La Casa de Papel (Netflix English title: “Money Heist“) was the most-watched non-English language series of 2018 and one of the most-watched series overall on Netflix. This is a Spanish “Ocean’s Eleven” on steroids.
A criminal mastermind, calling himself “The Professor,” plans the biggest heist in Spain’s history: to storm the Royal Mint and print billions of euros. He recruits eight people who have the criminal talents he needs, knowing they have nothing to lose.
Named after cities, each
robber has a backstory and the motivation to move on with a different, less
desperate life. In La Casa de Papel “Tokyo”
is the unreliable narrator, with a
winner-take-all attitude, and no impulse control but lots of unhealed
wounds. She narrates each character’s
backstory in flashbacks, time-jumps, and unmitigated judgment of her fellow
team members. Dressed in red jumpsuits and wearing masks of the Spanish
Dalí, the burglars take 67 hostages as part of
their plan in negotiating with the police.
The Professor oversees the
heist from a different location, using state-of-the-art computer systems and an
extraordinary psychological analysis of the police. Soon the charismatic, albeit
excessively cerebral Professor wins over the public, who are angry at the powerful
banks and corrupt corporate and government elite.
The actors, in often tight camera shots, reveal the emotions
and alienation at play as they have to deal with each other, the Professor, the
hostages, and the police–particularly one vulnerable and needy police
inspector. An extraordinary string of
plots over thirty-five episodes, La Casa de Papel rarely sags
throughout an entire episode, but ratchets up tension, drama, and unexpected
twists in psychology and power dynamics. A highly unpredictable chess game between the police
and the robbers, you will be surprised by almost every move, even with its
“telenovela” elements. Can’t wait for
the next season!
There are three Parts [=Seasons].
Part 1 has 13 episodes; Part 2: 9 episodes; Part 3: 8 episode and were released December 2017 through July
2019. The filming of Part 4 of La
Casa de Papel ended last month and will be released sometime next year.
Lizzie— a psychological thriller– is a reinterpretation of the story of Lizzie Borden, the accused murderer of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. Starring and produced by Chloe Sevigny and premiering at Sundance Film Festival last year, the viewer sees the highly restrictive circumstances of women in a patriarchal society and what happens to them when they actively fight against a lifetime of subjugation.
Lizzie Borden, a thirty-two year old single woman, has very few options other than residing with her tyrannical father, a wealthy corrupt banker and real estate mogul. Her passive stepmother, Abby (the wonderful Fiona Shaw), and elder sister, Emma (Kim Dickens) all live under Andrew’s oppressive roof. An Irish immigrant, Bridget Sullivan (a fine-tuned performance by Kristen Stewart), moves in to the Borden residence as a maid. At first, seeking perhaps solace and a kindred spirit in Bridget, Lizzie teaches her to read. Soon Lizzie and Bridget form an intimate but conspiratorial relationship.
The theme is female empowerment in a Gilded
Age of punitive patriarchal strictures. Lizzie’s uncle and stepmother provide no practical escape from her father’s brutal supervision. She is a woman on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Several scenes with pigeons that Lizzie
nurtures and loves provide a brilliant metaphor for Lizzie’s own free-spirit:
living in a cage, yearning for freedom and release from her entrapment.
Lizzie‘s cinematography (by Noah Greenberg) expertly
conveys the dark, foreboding patriarchy in camera angles of candle-lit windows,
doorways, behind stair-railings and bedroom doors. The lighting alone elicits the
sense that Lizzie and Bridget are both trapped,
living a claustrophobic, spiritless life.
Although the pacing will challenge the
patience of some viewers, the opening
scenes justifiably hook the viewer in. There is much to praise here besides the
fantastic sepia-toned and black-and-white camera shots. Lizzie is a thought-provoking and elegant
Victorian-period tale of women attempting to take their destinies into their
own hands when society will not allow that.
