Marina de Tavira – Roma

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In “Roma,” Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal film of his career, Mexican actress Marina de Tavira plays Sra. Sofia, the fictionalized version of Cuarón’s own mother, who was a supportive presence in his life growing up in Mexico City. “Roma” tells the story of Cuarón’s upbringing form the perspective of the woman who helped raise him, his nanny Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).

During an interview with me last week, de Tavira talked about why she feels Cuarón cast her for the role of Sofia and the message she hopes a film like “Roma” conveys about caretakers like Cleo.

Like Alfonso, you also grew up in Mexico City. How much of what he portrays happening in the city during that time are things that felt authentic to your own upbringing?

A lot of what was portrayed in the film was my childhood life—the movies, the streets, the music, the phones, the toys. It really took me back to my childhood. It moved a lot of things inside my heart.

What kind of conversations did you have with Alfonso about his mother and how he wanted you to portray her in this film?

We had very long conversations before we started. We talked a lot about her and her story and her biography and children. We talked about Cleo and when she entered [their family’s] life. I understood why he chose me. I could really relate to what he was talking about. It had a lot to do with my own mother’s story and my grandmother’s story and with my own story. He told me not to work from an outsider’s perspective and to trust that it was inside me. That’s how we worked together.

Did you know someone like Cleo growing up—someone who helped the family as a nanny or housekeeper or someone who helped take care of the kids?

Of course. It was part of my childhood and it is part of my life as a mother now. I didn’t have a “Cleo” that was there forever, but my mom did. She was called Nana Sosi. She took care of my mom and her sisters and she also took care of us and all the grandchildren. Right now, a woman named Guadalupe lives with me and my son. She is a woman from Vera Cruz and she is my family. My son and [Guadalupe] and I make life work every day. It’s part of our life. It’s the way we live.

Many times in the United States, women like Cleo and Guadalupe are pushed into the shadows because they are undocumented workers. In the age we’re living in right now and with this administration that is vilifying immigrants daily, do you hope a film like “Roma” will show people that many of these women are a big part of the cultural fabric of this nation?

This movie is sending the message about what we should acknowledge and what we should be grateful for. But I don’t think being grateful is enough. Being grateful means having responsibility and making changes and working in a direction where we can legally acknowledge this kind of work. We should work on their working rights and on their insurances and their schedules. They should be able to have a retirement. We should all do it. It’s about really making a change.

As a Mexican actress, how proud are you of Alfonso—someone from your home city that has found a way to break barriers and make quality films at the highest levels of Hollywood? Before Alfonso and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and Guillermo del Toro came around almost 20 years ago, it was a rarity. It still is.

I think he is an incredible artist. He’s crossed the border and has been successful. Right now, what I most admire about him is that he came back and did a film in his country about his people and his family and his memories. He made a film that will be seen all over the world. That is what impresses me. He is putting this story in the spotlight and we are talking about it. That’s why I am so grateful for him.

When I was watching this film at the theater, it felt epic—watching these amazing black and white images on the big screen. When you’re making a film like this, does it feel as big as it looks? Can you feel the scope of it or does it feel more intimate?

It felt totally intimate. The big part came when we saw it. Alfonso works with us in a very special way. We are never aware of the camera. It felt as if we were recreating life itself. When I saw it, I certainly understood the purpose. He made the mundane and everyday life epic. That’s something very few artists can accomplish.

The final scene on the beach is probably the best scene I saw this year of any film. I don’t want to know how it was accomplished, so don’t tell me. I just want to know what that day was like on the set and shooting something so emotional?

It was particular. We had lots of rain and wind the day before. We weren’t able to do it. When we were finally able to do it, they had to build a very huge peer that was over the sea. We knew we didn’t have a lot of chances to get it. The light was perfect. This was the moment. I had very specific indications of when to go out and when to go in. My heart was beating fast because I didn’t want to be the one that got it wrong. There’s so much going on. Even if you have a small part, you have a huge responsibility. And that’s only the technical part. On the emotional side, Alfonso knew that was going to happen. He talked about it. We let the emotions flow and they came huge.

