Tag Archives: Alfonso Cuaron

34th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival Wrap-Up Podcast

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Welcome back to our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Tim and Frank recount their experience at this year’s festival. Included in the red carpet interview portion of the podcast is Roger Durling, Rami Malek, Adam McKay, Spike Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Richard E. Grant, Glenn Close, Josh Lucas, John David Washington, and Sam fucking Elliot.

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SBIFF: An Evening with Alfonso Cuaron

At the emotional core of Alfonso Cuaron’s seminal works is sacrifice. Take his latest film ROMA, where he not only secured his second Academy Award as a director but also legitimized Netflix as a game-changing powerhouse. Within the fertile layers of the background, middleground, and foreground is a woman who is bound by servitude, putting the wellbeing and lives of the children she cares for above her own, as well as her unborn child. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine all selflessly end their lives for the greater good in CHILDREN OF MEN, and same could be said for George Clooney in GRAVITY.

Alfonso Cuaron SBIFF

Speaking at a Q&A with Yalitza Aparicio after a free screening on ROMA at the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Cuaron spoke to memory and how for one to truly understand a memory, in particular, one of a deep personal meaning, they have to understand the present and where they currently are in their life. He then went on to caution how “memory is the biggest liar” and indirectly stated how memory creates a false sense of the past, allowing us to not just romanticize it, but also how we condition ourselves to be selective and allowing nostalgia to trump the continuity of our past. To quote Cormac McCarthy’s THE COUNSELOR, “reflective men often find themselves at a place removed from the realities of life.”

CHILDREN OF MEN is Cuaron’s most important work. It is not just some dystopian future shot by the remarkable Emmanuel Lubezki with tracking shots stacked atop one another; it is a premonition and it is a film that becomes all too real as we embark into the unknown future of humanity. Not only does is champion the current plight of migrants fleeing their warzone homeland and being put into cages, but also government propaganda strategically laced with a populous message of population control; all of this orchestrated by an overbearing and overreaching government to sew seeds of discontent in a power-grab that is designed to numb the minds of the people with the ultimate goal of total and complete control.

Upon a fresh viewing of the film, presented on the big screen by SBIFF as apart of the director’s showcase, what was striking was Michael Caine’s character Jasper, the once renown zany political cartoonist who has since become the voice of reason in a world that hasn’t just been forgotten and abandoned, but been erased. His glasses were circular shaped, he listened to music that came from a time and place of deep meaning and philosophical importance. His hair was long but parted perfectly, and his lexicon and accent were remarkably striking.

Michael Caine, Children of Men

“I don’t know if this is off base, but I could not help but think that Michael Caine’s character was John Lennon if he had not died.”

Cuaron’s eyes got big and smiled as he threw his head back.

“Yes! That was all Michael. He said, “I want to play it like John.” I said, “John who?” And then he said, “Lennon!” and then I thought to myself, oh but of course that is who Jasper is! It was all Michael’s idea. From the glasses to the wig with that was parted just like Lennon’s hair.”

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Cuaron is enigmatic, he is a stone cold auteur; a maverick filmmaker who constantly changes the formula of cinema, producing a pristine mosque with each new picture. His eye for detail is painstaking, birthing films that are so atmospheric that one can smell the cigarette smoke, feel the sweat, and obsess with the phantom ring in their ear. His films are unique, they tend not to string together aesthetically or thematically, yet with each one of his seminal works lies and unapologetic and selfless acts of sacrifice.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