Lizzie may, at times, lack energy, due to slow pacing, but the hushed and mute austerity of the action plot and the character development are engaging and well-worth seeing. Sometimes things unsaid increases the dramatic tension necessary to sustain a film. Lizzie reflects on the abuse of power, class and sexual dynamics of a male dominated society that existed not so long ago. Today’s Handmaid’s Tale?
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to movie buffs. And Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodcontinues to feature the themes Tarantino cherishes. With a fully-loaded cast of A-list actors, especially Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, what we witness is more a “buddy film” than the advertised “tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s Golden Age”. But for the audience who does not know the story of Charles Manson and his grasp on the American collective psyche, the film needs more backstory to fill in plot holes. On the plus side, Tarantino loves cinematic history and Once Upon a Time’s references to the landscape and artifacts of 1969 Hollywood are thoughtfully and minutely reconstructed.
The world around the aging Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio), along with his loyal body double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is both fictional and not. Both are co-dependent and struggling with declining careers. The first moon landing a mere three weeks before the Beverly Hills massacre of five people, including the nine-months pregnant Sharon Tate, actress and wife to Roman Polanski, a top movie director of the time, August 1969 was a time of both horror and jubilation.
The viewer who knows about Charles Manson and his notorious bloodbath prepares for the pending violence Tarantino is often criticized for: gratuitous depictions of violence against women. But no one escapes. Without giving too much away, Once Upon a Timebuilds upon a “what if” narrative. But for viewers who are not familiar with the Charles Manson saga, there is no “what if,” just a senseless action thriller without the irony and fictionalization of history.
And, to add to Once Upon a Time‘s reliance on shock value and stomach-churning bloodletting, especially of one woman’s skull, the only depictions of the two women who have any roles more than a few lines–Sharon Tate (a waste of talented Margot Robbie) and Squeaky, one of Manson’s cult followers (played by the always reliable Dakota Fanning)– are cardboard cutouts in the Tarantino style, posturing with long-legged shots that focus more on their extremities than on what they are saying.
I am not a fan of most of the films produced by Quentin Tarrantino, but there is still something to admire about the attention to detail in reconstructing the time and place, and in the chemistry between Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And this is a generous reading of what to like about OnceUpon a Time in Hollywood.
Note: At almost three hours in length, the “saggy middle”
of this movie could have been eliminated with less footage of driving, walking,
smoking cigarettes, as well as the pointless Bruce Lee scene.
Wild Rose centers on a young single mother and ex-con who dreams of moving from Scotland to Nashville to become a country singer. This indie is currently in theaters
Rose-Lynn Harlan (newcomer Jessie Buckley) dreams of becoming a country music star, while grappling with the regaining the trust of her two school-age children who have been cared for by her mother (the always remarkable Julie Walters) during her incarceration for drug dealing.
Why should she give up something she knows she is so good at? On the other hand, is success worth sacrificing her relationship with her children? This is the impossible, heartbreaking dilemma Rose finds herself in. And dividing her time between maternal responsibilities and personal is rife with obstacles as anyone knows in struggling with work/balance issues. She’s trapped between two worlds. the tax on working mothers that will always affect career choices.
Wild Rose is a powerful portrayal of the resentment that both Rose and her mother have endured in not following their own dreams. Her mother is the foundation that has provided the love and stability for Rose’s children when their mother could not. And the consistent disharmony and disconnect between mother and daughter is contextualized and nuanced, adding a searing dynamic of two women with unhealed wounds striving to be made whole.
to find employment fast as a condition of her parole, Rose’s mother, through a
friend, finds a position for Rose as a “daily woman”, a housekeeper
for a very wealthy family. Soon the employer becomes
Rose’s benefactor (Sophie Okonedo), who
generously supports her dream to go to Nashville. Rose is a
small-town-girl with big-city dreams, a familiar narrative, but with some
Wild Rose showcases
relationships between women, both maternal and supportive, without power dynamics, but with a very
strong sense of empathy. This film is a
comedic drama opens with the tagline: “based on an actual lie.” The universal theme– of
the gathering of a family clan harboring secrets and lies, told and sometimes motivated by love.