Roma

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”)
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”)

There’s no denying the beauty and timelessness at the heart of Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal drama “Roma.” It’s as close to cinematic poetry as you can get, and Cuarón, with an expert-level attention to detail, places us at the center of his story — watching, listening, waiting, and cherishing every delicate moment.

As with all his past films — whether taking audiences on a road trip through rural Mexico in his 2001 masterpiece “Y tu Mamá También” or floating through the vastness of space in 2013’s “Gravity” — there is an intimacy in Cuarón’s work that is unlike any director making films today. It’s never been more apparent just how meditative his voice has become than with “Roma,” an autobiographical film based on his childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s and told from the perspective of the woman who helped raise him — his nanny Libo. (Yalitza Aparicio plays a fictionalized version named Cleo.)

In Cleo, Cuarón has created a character of pure devotion and human spirit, and Aparicio delivers a restrained, albeit passionate, performance. In “Roma,” Cuarón examines Cleo’s relationship with the middle-class family who employs her and the complex social dynamics that keep them separated. In comparison, Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert’s 2015 film “Que Horas Ela Volta?” (“The Second Mother”) does a better job presenting this theme, but Cuarón’s emphasis on a single character’s experiences is admirable as we observe Cleo not only performing tedious tasks but also comforting the children who are witnessing the dissolution of their parents’ marriage.

From a technical standpoint, “Roma” is second to none — from Cuarón’s brilliant direction and first foray into the role of cinematographer (usual collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was not available) to the meticulous production design by Academy Award winner Eugenio Caballero (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). The black-and-white 65mm film Cuarón utilizes gives an epic feel to the picture, and his tracking shots reveal a landscape full of life that is oftentimes overshadowed in other films by the shiniest object in the room. Instead, Cuarón makes the ordinary seem remarkable — soapy water gliding over a stone floor, laundry hanging from a clothesline, a lizard scurrying across the dry earth.

Appreciate what Cuarón has constructed with “Roma.” Like other recent image-heavy films such as “Tree of Life,” “Dunkirk” and “The Revenant,” what Roma lacks in standard narrative substance, it makes up for in Cuarón’s skill as a visual storyteller.

The Favourite

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”)
Written by: Tony McNamara (“Ashby”) and Deborah Davis (debut)

“The Favourite” is unlike any costume drama you’ve ever seen. That includes filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s imaginative and underappreciated 2006 hipster biopic “Marie Antoinette,” where she uses the song “I Want Candy” in the soundtrack and sneaks a pair of blue Converse into one scene.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you know the eccentric and invigorating work of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos in films like “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 2016.

Although Lanthimos hands off script duties for “The Favourite” to Australian TV writer Tony McNamara and first-time writer Deborah Davis, who penned the initial screenplay over two decades ago, his fingerprints are all over it. “The Favourite” is an acerbic and abrasively funny period piece featuring three of the best female performances of the year. The film is like a formal curtsy but with a sharp knee strike to the groin.

Set in the early 18th Century, “The Favourite” is loosely based on the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the sickly crowned head who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714 at the age of 49. Don’t expect a history lesson here, however. Lanthimos isn’t as interested in the Restoration of the English Monarchy as he is the darker and comically absurd relationships Anne develops with her close advisor Sarah Churchill (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Oscar winner Emma Stone), who is hired to work in the scullery.

When Abigail proves herself to be more than a servant, her and Sarah’s political posturing comes to a head as they find themselves vying for Anne’s attention. With a kingdom’s power at their fingertips, Sarah and Abigail become the year’s most intriguing adversaries as they cut each other down at every turn in an attempt to keep their high-end status from waning.

At times voyeuristic in nature, Lanthimos uses a camera lens that allows moviegoers to witness the debauchery unfold as if we are peeking through a palace peephole. In “The Favourite,” hostility and deceitfulness have never been this wickedly entertaining.