Less a film than it is a two and a quarter hour slice of hyper realistic, deeply immersive life, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma weaves a transfixing, masterful spell by imparting to us one year in the lives of a Mexican family circa early 70’s, through the eyes of their shy, courageous and compassionate maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Cuarón is partial to lofty special effects, tricky camera work and experimental sensibilities, all of which make their appearances here but in quite a different capacity than expected. The shots (he served as his own cinematographer and it makes the film all the more personal) are used as living visual canvas for these characters to dwell in, the pace is languid yet never slacks, there is no score or soundtrack to speak of and the result is something so lifelike and authentic that I felt if I paused it to take a piss it would just continue on without me, free from the commonplace vibrations of what we are used to in cinema. There’s a remoteness to the storytelling here, but nothing in the way of warmth is lost; as anti-melodramatic as it is, the film meanders through the lives of these people with a fly-on-the-wall intimacy, remaining at arm’s length in terms of the drama yet stemming right from the heart as it shows the events unfold. All of the actors except for one are virtual unknowns, and there’s an organic cadence to their performing language that’s so unique, especially in the case of the children in the family, who take sort of a backseat to Cleo and the parents, despite the film being semi autobiographical. Aparicio too has one sole credit with this film, but her work as Cleo would have you believe she’s been at it for years. She’s a radiantly magnificent pillar of support for the family, surrogate mother and caretaker whose deep, soulful eyes harbour a fierce modesty. It’s when we start to see the heartbreak, struggle and triumph of her own personal life that the film truly takes hold, this is her story and from moment to moment, we are captivated as to where it will take us. Cuarón shoots in incisive, elemental black and white and after seeing the film it’s hard to imagine another choice of palette. The visual aura combined with shooting techniques and hyper realism make it seem like the closest we’ll get to a time machine in cinematic form, like a temporary window into his hazy memories of the past, accessible for an entrancing few hours and then gone again like the dream it is, culled straight from Cuarón’s potent memories of growing up as a child. I was unfortunately to busy to catch this in its theatrical run here, but on a large enough screen at home with every light switched off and the volume cranked, it still works it’s magic beautifully. A minimalistic tone poem that speaks volumes, a quiet masterpiece from Cuarón and one of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban is my favourite film of the series for several reasons. There’s a scene early on where Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon does his best to step in for Richard Harris, who was pretty much perfection in the role) addresses the students of Hogwarts at the start of the year, imparting to them how they must beware of darkness residing in their world, but not to forget the power of light, especially that of finding it in even the darkest of places. This is an important moment because with this film and the arrival of director Alfonso Cuarón to the franchise, there’s a distinct change in many aspects of the story, mainly a much darker tone than the first two which were helmed with orchestral gloss by Chris Columbus, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I love those ones too. But with Cuarón there was not only a focus on the scarier, spookier aspects of the wizarding world, but an attention to detail, time spent on world building instead of breathlessly rushing from set piece to set piece, plus a deeper and more complex emotional core as Harry, Ron and Hermione become teenagers. Voldemort takes a bit of a vacation from terrorizing their world and is substituted by the shadowy, soul sucking dementors, as well as Gary Oldman’s sinister and omnipresent escaped convict Sirius Black. Oldman brings a haunted, unstable edge to Black in his initial scenes and a scrappy gravitas later when we learn the truth about his past. David Thewlis is a fantastic Professor Lupin, spiritual guide and mentor to Harry through some tough times, him and Oldman really class up the joint. There’s a playful inventiveness to this one that the first two just didn’t have, and it stems from the atypical approach often taken in adapting children’s books into films: the darkness, the unknown, the mature elements are often glossed over and the very palette of the story is somehow… simplified. That’s not to say that Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber Of Secrets weren’t dark, scary or mysterious.. they just lacked a certain maturity, genuine menace and pause to reflect on this arresting world and drink in every detail before the next action sequence. Prisoner Of Azkaban is the real deal, an entry with a standalone atmosphere that also sets the tone for some ‘dark and difficult times’ that indeed lie ahead for the rest of the story.

-Nate Hill

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity

There’s a select few theatre going experiences that are mile markers for me in the sense that they changed and expanded my realm of experience in the cinema. I remember seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity in 3D, AVX, iMax fuckin all the bells and whistles were present and accounted for. I walked into the theatre almost on a whim while my ex was at dance rehearsal and I had a few hours to kill downtown, the film had already been in theatres for about a month, I was aware of the buzz but the trailers weren’t doing it for me and it wasn’t high on my priority list. Well.. I’m glad I made that impulsive decision because not only is it now one of my favourite films, but the theatre experience, particularly alone and totally attentive to the immersive universe it created, is something I’ll treasure forever. Sandra Bullock gives a career best as mission specialist Ryan Stone, stranded in the heavens when chunks of a decimated satellite shred through the space station she’s fixing up, leaving her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney in a roguish portrait of cavalier stoicism) adrift among the stars. It’s an arresting nail biter of a sequence that leads to many more, all staged in breathless, unbelievably realistic fashion by Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Bullock’s character is in a purgatorial womblike state up here, wounded by tragedy from years before and unable to fully continue on with her life without some kind of rebirth, which the unpredictable vacuum of space is more than willing to contribute to at every turn. Hair raising near misses and death defying escapes abound, with moments of tranquil, hypnotic pause to catch glimpses of the dazzling blue green globe below or communicate across millions of miles and a language barrier with an Inuit man over a rogue radio signal. This is all a lead up to what has to be one of the most stirring, adrenaline soaked descents to the planet’s surface ever filmed. Cuaron knows how to raise pulses and get you to invest in character so that when the time comes for Steven Price’s gorgeous cosmic battle cry of an original score to herald her journey home, attentions are riveted. It’s likely my favourite sequence ever shot in a film set in space, a triumphant display of resilience and poetic grandeur as she plunged through the embryonic atmosphere of our planet in a rickety little escape pod and hurtles towards the surface, angelic strains of music echoing all around her, surrounded by flaming meteors of detritus from the space station like fallen stars. I wish they’d bring this film back to theatres every couple years so we can relive the glory at its fullest potential. A masterpiece and miracle of an achievement from all involved.

