Rogue One

December 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“About A Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Supremacy”)

Prequel is one of the dirtiest words in the English language to “Star Wars” fans, right up there with midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. The increasingly negative reception to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy that unspooled from 1999 to 2005 has rendered the word toxic, which is why Disney’s marketing of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has expressly avoided using the word at all—even though the movie is very much a direct prequel to the original “Star Wars” movie from 1977, known now as “A New Hope.”

This is the first live-action “Star Wars” theatrical adventure to deviate from the so-called saga of the Skywalker family being chronicled so far in Episodes I through VII (there was an animated “Clone Wars” film in theaters, as well as a pair of Ewok-centric TV movies in the ’80s and the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” from 1978) and represents the opening salvo in Disney’s mission to release a “Star Wars” movie every single year for the rest of all of our lives.

Opening around 15 years BBY (that’s Before the Battle of Yavin—the events of “A New Hope” and the super-geeky way in which the “Star Wars” timeline is sometimes parceled out), “Rogue One” focuses on Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), the reluctant brains behind the weapons tech in the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. He and his family, including daughter Jyn, are in hiding from the Imperial officer heading up the Death Star project, Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn). When Krennic tracks them down, he kills Jyn’s mother and captures her father as she flees, taken in by militant Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of an Imperial prison by the Rebels and given the choice of helping Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droll, reprogrammed Imperial droid 2-KSO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) capture her father back from the Empire to find out how to stop the superweapon. When plans go awry after a test-firing of the Death Star levels a Rebel stronghold, Jyn and Andor must team up with a blind, Force-sensitive monk (Donnie Yen), his heavily-armed sidekick (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans for the Death Star, a monumental event that set in motion the entire franchise nearly 40 years ago.

Burdened with extensive reshoots and the unavoidable fact that we know how it all ends, “Rogue One” represented somewhat of a risk for Disney—albeit a risk that will, worst case scenario, not make quite as much money as “The Force Awakens” did last year and only sell 85% of the toys. Happily, though, the movie ends up killer, with a brutality of war featuring the troops on the ground we’ve never seen in a “Star Wars” film before. The scars of the reshoots show through here and there, though, with Whitaker’s character seemingly suffering the most, relegated to a plot device that goes nowhere—and the same goes for a mystical crystal Jyn wears around her neck. Neither of those, however, are likely to conjure up the negative conversations that one prominently featured CGI character will over his too-many scenes. For the record, I’m not talking about Jar Jar Binks, but a long-dead British actor resurrected to look like a Playstation 4 cutscene character—pretty good, but still off-putting and not quite right. Ultimately, we’re left with a thrilling “Star Wars” movie that dares to be different—for example: no opening crawl, no transitional wipes, and no Jedi—and ends up as a better film than the widely-beloved nostalgia hug that was “The Force Awakens.”

Blood Father

August 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna
Directed by: Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13” [2005])
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton”)

Setting aside for just a moment the strange and harrowing ways in which it happened, it remains something of a distinctly American cinematic tragedy that, beginning in 2006, the world lost anywhere from 4-10 years of potentially prime work from Mel Gibson, as big and exciting a movie star as ever there was. To date, comeback bids have (understandably) skewed dark, alternately recasting the twinkling-eyed, roguish hero of “Maverick” (man, remember “Maverick?!”) as a criminal (“Get the Gringo,” “Machete Kills,” “The Expendables 3”), a depressive alcoholic (“The Beaver”), or a man on a full-tilt, burn-the-world-down revenge-bender (“Edge of Darkness”).

Jean-François Richet’s “Blood Father” — based on co-screenwriter Peter Craig’s eponymous novel (which, in a striking bit of coincidence, was published less than five months before the infamous Malibu DUI arrest that more-or-less started this whole thing) — efficiently combo-wraps all three in the personage of John Link (Mel Gibson), a gruff, buff, bored ex-con and former Hell’s Angel who dutifully attends AA meetings and maintains his parole terms in the meager hopes of living out his remaining years on the outside. This middling goal is put into sudden and significant jeopardy, however, by a single, last-resort phone call from Link’s estranged and oft-drugged-up daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty): Bad, bad dudes are after her for shooting her badder-dude, cartel-drug-runner boyfriend, and she needs a few grand to get lost. Unsure what to believe, he, nonetheless, scoops her up without hesitation — but when said dudes bring the hunt to his doorstep, Link fights back, old habits and reptilian brain function are dusted off, and the chase is on.

