Monday, December 10

Roma Review

Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, and Daniela Demesa, and Nancy García García

Art, in whatever form it may take, is an expressive medium for the artist. Through the stroke of a paintbrush, the guidance of notes, or the manipulation of light, the artistic canvas is a personal space filled with a variety of emotions. For filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, the digital form is utilized to tell tales of discovery, exploration, and memory. “Roma” is the director’s newest and most personal film to date; a film so beautifully rendered that it makes the relatively small moments of a young woman working for a family in Mexico City feel grand and sweeping.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works for and lives with, a family in a community outside of Mexico City. Cleo tends to the entire family; helping the children get ready for school in the morning, cleaning the large two-story home during the day, and making sure everyone has everything they need before going to bed in the evening. On a rare occasion, Cleo is provided time to leave the rigors of tending to the family. She hangs out with a friend, watches a movie in a gorgeous theater, and goes on a date with a boy. Still, Cleo is connected to the family she serves. And when the distant and preoccupied father of the family goes on a trip and doesn’t come home, the family dynamic is broken and things begin to fall apart. 

Mr. Cuarón also serves as director of photography and from the first frame of the film he imbues the mundane moments that Cleo consistently and selflessly endures with astonishing black and white scope. Framing the washing of a driveway, the hanging of laundry against the city backdrop, or movement through the sprawling home with a beautiful array of gray, white, and black. The clarity of the images is stunning and the wide-angle format allows for some exceptional views in and around Mexico City. In one of the most striking moments, the camera pans across a field that is on fire, the dance and glow of the flames are completely mesmerizing.

“Roma”, which was also written by Mr. Cuarón, doesn’t flow from scene to scene like other contemporary narratives. Even when it introduces conflict, there is no mystery or excitement to be had. Instead, it’s practicality and normalcy that is consistently implemented, the fact that sometimes problems need to work themselves out through time and with patience, that even though we may want something solved it may not have a solution.

The film focuses on people instead of plot, specifically Cleo who is played by Yalitza Aparicio, a newcomer with no prior acting experience. Mr. Cuarón spends as much time developing this character as he does meticulously arranging the shots in the film. Ms. Aparicio is exceptional in the lead performance, offering a portrayal of strength and resilience amidst a barrage of concerns happening throughout her life. The family dynamic is another element of strength at work here; once the father leaves, it is up to three women to move the family through the problems presented in front of them. The way Mr. Cuarón develops these characters creates a strong emotional connection, one that arrives somewhat unexpectedly in the third act of the film but completely encompasses the journey of the characters and also the journey for the director. 

“Roma” is a quiet, meditative, and personal film, one that may connect in greater ways to one person than it does to another. But this aspect of “individuality” is the essence of any great artistic vessel. “Roma” proves that Alfonso Cuarón is undeniably one of the greatest auteurs of the twenty-first century.  

Monte’s Rating
4.25 out of 5.00

Friday, December 7

All The Creatures Were Stirring Interview

“All The Creatures Were Stirring”
Jonathan Kite Interview 

In the past year, writer/directors Rebekah and David Ian McKendry’s new horror anthology, All the Creatures Were Stirring, as had an exceptionally successful film festival run. The film has since been picked up by RLJE Films and it will have a DVD and VOD release in time for Christmas.

All the Creatures Were Stirring follows different tales of Christmas horror, often with a dark comedic twist. The different segments cover Christmas ghosts, a strange evil entity, a murderous office party, and many more.  One of the stars of the film, Jonathan Kite (2 Broke Girls), was kind enough to speak with us. We spoke about his role in the film, how he became involved in he project, and even what his experience was like on set. 

The Coda: We’re here to talk about your new film, All the Creatures Were Stirring and you star in a segment titled “All Through the House,” which, of all the segments, is probably the most recognizable as a Christmas story. What can you tell us about the segment and your character?

Jonathan Kite: It’s a modern adaptation, retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and my character, Chet, is alone on Christmas Eve. It sort of follows the tradition of the story with the three ghosts, but it’s not as blatant. The ghosts, their there, but when we visit the past, present, and the future the ghosts sort of talk through me. There’s a great scene in the mirror when I’m having a conversation with myself where we kind of talk about where my life is headed and it’s not me talk to the ghost of Christmas present or future. It is, but it comes in the form of me. So it was a very cool. I’d never done that before and it was a very cool kind of a process to figure out that dub matching of the shots and whatnot.

The Coda: You seem to play multiple characters. How did you get into each character, even thought some of them are just different versions of yourself, but they all feel very distinct?

Jonathan Kite: Myself and Amanda Fuller, who plays my girlfriend, and Archie and Connie we all play different people, but they all sort of have the same point of view. Like, for instance, when I play my father he’s sort of what I would have been thirty years ago or something. So we had talk about that, sort of creating a family dynamic and of how people would relate before cell phones because we’re all on the couch watching little me sing a song and it’s like those boring family gatherings. We were trying to do something as a unit and kind of give off a flavor more than an individual performance added to the scene picture. For me, I focused on what I would have been like thirty years ago or what Chet would have been like thirty years ago and would have been like as a kid.

The Coda: How did you get involved with the project?

