts classes. Cleo watches the class, and is even willing to participate (and does the blind-balanced exercise better than the male students). As the class ends, she confronts Fermin, but Fermin refuses to acknowledge the baby. She tells her to leave or he’ll beat her and the unborn baby.

Time passes and the baby is almost due. The grandmother takes Cleo crib shopping one day. However a student protest takes place. The protests turn brutal as police respond with clubbings. Then violence erupts as a group of youth — strongly believed to be the paramilitary group The Hawks — start shooting the protesters. The grandmother and Cleo seek refuge in a department store, but the Hawks enter and shoot a protester dead. One of the gunmen aims the gun at Cleo, but when it turns out it’s Fermin, he drops his gun and runs off.

The incident gives Cleo so much stress, she has to go into labor. Teresa rushes Cleo to the hospital in a taxicab, but the chaos of the massacre makes it next-to-impossible to get there. Once there, Antonio reassures Cleo in the delivery room to stay calm but leaves her with Teresa and other doctors. The doctors hear no heartbeat in Cleo’s womb and decide to operate. The baby is born a stillborn girl. None of the attempts to resuscitate the baby succeed.

Cleo tries to carry on her usual work and tries to live life again. One day, Sofia drives a smaller car into the garage, and with ease this time. She says she found a job of her own and she’s able to tend to the children herself. She tells the children that they are going on a brief family vacation to the beaches of Tuxpan as one last trip with the old car. Sofia invites Cleo to come along to help her cope with the loss. As they arrive, the mother tells the truth to her children. Sofia and Antonio are getting a divorce and the purpose of the trip is so Antonio can collect his belongings from the home. Before the trip ends, Cleo looks after the children as they are swimming in the ocean. However Cleo notices the waves are getting dangerously bigger. Cleo, forgetting that she can’t swim, swims out to try to save them. She succeeds in saving them and Sofia and the children are thankful for her selfless act. However Cleo confesses right there that she did not want her child to be born. The mother, the children and Cleo return to the house with less furniture than before but with a new sense of unity between Sofia and Cleo. The film ends as a conversation between Cleo and Adela begins.

The film is unique because it is semi-autobiographical of Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood. This film happens from 1970 to 1971: a time when Alfonso was nine to ten. The film Marooned, which was the film in the family movie night scene, was a film Alfonso saw as a child and may have inspired him to become a film maker. The film does give a lot of reminders of what it was like to be a child in a middle-class family in Mexico City. There are posters of Mexico 70, the World Cup Mexico had just hosted, on the walls. There’s the brother making fantasy (American) football saves, which was a time Mexico was just discovering American football.

However Alfonso’s childhood isn’t the central story behind Roma. The story is about two women and their lives around a pivotal turning point in Mexico’s history. Mexico experienced a lot of changes for the better and for the worse during that period of time, but it’s the changes within the women that were noticed most in the film. We have Cleo, an Indigenous woman who is one of the two maids, who is the main protagonist. We also have Sofia, the matriarch of the family, as the secondary protagonist. Both have their common female roles at the beginning: Cleo as the maid; Sofia as the housewife. However things change as it becomes obvious the men in their lives are doing them wrong. Antonio leaves Sofia for another woman, and Fermin abandons Cleo upon her pregnancy. The cowardliness of both men are shown in later scene as Fermin is part of the rebel group shooting protesting students and Antonio just simply puts Cleo in the hands of doctors as he leaves her behind. However both women find their strength inside as Sofia learns she can manage things, even motherhood, on her own and Cleo is able to save Sofia’s children in a situation when she thought she couldn’t.

The film is not just about the unity of two women but of unity of two women from different classes. We have Cleo, an Indigenous woman possibly from an impoverished background, who is impregnated by her boyfriend and then leaves her. We have Sofia, a Caucasian woman from a more well-to-do background, who is losing her husband slowly but surely. Both appear lost, but they later find an inner strength they never knew they had. It happens as Sofia is able to get a job and own her own car. It happens with Cleo as she saves Sofia’s children and admits her feeling toward her stillborn baby. It’s at the end where Sofia tells Cleo how she will always consider her part of her family that we see the bond of two women coming together. United in their struggles despite their class.

One unique aspect of Roma is its use of metaphors. One is the use of airplanes in the imagery and in the various poignant scenes. Another is the use of the marching band in a couple of key scenes, including the end. Another is how it was right after Cleo saves the children from giant waves that she confesses. Another is how the size of the cars in the garage are symbolic of the marriage and divorce. Another is of various scenes involving movies that tell a lot about relationships. Even the time in which it’s set, from 1970 to 1971, is considered a turning point in Mexico’s history. The marginalized were going either get nastier or protest democratically. The government and their crackdowns would only expose the police or whoever else attacked as cowards. The rich would no longer have their peace and order as the poor would seek to destroy or steal for their own gain. On top of that, women would gain more, They would achieve more freedoms over time and a sense of independence. Mexico would not be the same.