opening scene of The Farewell,
taking place in a local hospital in China, the winsome and irrepressible
grandmother, Nai Nai, has a complete physical, but has no idea of what it
portends. Her sister and doctor tell Nai Nai everything is fine, she need not worry. She has stage 4 lung cancer.
to spare Nai Nai bad news, her adult children, under the pretext of planning a
wedding for one of the grandsons, gather the family for what is to be presented
as a family reunion. The granddaughter,
Billi, a young millennial living in New
York City (played by the extraordiary Awkwafina of “Crazy Rich
Asians”), does not approve of the decision to hide the truth from Nai
rationale and Chinese tradition (similar to US medical practices forty years ago)
believes that the shock of the diagnosis would worsen and hasten Nai Nai’s
death due to her advanced age. So, at the wedding, there is forced
merriment as the family pretends to celebrate a happy occasion while secretly
mourning their beloved Nai Nai. Only Nai
Nai doesn’t know she is dying and is in a joyous mood.
The cultural and
geographical distance between Nai Nai and her granddaughter, Billi, becomes
irrelevant as The Farewell progresses. In some ways, despite the gulf between
them, Nai Nai seems to know and understands her granddaughter better than her
American parents. Hilarious scenes discussing Billi’s weight and dating options
underscore their closeness.
But, The Farewell also delivers some powerful emotional blows. In its
unflappably honest depiction of coming to terms with death, this disarming film
examines family bonds and forced compromise, personal sacrifice, and the
complexity and ambivalence of expressing emotions.
performance is raw, authentic and delicate in switching from humor to
seriousness seemingly effortlessly. The
Farewell is a winner!
Note: The American director, Lulu Wang, has deftly constructed a very American film that seems like an independent foreign film, with subtitles, and cross-cultural shifts in perspective and comic nuance.
Rocketman , the recently released biopic of the music superstar, Elton John, will inevitably be compared to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The two movies are portraits of flamboyantly-dressed gay rock stars from relatively the same era (1970’s and 1980’s) but they also shared the same manager and had the same director, Dexter Fletcher. (Ironically, music manager John Reid was played by two actors from “Games of Thrones” fame).
In the opening scene, Elton John emerges, dressed in a satanic red “Hell Boy”-like
costume with devil horns, wings, and dramatic cape. He marches directly at the
camera, –backlit and sinister– as his face, partly disguised by heart-shaped
sunglasses, comes into focus. Theatrically plopping down on a chair in a
circle of addicts in group therapy,
Elton John is there to exorcise his demons in a flashback revealing why he is
where he is. The backstory of
Elton John’s childhood is the emotional core defining his self-worth and genius. Although
we soon find out that Elton was a deeply lonely child, unloved by his parents
(Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh), but nurtured by his grandmother
(Emma Jones), he introduces himself with a lie: “I
was actually a very happy child.”
In spite of being afflicted with unhealed wounds, Elton finds comfort and motivation from recognition by a prestigious music academy and from a developing friendship with Bernie Taupin (a scene-stealing Jamie Bell in a beautifully touching performance). Taupin is an equally unknown musician, whose lyrics would come to inspire a lifelong collaboration. The friendship between Elton and Bernie –Bernie calls it a brotherhood– is the film’s love story. Since Bernie is straight, there’s no sexual tension but there is such a strong emotional bond, the intimacy is palpable.
For the closeted Elton the
handsome, suave agent John Reid, (heart throb Richard Madden, Robb Stark of “Game
of Thrones” and star of “Bodyguard”) exudes
a seductive eroticism, equal parts dazzle and danger. He triggers Elton’s sexual desire. They
fall in love and then comes the darkness, manipulation, and opportunism.