The driving premise and structure here aren’t especially new: It’s the same proven sensitive-and-charismatic-’90s-actor-turned-grizzled-vengeance-and-violence-machine formula that these days has “Field of Dreams”‘s Ray Kinsella slamming heads in car doors, say, or Oskar Schindler ramming faces with fire extinguishers. Movies, though, are so very often less about the “what” than the “how,” and it’s the “how” here that works — and works well. Very well, in fact.

I never saw “Edge of Darkness,” or Gibson’s turns in the “Expendables” or “Machete” franchises. The last time I saw the erstwhile Max Rockatansky in a theatrically released film, in fact, was 2011. But “The Beaver,” frankly, didn’t prepare me for “Blood Father,” one of the most unexpectedly kinetic, entertaining, limbically thrilling small action films I’ve seen in a long while. The action is sudden, hard, and impactful, the sort that raises eyebrows, widens eyes, crams your mouth into a tight, silent little “O.” The dialogue is clever, laced with satire, and sharply crafted, but not too much so; in spots, appropriately, it’s lightly reminiscent of Shane Black (which is almost always a good thing, in my book). It’s something akin to getting slammed about in the backseat of a leather-seated, steel-backed muscle car, and Gibson and Richel have a firm grip on the wheel. As Link, Gibson is in fine form: An introductory monologue feels a hair rushed or movie-ish, but thereafter he’s flawless. Regret; warmth; weariness; cockeyed humor; stubborn intensity; that familiar, mercurial spark — these pour forth in equal measure as he flits and swirls from one to the other as organically as ever, as organically as anyone ever has. Indeed, the film is bolstered by able, full performances: William H. Macy as a hoot of an AA sponsor, Michael Parks as a thinning but menacing former colleague. Erin Moriarty acquits herself well as Link’s troubled daughter, and provides an effective energetic and emotional counterpoint to Gibson’s heavy, leathered growl. The film, though, is Gibson’s to carry — and carry it he does.

Am I pushing the point here? Writing emotionally? Maybe. I mean, no: I genuinely think Gibson is excellent as Link; he brings to it what few, if any, could. But there’s something else at play. “Blood Father,” the first Gibson-led piece I’ve seen in a half-decade, both opens and salves a wound I’d long been burying, perhaps somewhat subconsciously: I, as a moviegoer, as an audience member, as a ’90s kid, have missed Mel Gibson. A lot.

In an era in which critics and commenters have lamented that the old-guard Movie Star is dead, it’s significant to be reminded what they look(ed) like. Gibson’s performance is great, but even more refreshing is the experience of being back in a story he’s leading me on, with all the quicksilver confidence, charisma, vulnerability, and impishness I remember so very well and so fondly. And it makes me happy, but sad, as well. As Link (and Gibson) intones, frankly and not-un-self-consciously, hands fidgeting with what appears to be a sobriety coin, during that opening AA monologue: “I did a lot of damage. Lost a lot of people along the way. … But you can’t be a prick all your life and then just say, ‘Never mind.’ You know. I can’t fix everything I broke. All I can do is not drink. So I won’t do that today.”

There’s a seeming mea culpa element to almost every role Gibson has played since 2006. By design, surely. He plays broken men, damaged men, “bad” men. In some ways, he always has, but it’s different now. Gone are the romantic leads, the lightheartedness. Gone are the “good guys with a little bit of damage in ’em, just enough to be fun.” “Blood Father,” at least, casts him as the antipode: “Fuck-up with a sliver of hope, looking for redemption.” “What Women Want” and “Bird on a Wire” seem far, far away.

I truly, truly don’t mean to minimize the pain that was caused by the real-world actions of Gibson the man. I truly do not. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m doing so, and if it does, I’m sorry. It’s not at all my intention. Hurt is hurt is hurt; it should not be ignored or diminished. Nor do I mean to attempt to pass judgment in any way on a man I’ve never met. God help any of us who is judged publicly and/or primarily by anything but our best days. And even then. Certainly, like it or not, Gibson is giving it another shot: “The Professor and the Madman” casts him opposite Sean Penn in a long-gestating project based on a book subtitled “A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.” The “Apocalypto” helmer is back in the chair for the intriguing-looking “Hacksaw Ridge,” though the trailer gives him the Affleck treatment, eschewing his name in favor of “From the Academy-Award Winning Director of Braveheart.”