Mary, Queen of Scots

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden
Directed by: Josie Rourke (debut)
Written by: Beau Willimon (“The Ides of March”)

Like “The Favourite,” “Mary, Queen of Scots” features its own interesting archrivalry between two women scheming for a monarchical power grab. As a historical biography, “MQOS” is much more conventional than Yorgos Lanthimos’ aforementioned film, but its sprawling storytelling about women in authoritative positions gives the picture its own sense of 16th-century political wokeness, which is notable in any era.

Helmed by first-time feature film director Josie Rourke, whose background is largely in theater, “MQOS” tells the story of Mary Stuart (three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in Scotland to reclaim her throne after the death of her husband, the King of France. She is met with masked contempt by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Oscar nominee Margot Robbie), who rules over both England and Scotland and isn’t about to relinquish authority to anyone.

Political maneuvering involving Mary and Elizabeth begins as they attempt to decipher what angle the other is playing to get what she wants. With her sovereignty in jeopardy, Elizabeth pushes back when she sees her cousin gain standing, especially since Mary is able to give birth to an heir and Elizabeth is not. The dynamic is a fiery one, even though Ronan and Robbie don’t share the screen until the film’s final act.

There is a lot of history to unpack in “MQOS” and these details are being questioned by historians. Some argue the queens were never on friendly terms, as depicted in the film. Others point out that Mary didn’t have an Irish accent like Ronan’s natural one. And the meeting the rulers have at the climax of the film? It never happened, although it does make for compelling theater.

It’s easier for a period piece like “The Favourite” to call itself a farce and get away with taking more creative license. For “MQOS,” there seems to be less leeway for purists who had problems in the past with films like 1971’s “Mary, Queen of Scots” or 2007’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” If you can overlook some of the historical inaccuracies and the occasionally sluggish narrative, “MQOS” has a lot to say about the rise of women in a male-dominated world.

Vox Lux

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy
Directed by: Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”)
Written by: Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”)

Pop star Celeste Montgomery (Oscar winner Natalie Portman plays her as an adult) is doing everything possible to control her own destiny. She’s been doing so ever since tragedy struck when she was a teenager and despite the fact that her life may already be primed for a “predetermined destination.”

The setup to the satirical drama “Vox Lux” by actor-turned-director Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”) is strange and hypnotic. As a devout teen, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a school shooting and later uses the experience to launch a successful career as a musician.

If the idea sounds a bit preposterous, it’s probably because Corbet means to say something contentious about the culture of celebrity in the 21st century. These days, all it takes to become famous is to create a YouTube channel or star in a sex tape or play a villain on a reality TV show, so why wouldn’t the same thing happen to a young girl who is shot in the head and decides to write a song to help ease her pain? Let’s be honest. Is it any more unbelievable than cast members from “The Real Housewives” or “Teen Moms” trending on Twitter?

In “Vox Lux,” Corbet introduces audiences to Celeste as a young girl — a girl “not all that special or conspicuously talented” — coming to terms with her newfound fame alongside her supportive sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) and unnamed manager (two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law). Her character arc during these formidable years is captivating — evolving from an innocent performer into a mainstream sellout.

Divided into two acts, we meet Portman in “Act 2: Regenesis” as a seasoned and cynical 31-year-old superstar raising her daughter Albertine (also played by Cassidy) in an industry she loves and despises for different reasons. When another tragic event takes place halfway across the globe that is connected to one of Celeste’s music videos, she is forced to reevaluate the circumstances that brought her to a place where fantasy and catastrophe go hand in hand.

Ambitious to a fault, “Vox Lux” feels otherworldly. Corbet still has a long way to go as a filmmaker, but it’s inspiring to see someone take risks so early in their career.

At Eternity’s Gate

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend
Directed by: Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”)
Written by: Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”), Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and Louise Kugelberg (debut)

During a scene in the 1975 Academy Award-winning drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a doctor at a mental institution tells R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) that after evaluating him for four weeks, he sees no evidence of mental illness. “You know, what do you want me to do?” McMurphy asks before mimicking masturbating, as if to say, “Is this what ‘crazy’ is supposed to look like?”