The major problem with the narrative arc is that Rocketman seems to want to be a biopic with songs, and inconsistently, also a musical that sings dialogue and dances away the drama.Rocketman becomes giddy and silly, especially earlier, in choreography and staging reminiscent of 1960’s jukebox ensemble dancing. They distract, at least temporarily, from the demands of the storytelling–a “fourth wall”, namely confronting the viewer with scenes that break the momentum and pacing using lyrics as dialogue. [An analogous “fourth wall” occurs when a character talks to the screen and viewer, dislodging time and place of the story.]
A successful example of using
the “fourth wall”: when John’s
estranged parents sing “I Want Love”, this interjection of song for
dialogue is more effective.
Rocketmanends with Elton in rehab in
1990, singing “I’m Still Standing”, a shout-out to his survival. In
the credits, there are facts about his notable generosity on behalf of HIV/AIDS
international projects, his family life with his husband and two baby sons. And
his sobriety for nearly 30 years.
There’s one crucial difference that, in the final
analysis, makes Bohemian Rhapsody a more satisfying film, although not by
much. While Rhapsody climaxes with a
feel-good stadium-rocking Live Aid concert, maintaining the over-the-top “party
animal” style of Freddy Mercury, Rocketman is a more somber psychological
study of a shattered psyche, insightfully epitomized in the therapy scene towards
the end when the adult Elton John faces his little-boy wounded self in the same
Hell Boy costume from the opening scene.
Coming full circle with who he now is, in the redemption he finally
achieves, is the true end of this film. Rocketmanwould
have been more inventive, adhering to the tone of the drama with such a final
scene instead of trailing off to a triumphant burlesque song-and-dance routine
at the end.
Dozens of lesser films fail to sustain a dramatic arc from assemblages of disparate hits, but Rocketman soars through both darkness and light in most of the second half . The electrifying Taron Egerton gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the gifted, complicated Elton John. He immerses himself in the role and that is the major reason to see Rocketman.
Go see this movie –a universal story about
redemption and survival, an underdog wrestling with his wounds from childhood,
his sexuality, and a need for love.
Taron Egerton’s performance and the music are reasons enough to be
and Abdul the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (the majestic Judi
Dench) is about to be celebrated in all its pomp and circumstance. The year is 1887 and Queen Victoria is sixty-eight years old. An honorary gold coin–
a Mohur– has been minted as a token of appreciation from British-ruled India recognizing
Victoria as the Empress of India. Two Indians are conscripted to deliver the
Mohur: Abdul (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar).
The early comedic scenes tease with the warm-hearted, kind
and generous nature of an elderly queen with her young, handsome Indian clerk..
She is surprised to find that his
company and his cultural differences are a refreshing respite from the hypocrisy
of her retinue.
Victoria questions the role she is expected to play as the
head of the Indian subcontinent, and as their unlikely friendship deepens, she
becomes aware of the cultural richness of India and her ignorance of the
country she reigns over. Devoted to
learning Urdu and the philosophy of the Qur’an, and writing in its script, the
Queen regains her enjoyment of life in her old age, at the same time soon
evoking jealousy and suspicion among members of the Royal Household. Her inner
circle–particularly her ne’er-do-well eldest son Bertie (a remarkable Eddie
Izzard), who has no affection for her,– wish to ultimately destroy Victoria
and Abdul’s friendship or even the Queen herself. Bertie,
who will become Edward VII upon her death, bemoans that she has lived so
Abdul’s swift rise to high status, including honorary memberhip in the Royal Household, immediately rankles her son, and other members of court, since royals and British in general never mingle socially with Indians except those who were royalty themselves. For an Indian to be put very nearly on a level with the queen’s white servants was all but intolerable. To eat at the same table as the aristocrats and to share in their daily lives was viewed as an outrage. Racism was intolerable for the Queen, and her “dear good Munshi”–Victoria’s Urdu title of “advisor” for Abdul– signaled Abdul was deserving of the utmost respect as her trusted confidante. For the final fourteen years of her reign, Queen Victoria continued to have an extraordinary friendship with Abdul, in spite of conspiracies and plots to undermine her maternal affection.