It’s been a long time. There are questions, and the easy answers aren’t easy.

All I know is I’ve missed Mel Gibson, the movie star, and “Blood Father” gave him back to me, for a short while. Thank you.

Diego Luna – The Book of Life

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

With Día de los Muertos right around the corner, actor Diego Luna took some time to talk with me about why after all the trick-or-treating is completed on Halloween, families should spend a couple of hours at their local movie theater watching his new animated film “The Book of Life,” which is inspired by the vibrant Mexican holiday and it’s traditions. In the film, Luna, 34, lends his voice to the character Manolo, a bullfighter and aspiring musician trying to win the heart of his true love Maria while two spirits wager a bet on whether or not he can do it.

During our interview, Luna, who can be seen next year in the new Mel Gibson film “Blood Father” and who is currently directing his next film “Mr. Pig,” talked to me about what it’s like to finally be able to share a movie he’s worked on with his kids and why a day like Día de los Muertos has always been so important to him. We start off, however, by talking about doing something in a film he never thought he’d do: sing a Radiohead song.

What were your initial thoughts when you found out director Jorge Gutíerrez wanted you to cover Radiohead’s song Creep for the film?

(Laughs) I went through many thoughts. First, I thought I was never going to be able to do it. But then there was a part of me that said, “Yeah, you should try it! This is the only chance you’re going to ever get to do it the right way.” I mean, it made complete sense for the film. It was part of what my character needed to say. I was very excited to do it.

Have you ever tried to serenade a girl like that? If so, did it work?

(Laughs) No, I’ve never done that. That’s what is so great about film. You get to do stuff you would never be capable of doing in real life.

Since this is the first animated film of your career, what did your kids think about the movie and hearing your voice coming from this character?

My son is six years old, so he is the right age for The Book of Life. He was really into it. He understands all the themes. It’s great because this is the first time I get to share my work with my kids. Even my four year old [daughter] loved it and watched it from beginning to end. Both of them came with me when I recorded the voice, so they understood the process. This film was perfect to share with them. My daughter now has the doll of Maria and plays with it.

What do you remember about your own Día de los Muertos experiences growing up in México? Was that something you grew up celebrating?

Definitely. My mother died when I was two, so Day of the Dead was a good tool to help me handle the absence of my mother. It helped me talk to people about what “dead” is. I think the beautiful thing about [Day of the Dead] is keeping memories. We can keep people around us by not forgetting about them. That idea is useful when you’re trying to explain to a kid what it means to have to say goodbye to someone.

Two years old is such a young age to lose your mother. I’m sure you didn’t understand or don’t even remember what was happening during that time. When did you realize your mother was actually gone?

It was throughout my life and realizing that other people had a person like that in their life and I didn’t. It was by talking to those who loved her and by being around them that made it feel like she was still around. In a way, I represented the memory of my mother, too. Those people made it clear to me that she was a great woman. They felt a responsibility for me to experience the presence of her. I was only two years old. I was so little. I don’t remember my mom. It’s only through the memories of others that I get to remember her.

As you got older, was there anything specific you would do for her on Día de los Muertos?

We would do an altar and put up flower and all the stuff she liked. Even today I do it and put up pictures of her. I want my kids to have that experience of having a grandmother from my side [of the family]. I want Day of the Dead to remind them that they come from somewhere.

Although Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration, do you think Americans understand what makes this holiday so special to Latinos?

Yeah. Death is a very universal subject. We all understand what it means to lose someone and what it means to not have someone around. I love the idea of Day of the Dead and how that idea can be applied anywhere. It’s about celebrating someone.

Yeah, I think this is one of the only Mexican celebrations that translates over well to the U.S. and keeps the traditions. I mean, holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Deis y Seis de Septiembre usually seem to be just reasons for people to party rather than celebrate what the day actually means, no?