In “At Eternity’s Gate,” a biopic on Vincent van Gogh, Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) seems to wonder the same thing as Nicholson’s character. Everyone knows van Gogh suffered from some form of psychological disorder, so why play it up like other van Gogh films of the past? Why show him writhing in front of a mirror like a madman in 1956’s “Lust for Life?” Why depict him as some fiendish loon who licks the blood off a knife after he uses it to cut off his ear like in 1990’s “Vincent & Theo?”

While both actors Kirk Douglas and Tim Roth give commendable overall performances as van Gogh in their respected films (Douglas earned an Oscar nomination for his), the idea that mental illness can be defined as one specific thing (or behavior) is an antiquated concept. It’s one of the reasons Schnabel’s film — co-written by him, his girlfriend Louise Kugelberg and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) — is such an enlightening and unique experience. With “At Eternity’s Gate,” Schnabel, who is a famous painter himself, confronts van Gogh’s mental instability with inventive style and philosophical reflection. In doing so, he has given audiences one of the most creative and visually-striking cinematic compositions about an artist in recent memory.

Although almost 30 years older than van Gogh was at the time of his death, three-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) delivers a glorious portrayal as the Dutch post-impressionist painter during the final years of his life — living and painting in Arles in the south of France. During this time, we watch van Gogh connect with nature, exchange ideas with friend and artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and find the beauty in the mundane. Through handheld camerawork, distorted scenes and other stimulating experimental film elements, Schnabel designs “At Eternity’s Gate” as if it were one of van Gogh’s pieces seen through the eyes of a filmmaker like Terrence Malik (“Tree of Life”).

It’s not until the second half of the film when Schnabel really scours inside the mind of van Gogh as his mental illness starts to get the best of him — hallucinations, anxiety, depression and self-mutilation. Even then, however, Schnabel focuses more on the man, his work and his words. In “At Eternity’s Gate,” he allows viewers to see the world from van Gogh’s transcendent perspective.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto
Directed by: Andy Serkis (“Breathe”)
Written by: Callie Kloves (debut)

Although Warner Bros. waited patiently for two years to release “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” so that it wouldn’t have to compete with Walt Disney’s highly enjoyable 2016 live-action take on “The Jungle Book,” the subsequent fantasy adventure based on English author Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories feels needlessly glum and irrelevant.

The narrative framework is basically the same. “Mancub” Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is raised by wolves and must find his place in the pack before tiger villain Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a meal out of him.

It’s obvious actor-turned-filmmaker Andy Serkis (“Breathe”) is working from a darker script than director Jon Favreau did during production of his 2016 movie. Favreau’s film was closer in tone to the original 1967 Disney animation, but Serkis seems more concerned with providing “Mowgli” an ominous atmosphere than he does with building on the classic tale’s message of friendship and zest for life.

Even when Serkis and first-time screenwriter Callie Kloves try to spin the story in their own direction, the decision to stray away from a kid-friendly movie poses some problems. Primarily, who is Mowgli’s intended audience? Now that Netflix has bought the rights, one might assume the answer is everybody with access to a Netflix account, but Mowgli is too cruel for kindergarteners and, at best, a curiosity for adults who will probably just end up comparing it to superior versions.

If you do decide to plop the little ones in front of the screen, know that “Mowgli” isn’t a musical, so there are no new renditions of “Bare Necessities” or “I Wanna Be Like You.” In fact, King Louie, who Christopher Walken voiced phenomenally in Favreau’s contribution, is completely cut out of this newest adaptation. Baloo is still included, although he’s more of a drill sergeant than a happy-go-lucky, honey-smacking bear. And main antagonist Shere Khan is designed to look like a devil-cat who at one point in the film describes tasting the blood of Mowgli’s mother.

Mowgli also shows its title character living among other humans when he is banished from the jungle. He meets a hunter (Matthew Rhys) contracted to kill Shere Kahn and a young woman (Freida Pinto) who cares for him during his stay. Neither of these storylines offer any emotional impact to the film, and the fact that Mowgli can speak to the animals in the jungle but not to the villagers makes about as much sense as picking a prickly pear by the paw.