-Nate Hill

“Half of America just lost their Facebook.” – A Gravity review by Josh Hains

I love Gravity. Love, love, love it. L-O-V-E IT!

I mean, the unseen force that keeps us pinned to the ground so we don’t tumble about and float away into the depths of space. That Gravity. So thankful for it. As for the film, I love it too. You don’t even know.

Now let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves and admit, Gravity is kind of a difficult film to write a review about because there isn’t much of a story or plot for me to pick apart meticulously.

Russians blow up one of their own satellites and the fallout causes debris to collide with the several other satellites including American ones, as well as the Explorer space shuttle and its crew who are working on the Hubble Space Telescope. Two crew members, biomedical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a newbie to space, and veteran astronaut Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are the only survivors, and must make their way back to Earth without the assistance of Mission Control in Houston, who has gone offline thanks to those satellites getting trashed. That’s it. I’m not kidding, that’s all there really is to it. That’s so simple a caveman could write a review about it. No offence to cavemen.

I’m actually pretty glad there’s not much plot to the film. There was a time when a lack of plot could get a film places, when people didn’t care if a film had the most intricately layered plot, as long as it entertained the hell out of them, and they’d put it upon a pedestal high above other films, giving it some kind of a legendary status in cinema history. Like Blade Runner. Today, a film without much plot often gets ripped to shreds by critics before the audience has even seen the film, automatically creating a negative aura that engulfs the flick and rapidly builds an unwarranted bias and stigma toward the film. Just look what’s happened to Disney’s Tomorrowland. Original ideas aren’t enough for some people, blah, blah, blah, the film looks amazing if you ask me.

Wait…Gravity was one of the best reviewed films of the 2013 season? And it won Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects at the 86th Annual Academy Awards? Oops. Guess I’m late to the party.

Gravity might not have much plot, but that isn’t even the slightest of a hinderance for this full throttle space thriller. In fact, the lack of plot actually works in its favour, allowing ourselves the opportunity to take in all the wondrous sights and sounds, rather than shovelling mountains of unnecessary exposition and plot-stuffings down our throats. Right from the first frames of the film, it’s evident moviegoers are in for a visual treat, thanks in large part to Emmanuel Lubezki’s uber-detailed cinematography, and the all-to-real CGI effects that make up I’d say about 98% of the film’s visual content – only the actors and their suits are real, to my knowledge. Again, this isn’t at all a hinderance, although at varying moments through the course of the film the two leads had a CGI sheen to them. I can only assume this was entirely intentional, given that this obscure look found its way into the final cut. The film is rich with detail, from the finest stubble on Kowalski’s chin that can be made out perfectly despite the camera being several feet away from the character, to the awe inspiring other-wordly view of our home planet; the detail is pronounced, immaculate, and gorgeous. Seriously, Gravity couldn’t look anymore beautiful than it already does. Can you believe me that their visors are CGI? Neither could I, they look so damn real.

In space, no one can hear you scream. In Gravity, sound is everything. From the thunderous score enhancing the urgency of the thrill-a-minute perilous sequences, to the subtleties of the character’s breathing as their oxygen levels dip. Between the stunning cinematography melded with the extremely lifelike visuals effects wizardry, and the moody music and pitch-perfect sounds effects, Gravity becomes an elevated immersive cinematic experience you have to see to believe. Simply hearing about the film or watching it’s then-popular trailer is not enough, you genuinely have to sit back and allow the ride to envelop you completely. If you’re into that sorta thing.