In the climax of Victoria and Abdul, the Queen, despite her advisors’ prejudice and outright lies, insists they welcome Abdul into their midst. She gives an extremely moving “insanity” speech which is a masterpiece of acting. It serves as a memorable meditation on her life in her twilight years.
Queen Victoria is a role made for Judi Dench, who epitomizes both the loneliness and tiresome burden of a monarch ruling for over six decades. Learning a new language, a new religion, and a new role as the mother of a son she always wanted is typecast for Dench,. She plays weary and obstinate with equal believability and effectiveness. In one poignant moment of dialogue, Victoria announces joyously that she has fallen back in love with life as she fights off the inevitable “banquet of eternity” (mortality).
Ali Fazal holds his own opposite Judi Dench in a compassionate, complicated
role as the Munshi. He exudes a purity,
warmth, and compassion that seems well-balanced, not obsequious or fawning,
towards the most powerful ruler in the world.
Note: Following Victoria’s death at the
age of 82 in 1901, her son and successor, Edward VII,
returned Abdul to India and ordered the confiscation and destruction of his correspondence
with Victoria. Abdul subsequently lived quietly near Agra, on the estate that
Victoria had arranged for him, until his death at the age of 46 in 1909. The relationship between Queen Victoria and
Abdul remained little-known until the discovery
of Abdul’s journals a century later.
Chernobyl is an HBO historical drama miniseries depicting the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the unprecedented coverup that followed. The flawed reactor design operated by inadequately trained technicians is jaw-clenching and chilling. That lack of transparency and flagrant disregard for human life depicts greed, lack of moral integrity, and political corruption. Chernobyl is a cautionary tale for today’s political climate.
A tour de force of unprecedented tragedy, Chernobyl is a masterpiece showcasing Russian heroes who have been unknown or forgotten by history. In some ways, Chernobyl is a horror movie of the bio-disaster kind: the dramatization of that fateful morning when thousands of residents experienced the horror of intense radiation without any warning by the bureaucrats who knew or should have known what was at stake. More than three decades later, the disaster remains haunting The creeping dread of the suffering endured is portrayed starkly and brutally. A grim understatement of what can go terribly wrong at any moment, the viewer witnesses the heroes who bear testimony to the unspeakable errors of human operators ordered to cut corners, threatening public safety.
Chernobyl is difficult to watch.
Recreating this small city in 1980’s Ukraine, Chernobyl‘s producers carefully evoke the clothes, nuclear facility, hospitals, and residential life in grim grey light, foreshadowing probably the worst nuclear accident in history.
“We seal off the city,” Zharkov–the manager of
the nuclear reactor,– tells everyone in the plant. “No one leaves. And cut the
phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation. That is how we keep the
people from undermining the fruits of their own labor.”
The Soviet system of propaganda and corruption
existed not so much for the purpose of spreading a particular message as for
the purpose of making learning impossible, replacing facts with lies, and
handing the faceless state a monopoly on defining an ever-shifting reality.
But, unlike Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis, Chernobyl is not only about nuclear-plant safety. Chernobyl
is about a coverup of the worst kind: the most egregious arrogance and
indifference to suffering by a bureaucratic
brotherhood pledged to secrecy.
Consequently, information was shared only among a narrow elite obsessed with
their own interests and survival.
Note: The former Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant area
won’t be safe for human habitation for at least 20,000 years. Ukrainians are being reminded of the consequences of Chernobyl by
a government that has slashed health benefits for the men who heroically fought
to contain the Chernobyl disaster, instead reserving funds to develop Chernobyl
as a tourist attraction. For deeper
research into the Chernobyl disaster, listen to the podcast, “Uncovering
the Story of Chernobyl” on NPR: https://www.npr.org/2019/07/02/738019227/uncovering-the-story-of-chernobyl
Action thrillers are not a staple in my movie-going diet. Nonetheless, I like the ones Liam Neeson stars in , and The Commuter fits his murder conspiracy/ abduction genre.
