September 12, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Roma” & “Green Book”


ROMA (Netflix – Dec. 14):  Alfonso Cuaron is one of the master filmmakers of this era, and Roma confirms that all over again.  It’s a deceptively simple memory piece, a semi-autobiographical story set in the Mexico City of his youth in 1970-71, with most of the action revolving around an upper-middle-class family with three children (one assumes the youngest, who’s prone to create his own fantasy histories of his past lives, is based on little Alfonso) and a live-in maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).  Much of the action takes place in and around their house in the Roma district of the city, and although there are a few dramatic plotlines (an unexpected pregnancy, a marital break-up), and occasional references to larger events in the world at large, a great deal of Roma simply recreates the day-to-day life of the family.  And yet the cinematic magic that Cuaron wrings from this formulaic set-up is nearly boundless.  Cuaron served as his own cinematographer (working in sparking black-and-white with a digital 65mm camera) as well as co-editor and writer/director, and every shot is a thing of beauty, unerring in its framing and pace.  The performers, unknown to American audiences, are wonderful, especially Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, who plays the family’s mother.  Cuaron, returning to Spanish-language cinema for the first time since Y Tu Mama Tambien 17 years ago, has brought all the knowledge of scale and visual spectacle that he brilliantly honed in Hollywood, and combined it with his intimate feel for the setting and subject matter.  It has quite a few challenges ahead of it as part of the Oscar race, with its subtitles, black-and-white photography and unknown cast, and also because of its Netflix pedigree, which means  an uncertain future in theatrical release.  Yet Roma is such an overwhelming experience that it might very well be a key player anyway.

GREEN BOOK (Universal – November 21):  A feel-good civil rights buddy movie that hits the spot where The Help landed a few years ago to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and a Best Picture nomination.  (Octavia Spencer, who won her Oscar for The Help, is credited as an Executive Producer here.)  It’s based on the true story of the elegant African-American pops pianist Don Shirley (Maharshala Ali), who needed a white driver to provide entry and protection when Shirley and his trio toured the Deep South circa 1962, and who hired Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a low-level Italian-American nightclub guy with a rapid line of patter and a quick right hook.  Will the pair annoy each other at first and eventually bond?  Will Tony learn important lessons about racism, and will the regal Don thaw out and start to be more easygoing thanks to Tony?  Will the pair get back to New York in time for Christmas Eve dinner, as Tony promised his loving wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) in the first act?  Have you ever seen a movie before?  Director Peter Farrelly, who also co-wrote the script with Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s real-life son) and Brian Hayes Currie, has no interest in subtlety or visual style, but he’s a walking encyclopedia about knowing how to make a joke pay off and how to pace the predictable so that it still makes the audience smile.  It helps, of course, that Ali and Mortensen are at the top of their form, two actors not normally known for comedy who basically turn the movie into The Odd Couple on the road in the redneck South.  Green Book (the title refers to the directory that told Northern blacks where they could eat and stay down South) is the definition of a crowd-pleaser, so prepare for the multitude of think pieces that will soon tell audiences why it is or isn’t okay for them to enjoy it.  (Spoiler alert:  they’ll enjoy it anyway.)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."