Showing posts with label Roma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roma. Show all posts

Friday, December 21, 2018

"The Mule" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Clint Eastwood's new movie "The Mule" as well as "Roma," now streaming on Netflix, and the DVD "First Reformed."  The Book of the Week is "Fashion Climbing: A Memoir With Photographs" by Bill Cunningham.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Haxan - Witchcraft Through the Ages."]

The Mule

A 90-year-old horticulturist becomes a mule for a Mexican drug cartel.

How did that happen?

Well it actually really did.  This film, based on a NY Times article, does tell how it happend in this story of Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood), a 90-year-old part-time curmudgeon and part-time good old boy, who lost his farm, a place where he chose to spend most of his time raising day lilies to the detriment of his relationships with his family. We know this because at the beginning of the film, he has missed his daughter, Iris's (Alison Eastwood, Clint's real-life daughter) wedding to attend a gardening awards ceremony where he wins an award and then magnanimously buys everyone drinks. That's Earl's M.O.  Good time Charlie when it comes to his pals.  Not so much when it comes to his family.

So when he loses his farm, he has nowhere to go.  

His family wants nothing to do with him.  When he shows up for his granddaughter, Ginny's (Taissa Farmiga) pre-wedding breakfast (she is the only one who is still speaking to him), his daughter leaves and his ex-wife, Mary (Dianne Wiest) lays into him. As he heads back to his truck, I guess one of the guests feels sorry for him and asks him about his driving record.  Earl says he has never had a ticket so the guest gives him a tip on a possible "job."  When Earl investigates, he meets some thugs who promise him big money for delivering "packages," something that, if you ask me, happens a bit too easily and naively.  

But so begins Earl's saga that is mostly him driving up and down the nation's highways, singing off key along with the radio, doing things his way and for some reason never wearing a seat belt. Earl has an epiphany about his relationships at the end of the film, which, after everything Earl has done, also seems to happen too quickly and easily and is treated almost as an afterthought and because of that the film lacked emotional resonance.

It's a week of some strange little films and this is one of them. 

I didn't know quite what to think of it.  If you had seen the trailer, which I did, you would be expecting a different film from what this turned out to be. This is more about a man who seemed to only care about himself, but who eventually has regrets and finds forgiveness, not a thriller about tangling with a drug cartel as the trailer implied. But as it went along, it cast a spell, mostly due to Clint and his strange characterization of Earl. Earl is not a very pleasant guy and verged on racist.  He could also be a curmudgeon (he reminded me a bit of Clint's character in "Gran Torino" who was always yelling at people to get off his lawn), but the film didn't really go into much depth about why Earl was the way he was. I also couldn't tell if some of Earl's curmudgeonly and non-PC comments was Earl talking or Clint getting his own two cents into the film. Does Clint secretly approve of Earl?

I also couldn't get over how old Clint has gotten. I couldn't tell if he really is as doddering as he appears in the film or if he was acting. He walked kind of sideways and looked like he was going to break a hip at any moment. Clint isn't 90 but he is 88, so you wouldn't think it was much of a stretch to play a 90 year-old, but maybe he thinks that's how a 90 year-old acts. 

Bradley Cooper is also in this as DEA agent Colin Bates who is determined to break up the drug cartel and find whoever this mule is who seems to be the rock star of mules, but in reality he has very little to do in the film, except look handsome which is so weird, because I never thought he was particularly good looking and never understood the hype around him but as he gets older I am finding him more and more attractive.

However, the film left me with some questions:

  • Is Andy Garcia going to play nothing but drug cartel kingpins from now on?
  • If Earl didn't want to get stopped by the police as he transported millions of dollars worth of cocaine in his truck, why in hell didn't he wear his seat belt?
  • Is Clint really as doddering as he appears in this film or is that called acting?