Latino Entertainment Journalists Association Forms Under President Clayton Davis, Launches Hashtag #YoSoyLEJA

December 7, 2018 by  
Filed under CineBlog

New York, NY – December 7, 2019 – The Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA) has formed under President Clayton Davis (owner of AwardsCircuit) in an effort to create a diverse voice in the industry for the Latino community. After realizing there was a glaring gap in the diversity conversation for Latino voices in entertainment, Davis decided to step up and steer the committee for the inaugural association which would represent all Latino voices across multiple disciplines in entertainment.

With the help of additional board members Toni Gonzales (Freelance, PGA Member), Niki Cruz (amNew York), and Kiko Martinez (Remezcla), LEJA is committed to developing and uplifting Latino voices among all areas and backgrounds of the entertainment industry.

Founded in 2018, LEJA provides a much-needed opportunity for writers based in the United States and its territories, to have their works amplified and heard in the areas of film, television, music, theatre, and the arts. Accepting of all backgrounds and identities, LEJA embraces anyone who identifies as Latino, Latina, Latinx, Hispanic, Afro-Latino, Afro-Latina, Latin, Spanish, or any inclusive and progressive description that champions and accelerates the voices of our culture from around the world.

“All people deserve an opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Clayton Davis. “One of the most frustrating things to witness as a Latino journalist working in this industry has been to see my fellow Latinos spend such so much time discussing what we should be called, that we’re never uniting on the things that truly matter. The core values of LEJA are inclusive to everyone. This organization celebrates the culture I’ve known from my early days in the Bronx and unites all of us, finally, under one mission, to lift us up. For decades, as a person of mixed race, I struggled to find my place in any culture. It wasn’t just non-Latinos that turned me away. Sometimes it was Latinos themselves because I didn’t meet their own identifying traits for what makes a ‘real‘ Hispanic. ”

Davis goes on to say, “The love of film and art is universal. There are nearly 50 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Our members range from first-generation, to others with families that have been here for decades. We have citizens and DREAMERS, pure and mixed races, Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish speaking, and a foundation in place to reach out to journalists both old and new, to encourage a new generation of writers to do just that: write. We have future plans to expand this organization through professional networking and proceed to expand into varying facets of entertainment including television, music, theatre, and more. If a Latino can write about it, we want to include it.”

Davis closes by saying, “With a toxic climate that paints Latinos as anything but hard-working, intelligent, and richly valued people, it’s time we take the mic ourselves and say what we need to say.”

The association is kicking off with 24 inaugural members and plans to release their first set of film nominations on Jan. 20, 2019.

The current members consist of journalists, from different backgrounds, identifications, and corners of the United States. The inaugural members, outlets, Twitter handles, and their cultural identities are:

  • Carlos Aguilar (The Wrap, MovieMaker Magazine, Remezcla) – @Carlos_Film – Latino (more specifically Mexican)
  • Manuel Betancourt (Remezcla, Backstage, The Atlantic) – @bmanuel – White, Latinx
  • J. Don Birnam (Splash Report) – @jdonbirnam – Mexican American
  • Kerensa Cadenas (VanityFair) – @kerensacadenas – Mexican-American
  • Liz Calvario (Entertainment Tonight) – @lizcalvario – Mexican-American
  • Rosy Cordero (Deadline, Latina) – @SocialRosy – Peruvian/Cuban
  • Niki Cruz (amNewYork) – @cruzniki – Puerto Rican and Italian – LEJA Secretary
  • Clayton Davis (AwardsCircuit) – @AwardsCircuit – Puerto Rican and Black – LEJA President
  • Vanessa Erazo (Remezcla) – @infoCinelandia – Mexican and Salvadoran
  • Tim Estiloz (Boston Latino TV) – @TimEstiloz – Hispanic (mixed), Mexican, Native American, Spanish, Black
  • Dani Fernandez (Nerdist) – @msdanifernandez – Mexican-American
  • Toni Gonzales (Freelance) – @movietoni – Mexican and Native American – LEJA Vice President
  • Ed Gonzalez (Slant) – @certified_ed – Latino
  • Umberto Gonzalez (Heroic Hollywood, The Wrap) – @elmayimbe – Colombian and Dominican
  • Daniel Gutierrez (Directors Cut Radio) – @MovieGuyDan – Hispanic New Mexican
  • Marcela Isaza (Associated Press) – @misaza – Hispanic
  • Yolanda Machado (Marie Claire, Remezcla) – @SassyMamainLA – Peruvian-Mexican, First generation American
  • Kiko Martinez (San Antonio Current, CineSnob) – @cinesnobkiko – Mexican-American – LEJA Treasurer
  • Wilson Morales (BlackFilm) – @blackfilm – Honduran of African descent
  • Claudia Puig (KPCC 89.3) – @claudiapuig – Mexican and German
  • Naibe Reynoso (Freelance, The Trend Talk show, France 24) – @naibereynoso – Mexican-American
  • Jack Rico (ShowBizCafe.com) – @JackRicofficial – Colombian-American
  • Julianne Escobedo Shepherd (Jezebel) – @jawnita – Chicana
  • Jose Solís (StageBuddy, The Film Stage) – @josesolismayen – Latinx