Yes, but not just for the states. I think it happens through the whole world. I think people want to be a part of something big like this. It’s a nice way to embrace other cultures and all our differences. It’s a day that even if you don’t celebrate it the same way others do, you can still connect. It’s interesting today how people can connect to other cultures though films. My kids watch Japanese animated films and love them. That’s not something I got the chance to do when I was little.

I know Día de los Muertos is a tradition for you and your family, but how much of it do you actually believe in? I mean, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the memory of someone, but do you also believe that souls of the departed actually come visit their altars on the day and enjoy the gifts left for them?

I do! I mean, it’s a tradition, but none of us really know what is to come [after death]. We can imagine and fantasize about it, but no one knows. But we cannot forget about those who are not here anymore. We cannot forget about where we come from and who we are. Who we are is definitely defined by those people who were here before. It’s a tradition, but it’s also something very powerful that matters to the people who are here now.

What would you hope people left for you on your own altar so you could enjoy in the afterlife?

Pictures of my kids. I’ve never been happier than when I am around my kids, so I would want to see all their pictures.

Next year you’re going to be staring in a film called “Blood Father” with Mel Gibson. In the past, Mel has fallen out of favor with Hollywood for some of his personal issues. Do you think it’s time he’s given another chance in this industry to prove what he can do? Should people look past the things he’s said and done and stop punishing him for it?

I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t really think about that when I got involved with the film. I was just excited about getting the chance to work with someone I admire. I think he’s done enough to always be celebrated. I think you should be judged by your work. That’s what [actors] do. Everything else is what others bring up. At least for myself, I’d like to be remembered for what I have done professionally. I have to say, I had a great time and experienced something making [“Blood Father”] that I never had the chance to experience. It’s a very amazing film.

What did you learn as a director making “Cesar Chavez” that you’re going to take with you into your next project, “Mr. Pig?”

Well, I think the stories in film are told by the language of the actors. In “Cesar Chavez,” I had the chance to work with fantastic actors. My biggest tool as a director is that I can communicate with actors. I have to make choices as a director. A lot of stuff has to happen before you start shooting. But after that it’s all about the actors. It’s always an experience to get my ideas into the hands of talented people.

The Book of Life

October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Jorge R. Gutierrez (debut)
Written by: Jorge R. Gutierrez (debut) and Douglas Langdale (debut)

The Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is as festive a celebration of death and dying as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Meant to honor and remember the dead, the Halloween-adjacent holiday features intricate, colorful depictions of skulls, a full spectrum of flowers, and sweet breads placed on altars to pay tribute to family members who have passed on. “The Book of Life,” an animated film produced by Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro, spends its second half awash in the style of the holiday, depicting its characters as wood-carved representations of sugar skulls attending lavish parades in the Land of the Remembered. Unfortunately, this is where the plotting becomes most routine, wasting the beautiful visuals on what ultimately amounts to a ho-hum, by-the-book animated film with miscast celebrity voiceovers.

The movie begins as a story within a story told to schoolchildren visiting a museum. It centers on the relationship between three childhood friends in a small Mexican village who are made the subject of a wager between supernatural rulers La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman). Aspiring singer Miguel and his macho soldier-in-the-making best friend Manolo both nurse a crush on Maria, a mischievous girl who is friends to them both. When one of their adventures gets out of hand, Maria’s father sends her away to a convent in Spain to curb her wild ways. As the years pass and the boys grow into men, Miguel (voice of Channing Tatum) has been pressured into bullfighting by his father and Manolo (voice of of Diego Luna) has become the decorated soldier he always dreamed of. On the day Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana) is to return to the village, both men make a play for her heart. When tragedy strikes, though, Miguel makes a grim bargain with Xibalba and must venture through the realms of dead to follow his heart.

While never venturing in to bad movie territory, “The Book of Life” begins to wear thin at the halfway mark. The lack of commitment to an all-Hispanic voice cast really begins to stand out when very white guy Channing Tatum takes over the voice of the adult Miguel, and really gets into groan-worthy territory when Ice Cube turns up as a mythical candle maker who talks exactly like Ice Cube circa 2014, sans curse words. Miguel’s adventure through the colorful Land of the Remembered and the grim Land of the Forgotten take too long to get going and end up feeling rushed. These scenes are filled with leaps of logic and end up being nothing but a retread of a frantic lesser Dreamworks animated piece of filler, which is a shame because the production design is strikingly unique from start to finish. “The Book of Life” doesn’t deserve to be left with the forgotten souls, but don’t bother leaving any pan dulce on the altar for it either.