In terms of acting, in several elongated sequences strung throughout the film, we don’t get to see the actors faces as much as we get to hear them. Bullock’s Stone leans toward the panic-stricken side of things, being that she’s a space newbie and all, and she’s distressed enough from early in the film until the final frames to have next to no oxygen for an albeit short duration of the film, which is a bad thing in case you were wondering. Anytime something goes wrong, and believe me, the shit hits the fan (Murphy’s Law is in full, vibrant effect here), she goes into panic mode and can’t seem to keep her cool or maintain some semblance of self control, which again, is expected because she’s a…newb!On the other hand, Clooney’s Kowalski is the calm, cool professional. He maintains as much control as is feasible within the confines of their situation, but never overreacts or panics. He’s always cool, calm, collected, and does his absolute best to assist Stone and help calm her down at various points so she doesn’t use up all her oxygen. I couldn’t help but notice at a later point in the film, when Kowalski gives a motivational push to Stone, that George Clooney has possibly the most soothing male voice I’ve ever heard from a mainstream Hollywood actor. After the rigorous endurance test that is the early portion of Gravity, he actually calmed me down with his inspirational words of wisdom, I shit you not. In three noteworthy moments I don’t want to spoil for anyone who might not have sen Gravity, both actors, with little dialogue and very little of their faces available for our viewing pleasure, convey melancholic aspects of themselves without diving headfirst into sentimentality. These moments feel genuine and organically constructed, never once ringing falsely, and thus constructing raw moments of compassion we feel for their respective characters.

A hot topic surrounding the film has been the scientific accuracy of the picture, with everything from zero gravity to deceleration being scrutinized by the general public (why are people who know nothing about space given the time of day?), along with astronauts and Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Tyson, after his viewing of the film, took to twitter to debunk some of the film’s key aspects, some of which were scientifically accurate, and some of which were simply movie mumbo-jumbo. The film’s director, Alfonso Cuarón, as stated that he is aware the film is not always scientifically accurate, but that these inaccuracies were necessary for the sake of the story. That’s something I can abide by.

As a whole, sure, Gravity has zip for a story. Nada, nothing, right?. But sometimes, watching a film isn’t about whether you’re sucked in by the story or not, but how the film affects you on a visceral, deeply psychological and emotional level. Sometimes, the best films don’t require the brains to navigate through overlong dialogues and meticulously crafted story lines, but rather, the sight to bear witness to the greatness being displayed before your very eyes. But a great film can’t be measured by such things, even though I’ve taken the time to acknowledge them. That’s what I love about cinema, it’s not about how great the story was, or how terrifically riveting the performances were, or how the special effects looked or the way the music rings through your ears. No, a great film is measured by how it makes you feel deep down in those places you don’t talk about at parties. A great film is measured by how deep it reaches you. How deeply it hits you square in the gut like a shotgun blast at point blank range, or how it sinks into the furthest recesses of your heart and makes you long for its company. Or how intimately it affects your mind, and resurrects your love for fine filmmaking. A great film can push the world and all its complications to the side, put you at ease, and take the time to entertain the living shit out of you, if only for a short time.

In Gravity’s case, it took just one incredible moment in a tremendous motion picture to make my jaw hit the floor with its beautifully rendered view of the Earth and the astronauts working near it.

And I’ve gotta admit one thing: can’t beat the view.

ALFONSO CUARON’S CHILDREN OF MEN — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Prophetic. Speculative. Provocative. Chilling. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is one of the best films of my lifetime, a totally immersive experience where ideas and action coexist in an effort to tell a deeply human and thoroughly harrowing story of mankind’s last hope for survival. Clive Owen was fantastic in the leading role of a lifetime, while the supporting cast including a stony Michael Caine, a mysterious Julianne Moore, the shifty Chiwetel Ejiofor, the slimy Danny Huston, and the scene-stealing Peter Mullan all get a chance to shine. The blunt, forceful, incredibly streamlined screenplay (by four credited writers) is all forward narrative momentum, while Cuarón and cinematographer of the century Emmanuel Lubezki plunge the viewer into the middle of any number of violent spectacles, including large scale military battled, close-quarters combat, and vehicular mayhem, all shot with a constantly roving camera that’s prone to some very, very long and elaborate sequences without any noticeable edits. The film is a technical knock-out, a marvel on a story level, and it’s a total embarrassment that one of the most ambitious and challenging action pictures ever made wasn’t given any Academy recognition. Cuarón would later get his trophy for his spectacular thrill-ride direction on Gravity, and while that film is certainly accomplished in ways that very few other movies have ever been, Children of Men is an absolute all-timer, and a reminder that big, bold ideas can still intermingle with overwhelmingly visceral action.

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