LEJA key dates for the 2018 film year are:

January 13, 2019 – Nomination ballots are sent to members.
January 15, 2019 – Nominations due back.
January 16, 2019 – Members receive final nominations internally.
January 19, 2019 – Final ballots are sent out to members for preferential ballot voting.
January 20, 2019, @ 2:00 pm Eastern Time – Final ballots due.
January 20, 2019 @ 5:00 pm Eastern Time. – Winners, with nominees, released and announced to the general public.

The organization has also launched the hashtag #YoSoyLEJA in an effort for all writers, both professional and aspiring, with Latin American roots, to identify themselves on social media and unite with LEJA under the umbrella of journalism.

#YoSoyLEJA
Official Site: http://www.latinojournalists.com
Facebook: @LEJALatino
Instagram: @LEJALatino
Twitter: @LEJALatino

Creed II

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Juel Taylor (debut)

When Sylvester Stallone handed writer/director Ryan Coogler the reigns of his beloved “Rocky” franchise a few years ago, Coogler transformed what was arguably a stagnant series into “Creed” — a nostalgic drama with depth and meaning. At that point, Stallone had already done his part, giving audiences an unexpected Best Picture Oscar win in 1976 for the original film and a franchise-worst contribution with the 1990 sequel “Rocky V.”

Although Stallone redeemed himself in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa,” it was the spinoff “Creed” that proved there was still untapped emotion in Rocky’s world of boxing. In the hands of Coogler, “Creed” became one of the surprise hits of the year and even earned Stallone a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his seventh reiteration of the Rocky character — only this time a lot grayer, lonelier and sadder.

Coogler’s choice to follow Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rocky friend and competitor Apollo Creed, was an inspired one — and Coogler delivered more than anyone could’ve imagined. Unfortunately, Coogler was unable to return to write or direct “Creed II” (some little movie called “Black Panther” got in the way) and, despite screenplay duties going back to Stallone, the sequel suffers because of it.

The premise, of course, is what will inevitably make “Creed II” hit big at the box office. Adonis squaring off with Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed his father in “Rocky IV,” is every fanboy’s dream. What “Creed II” just can’t seem to recapture is the distinctive voice of Coogler. Director Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”) tries to do his best impersonation but doesn’t equal Coogler’s creativity or narrative ambition.

What’s more troubling is that in the three years since we’ve seen Adonis, he hasn’t grown as a character. In the first three quarters of “Creed II,” Adonis is unlikeable and immature. When Rocky decides he doesn’t want to train him for a match with Viktor (Mr. Miyagi does the same thing in “The Karate Kid III!”), Adonis throws a predictable fit (“I’m taking this fight with or without you”) and a myriad of sports movie tropes start ruining what should’ve been a memorable return to the ring.

“Creed II” also misses a major opportunity to tell a great story about fathers and sons. Stallone’s script just isn’t strong enough to link the dynamics between Ivan and Viktor, Apollo and Adonis, and Rocky and his estranged boy Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Somewhere under the clichés there’s something heartfelt to be said, but Stallone and first-time screenwriter Juel Taylor simply don’t land their jabs. But, hey, at least there’s a bunch of training montages.