Insurance salesman Michael
MacCauley (Liam Neeson’s character) is a 60-year-old ex-cop turned insurance
salesman who commutes to midtown Manhattan every day, familiar with almost all
of the other passengers.
On the train home, Michael meets a mysterious woman named Joanna (the always-excellent Vera Farmiga), who claims to be a psychologist researching distinct classifications of personality types. Joanna makes a proposal: a hypothetical situation to do “one little thing”– to locate “Prynne,” the alias of an unknown passenger, who doesn’t belong and has stolen something. No one will get hurt. And Michael will receive $100,000 as payment.
This happens to be the very
day when Michael has been unceremoniously terminated from his job.
So Michael agrees, only to
be unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death consequences.
The Commuter is a
crowd-pleaser for viewers who want an action-packed drama that will appeal to
adults in the family–especially to those who like testosterone-driven action
and impossible leaps and bounds across
train cars, simulating Tom Cruise in some of his Mission Impossible scenes
and Denzel Washington’s besieged character in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Entertaining without too much violence. The
Commuter held this viewer’s attention until the very surprising
Available on Netflix (DVD) and Amazon Prime. There is little bloodshed but quite a few choreographed
fights, both one-on-one physical combat and ammunition firing.
Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9,released in September of last year, is an interesting take on the 2016 presidential election .(The film is named for the day Trump was declared the electoral winner.) This is another film in Moore’s canon of what is wrong with America, not his best but still worth seeing. The 39th Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor went to Donald Trump.
Although purportedly about Trump’s election and how the country got there, Fahrenheit 11/9 is also about other issues close to Moore’s heart including the 2014 Flint water crisis, and the local government’s refusal to acknowledge the fact that levels of lead were unsafe to drink. An unusual scene of Obama’s visit to Flint and how he disappointed local residents is eye-opening.
Moore also compares Trump’s rise to power to that of Hitler in hate speeches against different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientation. Showcasing recent racial violence, Fahrenheit 11/9 concludes that the Constitution no longer protects the majority of our citizens from the wealthy and powerful. And, therefore, the American Dream is now nothing but a dream. Highlighting social and political injustices, Fahrenheit 11/9 insists that the election of Trump is a wakeup-call to the country for radical transformation.
Although extremely provocative with multiple political
targets–including not only Republican presidents but also Clinton and Obama,–
this is not one of Michael Moore’s best documentaries. It is somewhat scattered and loses its focus
on what happened to the country when Clinton won the popular vote but Trump took
the electoral college.
Nonetheless, there is much substantive analysis of the political structure we have in the US, filmed with the director’s characteristic zeal, passion, flair, and wicked sense of humor. Highly recommend for the 4th of July or when any gimlet-eyed vision of the US is called for.
The Netflix Original Always Be My Maybe gives us a reason for watching rom-coms again. A modern riff on “When Harry Met Sally.”
Set in San Francisco, Always Be My Maybe is a story of childhood sweethearts
who go their separate ways only to meet up fifteen years later. Sasha
Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park) were best friends who, as
teenagers, had sex for the first time
and then stopped talking to each other. Marcus is now a dorky musician still living at home with
his widowed dad, and working in his
dad’s business. Sasha is a renowned chef
with successful restaurants on both the East and West Coasts. Sasha’s manager-friend calls an
airconditioning service to install a system in their rented mansion and voilá–there
Sasha’s “non-denominational pan-Asian fusion”
restaurant “Saintly Fare”, soon to open in San Francisco, caters to
the high-end beautiful people. When the
new menus are ready, she tells her assistant to print them on rice paper:
“White people eat that shit up,” she says half- jokingly. And Always Be My Maybe is rich with biting, laugh-out loud dialogue
of a similar vein.
