The beauty of Cuarón’s films is that although they vary drastically in subject matter, there’s no denying that an Alfonso Cuarón film is indeed just that. Much of this is thanks to Cuarón’s longtime friend and collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has shot all but one of Cuarón’s films. Their work together, matched with Cuarón’s audacious storytelling, have made for some of the finest films of recent years.
Sólo con tu pareja (1991)
In an effort to teach Tomás a lesson, a nurse secretly changes his recent blood work to say it tests positive for AIDS. Naturally, the news sends Tomás into a panic, which includes serious thoughts of suicide.
So here’s the thing. First, it takes a filmmaker of incredible boldness to make a comedy about AIDS. In 1991, the AIDS epidemic was surging, and many could take Sólo con tu pareja as a slap in the face. Luckily, the film is handled with such confidence that it never crosses the line of going too far. But at the same time, I can’t say the film is an absolute success. The AIDS plot arc, for example, takes far too long to take hold. The film is 94 minutes, more than half of which is dominated by nothing more than Tomás’ philandering. So what starts as a character story about a modern day Don Juan slowly morphs into an AIDS-scare dramedy. Still, there’s no denying that Sólo con tu pareja is the work of a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants. And the film wondrously gives hints of the greatness that was to follow. B-
A little girl lives in the wonderment of her own mind, telling stories for all the world to enjoy. After her wealthy father drops her in a New York boarding school, young Sara quickly comes to understand the politics of the facility. She makes friends quickly, avoids the school bully, and does what she can to slowly break down the overbearing practices of Miss Minchin, the woman who runs the school.
But when tragedy strikes and the money runs dry, Miss Minchin makes Sara a servant and attempts to convince her that she isn’t the princess she believes herself to be. But, as the film so beautifully encapsulates, nothing can hinder the imagination of a child.
A Little Princess is not my kind of movie. In fact, I highly doubt I would’ve seen it were it not for its director. But having watched it for this post, I can tell you I enjoyed every minute of it. Hell, there’s even a nice little homage to Bertolucci’s The Conformist snuck in there. A smart and whimsical children’s film that is pleasantly enjoyable. B
Adapting Charles Dickens is no easy feat, and following a cinematic bar set so high by David Lean certainly isn’t any simpler. But if Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations works, it’s because of the unique mastery of the man who made it. Me personally, I have a confliction with the film as a whole. A film that starts off extremely strong, but then bogs itself down with an occasionally one-note romance. A film that looks absolutely stunning in every frame, but uses horribly mismatched songs to propel many of its scenes.
A major saving grace of the film are its three supporting performances, played by Anne Bancroft, Robert De Niro and Chris Cooper. Cooper, in particular, soars with the material he’s given, stealing all of his scenes and then some. Much of Great Expectations feels overdone, but much is wonderfully restrained, creating a needlessly conflicting juxtaposition. B-
After the flare of two studio films based on popular novels, Cuarón gathered a tiny cast and crew and shot the revelatory sexual odyssey Y Tu Mamá También. One of the best ways I can describe this film is that I have never seen anything like it. It’s so new and real and bold. So bold, in fact, that if you don’t find yourself appreciating its audacity, you’re likely to be repulsed by it.
With their girlfriends gone in Italy, best friends Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) decide to relieve their boredom by going on an impromptu road trip. After they convince the wife of Tonoch’s cousin, a kind and quiet woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdú), to come with them, they embark on a strange and wildly entertaining exploration of lust and love. During their trip, each of the guys sleeps with Luisa, but on her terms. And frankly, it’s rather difficult to put the entire film into context, until its very unexpected conclusion. This is as unique a movie about love and friendship as I’ve ever seen. A
Specifically for this post, I sat down and did something I never do, which is watch a Harry Potter film. Nothing against the films themselves (or the people who adore them), but the Harry Potter films simply aren’t for me. I have seen each film once and figured it would take an act of God for me to watch one again. Considering I am devout in the faith of cinema, I suppose Alfonso Cuarón is one such deity. So watch this film I did.
Basing this brief review on how well Prisoner of Azkaban holds up to the other Harry Potter films is useless for me. I don’t remember them well enough. So this critique is based on something I feel most Harry Potter film reviews overlook: cinematic merit, and nothing else.
On that basis alone, I suppose Prisoner of Azkaban succeeds in some ways. Chiefly I respected the film’s mature tone, which is not something I recall from the two films that preceded Prisoner of Azkaban. Visually, the film is rather dark – washed in those deep greys and blues that Cuarón so loves. Material wise, no, I can’t say I had much of a clue what was going on, but my interest was more or less held throughout.
Curious that the film was one of the most critically revered films in the series, yet also the least financially successful, but oh well. I appreciated Cuarón’s vision wholeheartedly. B
In the fairly recent future, women can no longer give birth, which has divided the world into furious anarchists and those who contently accept that life will not go on. Theo (Clive Owen), a British man who doesn’t give a shit about anything, is soon tasked with transporting the only pregnant woman on Earth to a place of safe haven.
Now, if you’ve seen Children of Men, you know the plot, as adapted from P.D. James’ excellent source novel, isn’t nearly as impressive as the way in which it is realized on the screen. Frequently imploring very extended and very impressive camera shots, Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki engulf us in a world of utter despair. By holding a shot of such an extended period of time, we’re forced to witness horror as it happens. No confusion, no pretense, just the future in all its dread.
But beyond technical prowess, Children of Men is a film unafraid to reveal itself to us. As Theo’s own cynicism is broken down, the audience slowly opens itself up to the material, thereby creating a distinctly vulnerable experience. As is the case with the best of Cuarón’s work, Children of Men is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a wholly original work of art that succeeds on every level imaginable. A+
After creating Children of Men, a film of such massive scope, Cuarón set out to make a smaller, more intimate picture. He and his son, Jonás, wrote a simple film about a woman lost. They set it in space and thought they had something unique and personal. Turned out the world wasn’t ready for such a grand idea. In fact, Cuarón’s vision was so specific that he actually had to invent the technology it took to make Gravity come alive.
It took five years for Cuarón, Lubezki and a host of imaginative special effects technicians to deliver Gravity to the world, and what a sight it is to behold. The film tells the story of a rookie astronaut, Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) fighting to stay alive while literally lost in space. And, because of the ingenuity of the people behind the screen, there isn’t a second of Stone’s struggle that doesn’t feel absolutely real. The barren world Cuarón immerses us in is as terrifying as it is impressive. Gravity is currently dropping jaws around the world, as movie goers (wisely) pay an insane amount of money to watch the film unfold in IMAX 3D. But truthfully, no matter the time, place, or format, Gravity is a film that will stand the test of time and continue to impress. This film has singlehandedly set the bar for movies of its kind. A
Y Tu Mamá También
Children of Men
Sólo con tu pareja
A Little Princess
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Just Plain Bad