The Front Runner

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxon
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Tully”)
Written by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), Jay Carson (debut), Matt Bai (debut)

It’s almost laughable to think that only 30 years ago, an entire political campaign for a U.S. presidential hopeful collapsed under the weight of a sordid extramarital affair. In comparison to the numerous sexual misconduct allegations raised about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016 — not to mention his countless public gaffes that would’ve destroyed any other candidate’s chances of making it to the White House — the unfaithfulness of Colorado Senator Gary Hart feels like such a trivial issue.

In “The Front Runner,” however, Academy Award-nominated writer/director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) does his best to make Hart’s narrative resonate for audiences that can see the parallels between his indiscretions in the late 1980s and the bad behavior men from all industries have been called out for since the start of the #MeToo movement last year. It’s not heavy-handed from this aspect, but the similarities are recognizable for those who consume news on, at least, a semi-regular basis.

Reitman, who has been in a slump these last five years with less-than-stellar contributions like “Labor Day” and “Men, Women & Children,” delivers a sufficient look behind the scenes of a campaign spiraling out of control, although much of it is surface-level drama that fails to get into the heads of its main characters. It’s especially true of Hart (Hugh Jackman), who spends most of the film’s run time playing defense against accusations and blaming reporters for their salacious coverage.

As Hart, Jackman is genuinely believable in his role as a confident politician who is “talented at untangling the bullshit of politics” and becomes the front runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination. Hart was known for his resistance to answering questions about his personal life, so when the Miami Herald ran an article on an affair he was allegedly involved in, he quickly became a punchline for Johnny Carson and would later be written into the history books as the embodiment of political scandal.

“The Front Runner” is a captivating story but would’ve benefited from the script giving audiences a more meaningful insight into how Hart’s infidelity affected the lives of everyone around him — specifically his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) and young lover Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). In her couple of scenes, Paxton gets closer than anyone in capturing the magnitude of Hart’s selfish actions.

Like all politicians, “The Front Runner” is flawed. But Reitman offers up a compelling enough glimpse from the campaign trail and shows that, no matter in what era, journalists will always be there to hold people in power accountable — even if that means forcing them to air out their dirty laundry.

Green Book

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini
Directed by: Peter Farrelly (“There’s Something About Mary”)
Written by: Peter Farrelly (“Hall Pass”), Brian Hayes Currie (“Two Tickets to Paradise”) and Nick Vallelonga (“Choker”)

When filmmakers step out of their comfort zones, things can sometimes get interesting. This year, we saw gore hound Eli Roth (“Hostel”) craft a spooky, yet kid-friendly flick, with “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” We also got another chapter from the “Halloween” horror franchise, this time from the perspective of drama/comedy director David Gordon Green (“Stronger”). Now, Peter Farrelly — one half of the directing duo known as the Farrelly brothers (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”) — splits from his sibling for the first time and ventures out on his own to make “Green Book,” a charming, crowd-pleasing dramedy that, unfortunately, pulls its punches on race relations.

Set in New York City in 1962, “Green Book” tells the true story of two men who couldn’t be more different from one another — Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), a sophisticated Jamaican-American classical pianist, and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen), a working-class nightclub bouncer with a gift for gab.

The men find themselves on the road together when Don hires Tony to be his driver and security during a two-month-long concert tour through the Deep South. This, of course, was during the Jim Crow era when laws mandated racial segregation. The film’s title refers to the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide blacks could refer to so they could know which establishments (restaurants, hotels, etc.) were considered African-American-friendly. With Tony’s “innate ability to handle trouble,” they embark on a trip that ends with both of them learning about tolerance and true friendship.

Its messaging on race, however, is a little trickier. “Green Book” is serious when it needs to be, but there’s also humor at its heart. Recent films like “The Help” and “Hidden Figures” have also taken a more lighthearted approach to the painful subject of racism, and there’s no denying that it’s a tough balancing act that filmmakers need to be mindful of so they don’t appear flippant on the issue.