Diego Luna – César Chávez

March 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although it had taken the family of César Chávez a few long years to release the late civil rights leader’s story to a filmmaker they felt could capture it correctly, it didn’t take much time for Diego Luna to convince them that he was the right man for the job.

“I was honest,” Luna told the me at a special screening of his new film “César Chávez” in San Antonio on March 12 at the Santikos Palladium Theater. “Instead of me coming in and telling them what film needed to be done, I came in asking questions. I think [they said yes] because I made [the family] part of the whole process until it was time to say, ‘OK, let’s go make this film!’”

I sat down with Luna, who had just screened the film for the first time in North America at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival a couple days prior, to talk about what he hopes “César Chávez” conveys to audiences and why so many people already love his film even before they’ve had a chance to see it.

What resonated with you about César Chávez’s story that led you to making a film about his life?

I was very interested in doing this film because it sends the right message to young people in this country today that don’t know who César Chávez was and who don’t know what [the United Farm Workers union] accomplished back then. I don’t think we as a community have been so well organized since then. This film reminds us of the power of being united. We have strength if we raise our voices at the same time. The Latino community has to make sure they find those things that connect us. Change is in our hands. I believe film has the power to trigger curiosity and raise awareness about topics that matter. Today, farmworkers in this country need our support. This is a country that keeps forgetting about them. There is still a big chunk of that community fighting for basic human rights and for dignity and for recognition.

Do you want this film to be a sort of teaching tool for a younger generation that really isn’t connected to this narrative?

You know, my feeling is that young people can’t afford to forget the legacy of César Chávez and the achievement of this movement. I am one of those people learning the story now. I want to share that. I have no agenda behind this film. I started from zero. That’s why this has taken four years of my life. The process was tough. I made a film that lasted four hours and I had to make a 1 hour and 40 minute film out of that. Making the choices of what not to tell was painful. It’s impossible to make a one hour and 40 minute film…on the life of someone and the complexity behind the movement, but if we trigger the curiosity in people to go out after the film and find out more about who these people were, what they achieved, how they achieved it and how that can be applied today, then we did good.

The editing process seems like it would be the most daunting part of making this film. There is just so much information out there on Chávez, but you can’t include it all. How did you make those difficult decisions on what to cut out?

I always had to remind myself that this story had to work in places like Germany and Japan. Storytelling is about reaching everyone. This was a story about a father and a son and the sacrifice a father has to make to bring something better for his children. That’s the part that connects with me. I think that makes the film universal. Before all the specific details history tells you, when you sit down in a cinema, you want to connect emotionally with the characters. That to me was the main goal. There are many characters I don’t get to celebrate in the film. There are many names and events I don’t get to say or had to compress.

Someone could probably make an entire film on Dolores Huerta alone.

There should be a film about Dolores! For example, César Chávez wasn’t driving on a highway when he found out Robert Kennedy died, but for the story, I had to put him alone and put him in that moment so he could acknowledge that his great friend and ally was gone. If I would have told that story in a documentary, it would’ve happened in many stages. I would have had to compress it. I had to take many licenses like that. That’s why when you do a narrative film like [“César Chávez”], you have to mention who directed it because it’s from the point of view of that person.

And you have to have someone to blame if it doesn’t work.

Yeah, that’s why I’ve lost so much hair during this process! I’ve aged like 10 years in the last two! This is as personal as a film can get.

Personal for a lot of people, I think, not just you and the family. I mean, there are thousands of Chávez supporters out there making sure that his name is not forgotten. They’ve been waiting for this film for a long time.

This film matters to so many people already. People are already celebrating the existence of the film. Now, they are going to get to watch it. I find support everywhere I go. I find people saying, “I’m glad you’re drawing attention to the issues that matter to us.” A lot of them have a connection to the movement and a connection to farmworkers. I hope the film reminds everyone in this country that we all have a connection to farmworkers. They feed us. We should be connected to those that are feeding us. The food doesn’t magically appear in stores. For those vegetables to get in the stores, there is the work of many. We need to make sure we recognize their work and are affected by their stories.

