Roma

I find it very difficult to comment too much in-depth on films like this, films which are so essentially personal to the film maker. And although many films to a certain extent will be personal, Roma – like Martin Scorsese’s Silenceis so deliberately and deeply rooted in the experiences of the writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuarón that my opinion regarding the storytelling is largely irrelevant.

And so while I would have been interested to know more about the political background at the time, we don’t get that because the children wouldn’t have paid attention to it. And there is a whole other film to be made about the relationships between the people of Mixtec heritage and the white affluent families whom they serve.

Where I do have huge appreciation though is with the technical achievements. Roma looks absolutely beautiful, with the choice to film in black & white creating some gorgeous images, and also having the effect of reinforcing the feeling of memories being revisited. And there are some glorious long scenes which show a true master at work – the scene in the hospital emergency room for example, or the extended take on the beach are genuinely breath-taking.

For those familiar with Cuarón’s previous work, Roma contains visual references to many of his earlier films – Children of Men, Gravity, Y Tu Mama También – almost as if he had been trying out things in the past, in preparation for this, a film which he has been waiting to make for most of his life.

I liked it very much and I admired it a lot on a technical level – I just wasn’t quite as overwhelmed as I was expecting to be.

Mute

I love Moon and so desperately wanted Mute to be good as we had waited so long for it.

You’ve probably already work out then that this unfortunately fell well short of expectations.

What starts out as a futuristic neo-noir with Leo searching for his missing girlfriend abruptly turns in to a very different film about some nasty people in whom we have nothing invested. There are also several strangely flapping loose ends which concerned me. Where has Leo’s family gone? Why does he choose his current life style in neon technology land given that he is still clearly attached to his Amish upbringing (and does the fact that he is Amish even matter? It isn’t explored at all.)

The two strands kind of meet up towards the end, but it’s too neat.

I wish someone had had a quiet word in director Duncan Jones’ ear about the way his female characters are portrayed. ‘Characters’ is a bit of an overstatement, really. Leo’s girlfriend Naadirah, who goes missing early on, works as a waitress in a lap-dancing club wearing only her underwear. Most of the women are dancers, waitresses or sex workers, and wear very little. There is a gratuitous shot of Naadirah in the shower, and completely unnecessary views of young girls wearing very short skirts bending over. There is no sophistication to it, and it actually makes Blade Runner feel like a feminist tale.

The world-building and technological ideas are beautiful, and the sly nods to the fact that it is the same universe as Moon are nicely done. But I had so desperately wanted to like this film that the disappointment was difficult to shake off.

Our Souls at Night (2017)

I wish someone had told me earlier that this film was directed by Ritesh Batra because I wouldn’t have put off watching it for so long. Batra also directed The Lunchbox a couple of years ago, which is a lovely, gentle story of two strangers gradually getting to know each other.

Although Jane Fonda and Robert Redford’s characters already know each other when this story starts, the director’s same gentle touch applies.

The two actors are a great match for each other; their working history together allows the viewer to trust their characters from the start (even if they don’t quite trust each other) and go to with them on this strange, yet very honest journey of older years.

I’ve not always been a fan of Jane Fonda’s work, but she is particularly good here leading the relationship through its complications and not being afraid to say what she wants, while maintaining the dignity and responsibilities of a mother and grandmother.

Obviously I can’t let an appearance from Matthias Schoenaerts go unmentioned – it might be a little strange casting a Belgian as Fonda’s son in small-town America, but he does his familiar ‘rough around the edges’ turn and I’d rather see him than others.

Aquarius

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

A woman of later years (Sonia Braga), independent and strong-minded, refuses to be forced out of her apartment so that a property company can build a new development on the site.

I love this woman.

No matter what life throws at her, she knows her own mind and sticks to her plan.

She suffers serious illness, bereavement, grown-up children who don’t visit her enough or who take her for granted, intimidation and harassment from the property company – and she refuses to be beaten down by any of it.

She has a fun circle of friends, a good relationship with her brother, the respect of those who know her, and the strength of will not to back down when threatened.

Braga inhabits Clara so perfectly, and the writing is so beautiful, that I felt like I had known her for ages and would like to be in her circle.

It’s fabulous that an older woman is the centre of such a story and not a peripheral aunt or grandmother.

Okja

Why is Bong Joon Ho so obsessed with Tilda’s teeth?

This first came to my attention in the director’s previous film, Snowpiercer, which never received a cinema release in the UK but which I purchased on DVD when travelling in New Zealand in 2015. And as a commentary on how western capitalism is eating itself, I think Bong Joon Ho’s earlier film works better than Okja.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy about Okja. The performances from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, and Hee-Bong Byun as her grandfather are delightful, Paul Dano is … well, sweet, actually, and without the usual creepiness, and Jake Gyllenhaal is ludicrously note-perfect as the TV animal expert trying desperately to save his career. His is a performance that I guess is likely to divide, and I can understand that. But I loved the campy, over-the-topness of his characterisation, and the fact that he appeared to revel in it.

I wish I had the same affection for Tilda’s character(s) however. They were too much of a caricature to be taken seriously, with Tilda delivering her lines in a manner more reminiscent of a poorly written soap opera, and nowhere near her best work. And what a waste of the talents of Giancarlo Esposito. His character feels like he had a much broader part to play but which has been trimmed down to that of personal assistant.

The mix of Korean rural culture and New York business is an interesting one, and Bong Joon Ho uses his idiosyncratic style to fuse the two in a way which conveys his message. For a global platform such as Netflix, maybe this is the start of a genuinely universal method of film making, which doesn’t involve shooting a random scene in Shanghai to please Chinese investors.

However I would have been happier to have had it even darker, to make less of a comedy out of Tilda’s character(s), and less of the vaguely hopeful ending, which would have had a stronger, more lasting effect. True, the dark scenes are truly awful, and I have heard from others how it has genuinely challenged their view on the food they eat. But I’ve not eaten meat for almost 30 years, and already appreciate the theme, so I don’t need convincing of the message.