“Green Book”’s intention isn’t to preach or hammer a message home with harrowing images or depictions of ultra-realistic bigotry. If audiences are looking for something like that, they should go stream “Mississippi Burning” or “American History X.” Instead, “Green Book” is focused on the dynamic between Don and Tony and how they maneuver beyond their own personal biases to respect each other.

No one ever said racism in this country doesn’t exist anymore because Barack Obama was twice elected President, and no one is saying anything similar because “Green Book,” with all its mainstream appeal and handful of hokey clichés, is an enjoyable picture. Farrelly didn’t produce a flawless film, but he hit an appropriately inspirational and life-affirming theme and tone with ease.

Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

For actor Jon Heder, starring as the awkward title character in the 2004 indie cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite” was more of a blessing than a curse.

“Because of it, I’ve been able to form a career,” Heder told me last year prior to his first-ever visit to San Antonio for Alamo City Comic Con. “I know actors who would kill for that. You are remembered for something — always.”

This week, Heder returns to the Alamo City for the second year in a row, this time for a conversation and special screening of “Napoleon Dynamite” at the Tobin Center. Joining Heder for the event will be actors Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino, who played Pedro and Deb in the film, respectively.

I recently caught up with Heder again and talked about what he thinks Napoleon’s social media habits would be like today, why ligers are a totally logical animal and if he still has sweet tetherball skills.

When you get a chance to share “Napoleon Dynamite” with fans, is it more special when co-stars are with you?

That’s what makes it so fun. It’s a reunion for ourselves. It’s always such a treat to see Tina and Efren. I don’t hang out with tons of Hollywood people and co-stars. I mean, sometimes I see people, but I have my family and that’s pretty much who I stick to. So, we get to reminisce about the movie, but it’s also just about catching up and seeing each other.

I think some people might be disappointed to know that you don’t go barhopping with Will Ferrell (his co-star in the 2007 comedy “Blades of Glory”) regularly.

[Laughs] Maybe we’ll do that for the movie’s anniversary or something.

Did you know anyone like Napoleon when you were in high school?

I pulled a lot of inspiration for Napoleon from my younger brothers, but also from that loner kid who loved to do drawings and thought he was good at drawings but really wasn’t. I remember kids like that, for sure. The drawings in [“Napoleon Dynamite”], I did myself. I tried to copy the style that I remember kids drawing in school.

I wonder how much those drawings would go for today at Sotheby’s.

It would be sweet if it was in — the ones of dollars!

Do you think Napoleon would be someone who would attend his high school reunion, or would he be one of those guys that falls off the face of the earth?

I’ve asked myself that a lot — what would he be like today? Everybody is on social media, so you almost wonder if he would be, too. I think he would probably be using [social media] like most people do — convincing themselves that their life is better than it actually is by posting only the good things. I don’t think he’d be very good at it though. He’d probably just post pictures of food.

Before you were married, did you ever use the line, “I played Napoleon Dynamite” as a pick-up line?

I was actually already married when I made “Napoleon Dynamite,” so I never got to use that line! I don’t know if that line would’ve worked. If I used the line on my wife, it would’ve probably had the opposite effect. She would’ve been like, “Forget that and leave me alone!”

I have to admit something: I only recently found out that ligers are real animals. I was shocked. It was like when I found out narwhals were real animals.

I had never heard of a liger before I made the movie. In the movie, we represent them and draw them as if they are just magical creatures. But if you think about it, you’ll realize, “Well, if you breed a male lion with a female tiger, you’re going to get something!” And a liger is what you get — minus the magic.

How are your tetherball skills these days?

I was hanging out with some family friends during the summer and was at a birthday party of someone I didn’t know. They had a tetherball pole in their backyard. Some of the kids looked at me and said, “Hey, let’s play tetherball.” I was like, “Why are you asking me and not anyone else? Tetherball sucks!” I mean, it doesn’t suck, but it’s not as fun to play as bocce ball. I was like, “No, forget it. I’m just going to cream you if I play you!”

If Pedro ran for president in 2020, would you vote for him?

I probably would. He’s a good guy. We need someone with a pure heart. It would be great to have someone like that in office — someone who is actually a good person.

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