And –will wonders never
cease–Sasha is a successful woman pursuing a career without subordinating her
professional aspirations to her
relationships with men. Yet, as is the
standard in rom-com stories, Sasha does not realize her heart still beats
faster for Marcus.
Sasha is enjoying her
friends and her success. She still has fondness
for Marcus’s dad and the memories of her childhood with Marcus. She’s vulnerable, but no-nonsense,
determined, and motivated to continue
her successful trajectory in building a restaurant empire.
And then enters Keanu
Reeves, Marcus’s competition for Sasha, and his worst nightmare. In a delicious parody, Keanu Reeves plays
himself as a celebrity who knows he is charming and a babe-magnet. This is
a wild comedic turn for him–bringing back his over-the-top performance
in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” from over thirty years ago.
writing kicks into high gear here, with self-mocking wit that avoids
the “saggy middle” of many narratives, but particularly of rom-coms. Always Be My Maybe holds on to its central question–can
best friends become lovers? And at times
answers in whispers, uncomfortably close
to bruising the hearts of both Sasha and
Marcus. Authenticity isn’t sacrificed for a laugh.
characters besides Keanu Reeves add to the extraordinary humor and one-line
zingers. There is Brandon
Choi, a highly successful restaurateur, more focused on the Silicon Valley zeal
of an entrepreneur than on his fiancée. There’s Marcus’s girlfriend
Jenny, an Asian American hippie with dreadlocks.
Always Be My Maybe is
simultaneously uproarious and touchingly real. There is no “maybe”
about it. This rom-com is just too good
In this gripping 2010 Academy Award nominated HBO documentary, Which Way Home opens with something large and bulbous floating down the Rio Grande. The viewer soon learns it is a corpse, perhaps that of a child, and an observer comments matter-of-factly that this happens multiple times a day.
Director Rebecca Cammisa follows the struggles of a handful of young, unaccompanied Central American children (all of them boys except for one nine-year-old girl) who are determined to jump the border to a new home in the United States. Riding on the top of freight trains nicknamed “The Beast”, these young migrants experience the exhausting, dangerous migration from small villages in Honduras and Guatemala. Facing an almost unimaginably treacherous trip of thousands of miles before even reaching the U.S. border, these children sometimes die, survive with amputated limbs, or suffer from predators (including the police). At first the children seem clueless, thinking the journey will be an adventure with a materially fabulous life like the ones pictured on television and in the movies. For those who are orphans or running away, possible adoption at the end of the arduous train ride is their dream. Their parents don’t know what their children will face either, often paying thousands of dollars to smugglers who promise safety at the end of the road. This is in the year 2005.
We learn that child
migrants have many reasons for wanting to get to the United States, some
involving helping their families by sending money home, some trying to reunite
with parents they haven’t seen for years, and one trying to save his mother
from an abusive stepfather.
Which Way Home is overwhelming: seeing children (and adults) in such grave need, forced to accept life-threatening choices. The viewer follows small children into a hostile, lawless frontier. Sadly, the youngsters have a romantic dream to travel with the expectation that they will succeed.
There’s a scene in which an adult has met two nine-year-olds, Olga and Freddie. And he asks: What do you want to be when you grow up? They both say “we want to be a doctors.” And he responds that anything they want to do they can do. And, to me, that was perhaps the most tragic line in the entire film. The reality is clear. What they want to do is unlikely to ever happen.
As the US continues to fight over building a wall along the Mexican border, Which Way Home shows the personal cost of immigration through the eyes of these young children who courageously face harrowing circumstances beyond their control.
Stories of hope and courage,
disappointment and betrayal, render these children less invisible–if only we
will see. This film is absolutely
heartbreaking. Are they alive? Did they
cross into the US?