There may be some doubt as to Clint's acting abilities, but there is no doubt that Clint is a great director.  Who can forget "Unforgiven," Mystic River," "Million Dollar Baby," and "American Sniper?"  However, his last film "The 15:17 to Paris" was a stumble and this one could be a misstep but maybe it was Nick Schenk's screenplay and not Clint.  Not sure.  But one thing I am sure of is this: Clint will always be one of our best filmmakers.

Rosy the Reviewer says... I am still mulling over in my mind whether or not I liked this film.  You will have to decide for yourself.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

In theatres AND streaming on Netflix

Roma (2018)

A year in the life of a maid to an upper middle class family in Mexico City in the early 70's.

Nominated for Golden Globes this year for Best Foreign Language Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay and already the recipient of countless other awards, this is one thing I am sure of.  "Roma" is one of the best films of the year.

It is director Alfonso Cuaron's poignant and heartfelt remembrance of growing up in Roma, a Mexico City neighborhood during the early 1970's.  Here the story centers around Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the young indigenous maid from Oaxaca, and we see the family - the mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), Antonio, the doctor father (Fernando Grediaga) and their children -  through her eyes.  Cleo works alongside her friend, Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia), who is the cook, but Cleo is the one who keeps the family going.  She is cleaner, washer woman and de facto mother to the children, climbing the steep stairs to the roof to do the laundry by hand; cleaning up dog poop; and gently waking the children up in the morning and putting them to bed at night. She is almost a member of the family, though she is occasionally reminded that she is the hired help.  But when Cleo gets pregnant and ignored by her boyfriend, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), who is obsessed with martial arts, instead of firing Cleo as Cleo had feared, Senora Sofia embraces her, despite the fact that her husband, Antonio, has run off with another woman.  We follow Cleo as she deals with her pregnancy while also continuing to take care of the family as the family drama also plays out.

Cuaron not only directed this film.  He wrote it as well. It's his story and it is dedicated to Libo, the woman who raised him. It's a quiet film with little plot, but that doesn't mean it's boring.  It's not. It is full of atmosphere with touching scene after touching scene that will transport you.  This film is all about Life with a capital "L."  Life in all it's small moments in our lives played out against the bigger moments. Planes fly overhead while we watch children playing; activists march in the street and a riot breaks out while we are buying furniture in a furniture store; and earthquakes happen when we are dealing with our own issues in a hospital.  And no matter what is happening in our lives, Life inexorably goes on.

Young Yalitza Aparicio is a newcomer and her face is just unforgettable.  I couldn't take my eyes off of her.  Whether she was washing clothes by hand on the rooftop of the house or answering the phone and then wiping the phone off when she hands it to the senora, her every move lives and breathes her station in life but also her humanity.

Please don't be put off by the fact that this film is in black and white because this film embodies what great film-making is all about.  It may be in black and white but it's in such breathtaking black and white that you will forget you are not seeing color. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...thank you, Netflix, for giving us access to this wonderful, unforgettable film. I predict an Oscar for this for Best Foreign Film.
(b & w, in Spanish with English subtitles)


First Reformed (2017)

A minister in a small upstate New York community is full of angst and despair as he wrestles with a crisis of faith.

Nobody does angst and despair like Paul Schrader.  I mean Schrader wrote "Taxi Driver" and directed "Hardcore," and "Affliction," among many other dark films. But here is yet another strange little film

Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a minister at the old First Reformed church in a small update New York town.  He is the minister there but more of a curator and tour guide as people come to see this historical church and few attend his services. Most have moved over to the new Abundant Life church which is the larger and flashier umbrella under which the First Reformed church operates.  Think mega church.

The device that rolls the film along is Toller keeping a journal with his voice over as he does so.  We learn his inner thoughts as he writes.  He lives a very ascetic life, the opposite of Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), the head guy over at Abundant Life who has a swanky office and wears expensive suits. Slowly we learn Toller's story: his father was in the military, he himself was a military chaplain, so he encouraged his own son to join the military but unfortunately his son was killed in Iraq, which left him wracked with guilt.  And to make matters worse, his wife left him and he is grieving both of those losses.