Jonathan Kite: I know Morgan Brown, who executive produced it. Morgan and I go back years and years and years. We went to university together and he had been telling me about it. I love horror anthologies like The Twilight Zone; the original is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I really like this kind of stuff like Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow and stuff. So he had talked about producing it and finding people he really wanted to work with and he was like, “Hey if I ever do this would you be interested?” and I said, “Of course.” He literally came to me and was like, “We want you to play Scrooge in this thing, will you do it?” and I didn’t even read the script and I was like, “Yep, I’m in.” 

The Coda: Between working with the McKendrys and some of the more unfortunate events that your character goes through, what was your experience like working on the film?

Jonathan Kite: You know what, it was pretty amazing because I know Morgan exceptionally well and his wife. Other than that I knew the sound guy, but I didn’t really know anyone else until I got there. I had never met the McKendrys. I think they were kind enough to sign off on me just from, maybe they had seen footage of me or Morgan, I have no idea how that went down. We shot everything I was in, we shot it in one day, which is a little insane because the mirror scene took forever. Just, everything had to be matched and I had to go back in later and redo the ADR because of the camera, the sound on it, but it was pretty amazing that we were able to get all of the stuff I was in in one day. It’s interesting because everybody got along so well on set and it was a very positive environment. We just sort of trusted each other. You know, in that situation where you’re trying to do everything one and done and figuring it out on the fly, because we used an actual house and figuring out camera angles when you can’t move the walls with the lighting, you’re limited to even the colors of the walls and how that bounces the light. The crew was really amazing. Just great, great, smart people who really knew what they were doing and worked well on the fly and it was a great team. So I had a very positive experience. Amanda and I became good friends; she plays my girlfriend on the segment. I think everybody was very good at the job they were hired to do, which always helps.

The Coda: Now this is more of a fun question for you. If you were to plan a double feature, which film would you show along with All the Creatures Were Stirring?

Jonathan Kite: Wow, that is a good question. Maybe Krampus or… Well, I don’t know, maybe Gremlins. 

The Coda: That’s a good one.

Jonathan Kite: Yeah, I love that movie and I love that it’s a Christmas movie. 


All the Creatures Were Stirring is available currently on DVD and VOD and available to stream on Shudder on December 13th

Friday, November 30

The Favourite Review

The Favourite
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Hoult, James Smith, and Mark Gatiss

At a recent birthday party, I watched two young little girls vie for the affection and attention of the birthday girl. With a temporary crown, that was bedazzled with costume jewels, the birthday princess sauntered from activity to activity with the two little girls in tow. The two girls fiercely competed for attention from the young birthday princess at each activity, pushing and pulling their way towards the side of the honored guest.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has helmed some impressively unique features in the past few years, tackling interesting subject matter with keen visual perspective and a distinctive sensibility to story structure. “The Favourite”, a career highlight for the Greek director, is a bitingly dark costume comedy about royal affairs, prestige, politics, hierarchy, and the morally abrasive manners that compose the quest for power in the 1700s.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a freewheeling and distracted monarch of the British throne, lives a life trapped in the rigors of the controlling patriarch and the long-lasting tradition that defines but also besets royalty. Anne is surrounded by men in ever-growing white wigs, staff who wait on her every ridiculous request, and lives in a residence that is lavishly composed with shining décor from the floors to the ceiling. Anne’s only friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), provides the primary directives as it concerns the affairs of the state and consistently keeps Anne composed at parties and in the ruling court. Lady Sarah is clearly in control until her distant relative Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives and paves her own path towards some kind of power.

Taking a moment from the royal ruling history of the Queen of Great Britain, Mr. Lanthimos and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara compose a fictionalized costume drama that fits all the realms familiar with a period piece film. From the tragic nature of Shakespearean content to the prim and proper appeal of the Baroque perspective, “The Favourite” fashions a film that accepts and twists perceptions of this specific genre of film. While it honors the designs of the time, with flaring white wigs and ornate costumes, it also deliberately pokes fun at the tradition associated with them. Mr. Lanthimos unveils the nastier side of the moral code that typically defines the characters in these films as well; cheeky language, blatant sexual insinuation, and cold-blooded motivations exist throughout every angle of the film. The wolves are faintly dressed as sheep here.

The composition of the environments is beautifully arranged. The wide-angle lenses distort the reality of the world, consistently reminding the viewer that the vision they are watching is purposefully askew. The photography is a mix of overwhelming frames filled with the superficial decadence of design and, more impressive, the subtle structure of what is lurking in the shadows and what is illuminated by flickering flames. It adds an element of unease at times, especially when the director meticulously holds on long frames of character’s faces. It’s captivating and thoughtfully ordered. 

The performances are some of the best of the year. Olivia Colman is exceptional as Queen Anne; her petulant nature, shrieking voice, desperate looks, and tearful pleading compose a character that is trapped and lonely. Ms. Colman impressively yields to the composition of becoming an “easy target” for her two closest “friends”. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone compete and bicker with amusing flair, their chemistry is palpable the moment Abigail wanders into the royal quarters slathered in mud. For these two actresses, it is more than verbal jabs, it’s the way they position their bodies, the way they gaze with a composition of emotions with just a singular look. 

“The Favourite” is a sometimes bleak but completely comic demonstration of the lengths people will go to be accepted and the motivations they will embrace to achieve power. It’s frustrating, it’s hilarious, and it’s one of the best films of Yorgos Lanthimos intriguing career. 

Monte’s Rating
4.50 out of 5.00