You’ve worked with some great directors in the past. A few weeks ago, we saw your “Yu tu mamá tambien” director Alfonso Cuarón become the first Latino filmmaker in the history of cinema to win an Oscar. You’ve also worked with Gus Van Sant (“Milk”), Steven Spielberg (“The Terminal”), and Kevin Costner (“Open Range”), just to name a few. As a director, what do you take from those experiences? Do you borrow anything from them to create your own style or do you start from a clean slate?

It’s easier to find what director you don’t want to become. I’ve worked with many who have showed me what not to do. I’ve [taken] things from everyone. I always blame Alfonso Cuarón a lot for [leading me to directing] because he came in during a very important time in my life. He changed the perception I had for how far film could take me. I was more of a theater person because I come from a country that had very limited options for filmmaking. Film did not connect to people [in Mexico]. In the 40s and 50s we had a huge industry, but during the time I was around in the 90s, film was a little niche. Suddenly, with “Y tu mamá tambien,” I saw how far film could take me and how far I could go telling my own stories. For [“César Chávez”], I thought so much about Gus Van Sant. [“Milk”] and [“César Chávez”] talk about the same period of time. Both have the same vibe of social change and how personal stories can change your perception about the reality you live in. You think everything is going well, but then you talk to someone and that might change the way you see things. That’s the power of film. When “Milk” came out [in 2008], there was Proposition 8. I remember actual demonstrations happening outside premieres of the film. That’s the kind of connection film can have with the world you live in. It’s an amazing feeling.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Rudo y Cursi

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Jessica Mas
Directed by: Carlos Cuarón (debut)
Written by: Carlos Cuarón (“Y tu mama tambien”)

Reuniting for the first time since their sexually-expressive outing in 2001’s “Y tu mama tambien,” Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna play two soccer-playing brothers experiencing fits of sibling rivalry in “Rudo y Cursi.”

When Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are accidentally discovered by a professional soccer recruiter in their small Mexican village, the brothers begin to butt heads when they find out there is only room for one of them to join the pro ranks. Through some suspicious luck, Tato ends up moving to Mexico City to make a name for himself as a soccer player although his passion for singing is his real priority.

Beto, who needs to earn money so he can pay off a gambling debt with some dangerous bookies, earns his chance soon enough to play for another team in Mexico City, and the brothers find themselves on opposite teams for the first time in their lives. Despite the sporadic soccer moments, “Rudo y Cursi” is more about the relationship between brothers who are slowly growing apart and the changes each of them are going through as they become popular among fans.

In his feature directorial debut, Cuarón tackles some multi-layered topics and gives his dim-witted but generally likable characters enough subtle comedic material to play off one another well. Bernal and Luna’s chemistry, while not as essential as it was in “Y tu mama,” is lighthearted enough to overlook some of the film’s more formulaic scenes like the inevitable penalty kick between the brothers you could have predicted during the opening credits.

Carlos Cuarón – Rudo y Cursi

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Five years passed after screenwriter Carlos Cuarón was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2001 film “Y tu mama tambien” before he began writing his next feature script. The rough idea he had for his movie was about “a soccer player from a humble background.” When he shared some of his thoughts with actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, he didn’t expect their response: they both wanted the part.
Instead of making a choice between the actors, Carlos, who is the younger brother of Y tu mama tambien director Alfonso Cuarón, decided to rework his story and write it about two brothers. The film, “Rudo y Cursi,” tells the story of Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Diego), siblings who are recruited onto rival professional soccer teams.

During an interview with me, Cuarón, 42, who along with penning “Rudo y Cursi” makes his directorial feature debut, talked about his personal passion for soccer and whether or not he used his own relationship with his brother to create his main characters.

Did you use your relationship with Alfonso in any part of the script?

The only thing that is sort of the same between Rudo and Cursi and Alfonso and me is that we are all sometimes a bunch of dumbasses. The story is more about my observation of other sibling relationships.

Was there ever any sibling rivalry between you and Alfonso since you both work in the same industry?

I guess there was some sibling rivalry, but the way we work together is more of a partnership. I would write scripts with him of projects that I liked and I would say no to the ones I didn’t like. I didn’t think it was necessary to have to show off my relationship with my brother in this film.

Because of the success of “Y tu mama tambien” back in 2001 do you find it easier or more challenging to write today? Is there more or less pressure?