So it is no surprise that Toller is a sad sack.  But he is not just suffering mentally.  He is also peeing blood and coughing. Toller is in very bad shape and seems to have not only given up on life, but given up on God as well. But then he meets Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and is given a reason to live. She comes to him about her husband.  She is pregnant and her husband is a hardcore environmentalist who wants her to get an abortion because he doesn't believe they should bring a child into a world that is going to hell. 

Toller counsels Mary's husband but not sure it was helpful because when Mary calls Toller over to her house, she shows him a suicide bomber vest that Mary's husband has put together, and then things don't go well for Mary's husband. Something else for Toller to feel guilty about.  Meanwhile, in addition to his mental and physical angst, Toller is drinking a lot which gives Schrader the opportunity to show us an unsettling image: Toller pouring Pepto Bismal into a glass of whiskey. And all this is happening while Toller has the added stress of preparing for the 250th anniversary and reconsecration of the First Reformed church.

But then the film changes direction.

This film has a deadly "Taxi Driver" feel and sense of doom as Toller finds himself swept up into the environmental cause, searching the Internet for images of people blowing themselves up online and then trying on the suicide vest.  I kept waiting for him to look in the mirror and say "You lookin' at me?"  

Then there is this scene where Toller and Mary do a breathing exercise with her on top of him and they levitate! Don't ask me how they got to that place.  You will have to see for yourself.  And, yes, they actually rise up off the floor together. That is when the film derailed for me.  I would have preferred that they kissed and had sex which would have made much more sense.  As they levitate and fly around, Schrader uses that has a way to really bring home environmental issues. This is clearly something he feels strongly about, and he has never been a subtle filmmaker, so I guess a beautiful woman with a minister lying on top of her levitating and flying over polluted areas of the world made sense to him.  The film also ends in a very unexpected way with a "Huh?" and "That was dumb" response from me because there was no real actual character development leading up to that ending.

Ethan Hawke is really good in this, but then he has matured into a wonderful actor.  He doesn't get a chance to emote much here because his character is supposed to be repressed but he still reeks of angst and despair, the sign of a good actor, one who can get a response in subtle ways. Amanda Seyfried is also someone I like but in this it's almost like Schrader told her to hold back.  She didn't have much to do anyway but her character seemed very stilted and didn't ring true.

I have a personal connection with Schrader.  He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was brought up by Calvinist parents. I grew up 30 miles away in Muskegon and my hometown is even mentioned in this film when Toller says "My great grandfather was a pastor in Muskegon, Michigan."  Yep.  There were many, many First Reformed folks living in Michigan and Schrader's religious upbringing has influenced his films.  God and crisis of faith issues permeate  many of his films. 

Toller says at one point: "Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers.  I can't know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and despair.  A life without despair is a life without hope.  Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself."

Schrader seems to be asking how do we maintain hope in a world that is dying and full of despair but, for me, if the ending of the film was supposed to be the answer, it trivialized the question.

Rosy the Reviewer says...there is much to like in this film but those final scenes lost me.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

114 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Haxan (1922)

Now I've seen it all.  A documentary - a SILENT documentary - on the history of witchcraft.

Well, it's partly documentary and partly a dramatization of the history of witchcraft.

This is a Danish silent film from 1922 directed by Benjamin Christensen that used chiaroscuro lighting, eerie props, and shocking moments such as an old witch pulling a severed hand out of a pile of sticks, a woman giving birth to two demons and people being tortured by the Inquisition.  It was so surreal and stylish that it was later revived in 1968 as a popular midnight movie narrated by William Burroughs.  

Using science, horror and some humor, the film traces the history of witchcraft and the occult and covers everything from possession to grave robbing and makes the point that basically when humans don't understand something they make something up to explain it.  Basically, the explanation for bad behavior is "The devil made me do it!"  Or a witch.