This masterpiece belongs to Alfonso Cuaron. He is the writer, director, cinematographer and co-editor with Adam Gough of this film. The film is a lot like his childhood, as he said it would be, but it’s more. It’s about the two women who find a new sense of freedom in a Mexico that was changing. He creates a masterpiece that’s as telling as Mexico and himself as it is of the characters. The lead acting went to newcomer Yalitza Aparicio and she shines. This may be her first film role ever, but she does an excellent job with her role. Interesting to know in the scene where she swims out to rescue Sofia’s children, she couldn’t swim, just like her character! Also excellent is Marina de Tavira as Sofia. A veteran actress in Mexico, she did an excellent job playing a woman in a troubled marriage who comes out stronger. The child actors who played the chilren were also excellent. I think it was Carlos Peralta as Paco who was intended to be the representation of Cuaron.

The unique thing about Roma is that this is a film most shown on NetFlix. It was screen in theatres beforehand so it does qualify for Oscar eligibility. However with it being on NetFlix, very few theatres have shown it on the big screen and there are no official box office statistics as of yet. The VanCity theatre in Vancouver was the only theatre in Greater Vancouver that screened Roma on the big screen. I had the luxury of seeing it on the big screen just days after Christmas. Those who just see it on NetFlix are missing out on an amazing experience. It is 100 times better seeing it in a movie theatre. However the NetFlix factor is very unique for a film with this many Oscar nominations and a huge chance of winning Best Picture. That NetFlix factor could rewrite the game on how films, especially independent films, are shown.

Roma is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s also a film with a poignant social message as well. However it’s very picturesque to watch and an excellent experience for those lucky to see it on the big screen.

2014 Box Office In Review: A Down Year But Not Out

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It’s fair to say that 2014 was not an exciting year for movies. It’s fair to make that judgment especially after the year-end box office result in terms of both total gross and ticket numbers. It’s also fair to say that 2014 did not show as huge of a loss as expected and this became the sixth straight year of raking in more than $10 billion.

Some may wonder why I would be so optimistic. Actually around the time I wrote my Bumpy Summer blog, it was quite questionable about how well the 2014 box office would fare. The first quarter from January to March looked on par with 2013 but the second quarter from April to June looked doubtful. Further doubt continued with the lackluster summer. However the last four months of the year were consistent enough for 2014 to end on a more optimistic note.

September saw the continuation of Guardians Of The Galaxy on top at the beginning. However the month progressed with strong openings for No Good Deed and Dolphin Tale 2. The Maze Runner also opened strong with The Equalizer. However it was not enough as this September totaled $449.2 million: $21 million less than last September.

October was a real picker-upper for the month as Gone Girl debut on top at the beginning and surprised just about everybody with its longevity.Its second weekend even outdid openings from Dracula Untold and the Alexander movie. It took Fury to dethrone it from the top in its third week. Even with Ouija and John Wick having the highest debuts the final weekend, the month belonged to Gone Girl. At the end of the month, this year gave us the highest-grossing October ever with $848.4 million.

November was expected to be a big month with the opening of Mockingjay in the fourth weekend and a lot of huge buzz expected for it. The three weekends before its opening yo-yoed with Ouija staying on top but with a measly $10.7 million. The second weekend saw big openings with Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Dumb and Dumber Too opened well but not as well as expected. Then came the opening for Mockingjay and as expected, it was a biggie with $121.9 million: the biggest opening weekend of 2014. However it was not good news as it was the lowest opening weekend for any Hunger Games movie: $30.5 million less than the first movie’s opening weekend and $36.5 million less than Catching Fire’s opener exactly a year ago. Mockingjay remained on top for the last weekend in November. This November’s total gross of $1.03 billion missed last November’s total by $458 million: almost half a billion.

The first weekend continued with the reign of Mockingjay on top and the biggest opener The Pyramid only coming in 9th on the chart. Things looked more promising as Exodus: Gods And Kings opened strongly. December was expected to end strongly with the last Hobbit movie opening in the third weekend. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies did open strongly with $54.7 million and the following weekend continued with strong attendance for a total of over $200 million that weekend.

There were a lot of ups and downs this year. The downs made more news than the ups. In the end, the box office of 2014 totaled $10.355 billion: down 5.2% from the record-setting $10.923 billion of 2013. The numbers were not too impressive as far total grosses go either. The highest-grossing movie of this year, Guardians Of The Galaxy, totaled $333 million: the lowest-grossing #1 movie of the year since 2001. Even Mockingjay’s opening weekend was very lacklustre.

Despite it all, I do give it credit. For the sixth straight year, the box office has grossed over $10 billion. There’s always the concerns of new technologies like Netflix and watching movies on your smartphone that always cause concern for how the box office will fare but it’s still consistent despite the drop. It will take Hollywood a big effort to continue getting people to the theatres to enjoy movies. It will be continuously faced with challenges a new technologies will keep on coming our way. However I am confident people will want to go to the theatres for the movies. People enjoy it. However it will take Hollywood and the other studios to deliver them the stuff worth enjoying. I am however optimistic for 2015 . We’ll have to see.

WORKS CITED:

“Yearly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

“Monthly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/monthly/

“Weekend Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/