Well, this script was really difficult for me. It really took a lot of time. I wrote and rewrote for two whole years before I felt it was ready to shoot. This project is different from “Y tu mama tambien” because I was finding the story and the characters as I was writing. In other projects, I know more about the story and the characters before I start writing.

Were you already familiar with the world of soccer before you started to write?

I am a soccer freak. I love soccer, so I knew a lot. But I also did research. I have a few friends that used to play soccer professionally. I would go have lunch with them and talk. I would talk to players and referees. I also went to some soccer training and went to games and to dressing rooms during halftime to see how everything operated.

Did you ever worry about choosing to highlight soccer in this film? I mean, the sport isn’t very popular in the U.S.

Yeah, I was very worried about this, but not only in the states. The truth is all soccer movies that have come out have all flopped. They have been box-office disasters historically. I was worried about that but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t making a sporting movie or a soccer movie. I wanted to make a movie about brotherhood. That is the reason why we don’t see much soccer. Much of it is off camera. There is a reason I didn’t show much of the game. At the end of the day the only thing I really wanted to dramatize on the field was the only thing you can really dramatize in soccer, which is the penalty kick. It’s like a duel; two men facing each other and in front of them is destiny or death.

Is there anything else in the sports world you would say is the equivalent to the drama of the penalty kick?

I think it’s exciting when a pitcher is pitching to a batter with two outs, two strikes, and three balls with the game tied and the bases loaded. I think every sport has their own “penalty kick.”

But not every sport has the type of fans that come out to soccer games. We see a bit of that in the film where a fan can be your best friend if you’re playing well and wants to kill you if you are not. Does it ever surprise you how intense and sometimes dangerous these fans can become?

Yeah, I’m really surprised every time something like that happens especially in Mexico. In Mexico soccer is still a family sport so you go to the stadium with your family. Families can’t go to the games anymore in Brazil or Argentina or other parts of South America because the fans are really violent. I don’t understand it. I think people should understand that soccer is just a game.

Have you ever experienced what Gael’s character Tato is going through in the film where he is passionate about something, but just really isn’t good at it despite his sincere efforts?

Well, I hope not with directing. (Laughs). I have a passion for soccer, but I’m an average player. I know I’m never going to play professionally. I knew that all my life. I never even thought of it when I was a kid.

Do you think someone can truly be happy doing something they’re good at but don’t necessarily like?

No, I don’t think so. I do what I like to do. I understand Tato in that sense. He’s good at soccer but he wants to sing even though he’s a lousy singer. I think you have to be very intelligent and go with your passion but at the same time have enough self-criticism to see your talent is in another place.

Why did you choose Cheap Trick’s song “I Want You to Want Me” to be the film’s theme song and why did you decide to translate it into Spanish?

One day I was driving my kid to school and I was listening to this CD and suddenly the song started to play. I started to sing along with it, but I sang it in Spanish. It’s very stupid and I felt stupid but I discovered that was the song the character needed. Someone that sings, “I want you to want me,” needs attention and has a problem. I knew for the music video I wanted it to be something between a homage and a spoof of the Norteño videos we have in Mexico. To me it was a very basic concept. I hired a choreographer. We shot it against a green screen. People kept asking me what I was going to do with the green screen. I told them I wanted it for kitschy backgrounds.

You touch on the idea of celebrity in the film when Tato becomes famous and starts doing things he wouldn’t normally do. Are there any differences between the idea of celebrity in Mexico and the U.S.?

I think it’s the same, not only in Mexico and the U.S. but worldwide. You are a reporter and I am a filmmaker so if we meet a star it’s normal to us. But normal people get star-struck. I’ve experienced that with Diego and Gael everywhere both in Mexico, the states, in Spain, in South America. I’ve also experienced it with other actors in L.A. like Clive Owen.

What did it mean to you to get your brother and directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”) and Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) to step in as producers for your first feature film?

To me it was a privilege to have them produce my movie. What was great is they produced this movie the way they would want to be produce. They gave me complete creative freedom and weren’t demanding. They very rarely went to the set. Alejandro went one day. Guillermo never went because he was shooting “Hellboy 2.” Our communication was mostly through internet and phone calls. These guys are three of the best filmmakers in the world so all of their feedback was always appreciated.