We no longer burn the old and the poor at the stake but we still put unhappy people in mental hospitals. The film ends on a moral note begging the audience to realize that old ladies and mentally ill people are not witches.  God, I hope not, since I am one of those old ladies.

Why it's a Must See:  "Part earnest academic exercise in correlating ancient fears with misunderstandings about mental illness and part salacious horror movie, [this film] is a truly unique work that still holds the power to unnerve, even in today's jaded era...[it] is a film that needs to be viewed more than once to gain a full appreciation of the set design and decoration..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...sorry, once was enough for me.

***The Book of the Week***

Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs by Bill Cunningham (2018)

Photographer and fashionista Bill Cunningham's posthumous memoir.

Finally, strange is the code word for this week.  This is a strange little book.  I couldn't for the life of me remember why I wanted to read it.  And I actually bought it because even my local library didn't have it.

In case you don't know who Bill Cunningham was, he was a fashion designer and New York Times photographer, starting out as a milliner, designing outrageous but celebrated hats, and moving on to photography where he became a familiar figure roaming around New York City taking candid fashion shots.

Growing up in 1930's Boston was particularly difficult for a boy who lived and breathed women's fashion.  When his mother discovered him dressed in one of his sister's dresses, she had a fit.  No one in the family wanted to have anything to do with Bill's dream of a life dedicated to fashion.

Dropping out of Harvard, he made his way from Boston to the Big Apple where despite being broke most of the time, he gate-crashed extravagant parties by designing elaborate masks and costumes and started his own small hat-making business.  Eventually wealthy women took him under their wings and his business thrived but then, as he himself states, in the 60's women stopped wearing hats. So he became a columnist for "Women's Wear Daily" and attended all of the big fashion shows of the day and eventually became a renowned photographer.

One can't help but be taken by this guy's single-mindedness.  He knew what he loved from a young age and went after it, despite his family's objections and many setbacks, and it couldn't have been easy being a guy who loved fashion back in the 50's. But Cunningham doesn't moan about that, and it's refreshing to read a memoir that doesn't go into shocking details about the person's life.  In fact, other than how his love of fashion affected his life, he doesn't talk at all about his personal life. He is a gentleman of the highest order and I would guess spilling the beans about one's personal life would be considered gauche.

What he does talk about is fashion and more fashion, as well as high society and what constitutes taste and he stylishly and boldly states his opinions on all of that.

"Indulging in fashionable society is a deadly game.  The sidewalks of the fashionable East Side are covered with the footprints of slain invaders...You're only wanted while you're news or new; once the social leaders have raped the message or news you represent, you're a dead duck.  The only way to last is never to let anyone really know you, for society is only friendly to new faces..."

Cunningham took his own advice.  He wrote this memoir and then stored it away to be published after his death.  He died in 2016.

"Taste is something very few people have in large quantities...It's a ridiculous belief that money brings taste; it definitely doesn't.  As a matter of fact, it often merely allows one to enjoy bad taste with louder vulgarity."

The Countess was right.  "Money can't buy you class!"

"There's no question that different types of clothing change the personality of the wearer.  A woman in sloppy, untasteful clothes is always complaining without knowing why. Her spirit takes on the appearance as her outer armor. [But] just look at the glow in the eye of most women when a mink coat is slipped over her shoulders.  Her mood becomes sophisticated and elegant.  Give the same woman a worn-out muskrat coat, and she would sneak along all the back streets so no one would see her."

I know.  Not at all PC and a bit old-fashioned but if you love fashion still fun!

Rosy the Reviewer says...strangely enjoyable. It's a little history of 20th century fashion by an old-fashioned guy who would have been fun to know.

Thanks for reading!

   See you next Friday 

"Rosy the Reviewer's Favorite Films of 2018


Some Not-To-Be-Missed
Stellar Performances"


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)


the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.