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.

Ep. 21 – Fury, The Book Of Life, Men, Women and Children, Star Trek Live, and the big movie plans by both Marvel and DC

October 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net discuss the Star Trek Into Darkness live symphony concert (performed by the San Antonio Symphony) that they attended. They also review “Fury,” “The Book of Life,” and “Men, Women and Children” and talk about the new Marvel and DC franchise news.

[0:00-17:42] Intro and Star Trek Into Darkness live symphony discussion
[17:42-30:58] Marvel’s Captain America 3/Civil War news
[30:58-48:35] DC drops some release dates, directors, and stars for all of their upcoming films.
[48:35-1:00:43] Fury
[1:00:43-1:15:44] The Book Of Life
[1:15:44-1:51:01] Men, Women and Children
[1:51:01-1:54:24] Teases for next week and close

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To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

Jorge Gutierrez & Kate del Castillo – The Book of Life

October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In “The Book of Life,” director Jorge Gutierrez takes moviegoers on a journey to worlds never before captured in an animated feature film. Inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, the film tells the story of two childhood friends, Manolo and Joaquin, both attempting to win the heart of the same young woman. Taking an interest in the love triangle are two spirits, La Muerte and Xibalba, who make a wager with each other as to which young man will ultimately win her affection.

During an interview with Gutierrez and actress Kate del Castillo, who lends her voice to La Muerte, we talked about how important Dia de los Muertos was to each of them growing up in Mexico, and how fate brought them together for “The Book of Life.”

Jorge, the last time I interviewed you was back in 2007 when you debuted your animated series “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera” on Nickelodeon. In my opinion, the cartoon was extremely underrated. Why did it only last one season?

Jorge Gutierrez: Honestly, the U.S. was not ready for those flavors. I’m hoping, seven years later, the palate has evolved and now people are ready for something spicy and tasty like “The Book of Life.”

During that interview, you told me you created “El Tigre” because growing up you never saw Latino characters in cartoons that you could identify with. You told me a story about when you were a kid you watched “He-Man” and thought Skeletor was a superhero for Dia de los Muertos. Has the idea for “The Book of Life” been inside you for that long?

JG: Yeah, even before “El Tigre.” I had the idea when I graduated from CalArts back in 2000. When I graduated people told me, “You’re just a kid out of school. Nobody wants to see that subject matter.” That’s what they told me about “El Tigre,” too, by the way. I’m probably the most stubborn Mexican out there. Just like with “El Tigre,” I didn’t give up on this film. Growing up, I didn’t see [Latinos] in television cartoons, but I also didn’t see them in animated feature films. That’s why we made “The Book of Life.”

“El Tigre” was such a passion project for you. You must’ve been really disappointed that it only lasted one season.

JG: It absolutely broke my heart. But, with that said, I was still thankful for the opportunity. Because of “El Tigre,” [filmmaker/ “The Book of Life” producer] Guillermo del Toro found out about me and fell in love with my work. We wouldn’t be making this movie without “El Tigre.”

Kate, growing up, did you identify with any cartoons or TV characters as a Latina?

Kate del Castillo: I only wanted to be Wonder Woman. We didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford a costume, so my mom made costumes for my sister and me. We would go to the rooftop and play and pretend we were Wonder Woman. I think every woman is a Wonder Woman. We all have that in us. We just have to find it.

Since both of you are originally from Mexico, talk about how important a celebration like Dia de los Muertos is for you.

JG: For me, Dia de los Muertos has been a very important tradition growing up. Even though it’s very Mexican, I believe the concept is very universal. As long as we remember those who are no longer with us and tell their stories, sing their songs, cook their favorite dishes, and tell their favorite jokes, they’re here with us. If we don’t say their names and don’t talk about them, then they’re really gone. I think the iconography of the holiday is beautiful, but I believe the message underneath is more beautiful.

KDC: We had a lot of beautiful traditions in Mexico. One of my favorites was going to the cemetery and celebrating all the people who are in a better world than we are. We need to feel good for them. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of color, love and life.

I really enjoyed how you included 2D animation into this 3D movie. It was definitely a smart way to get the look of “El Tigre” into the film.

JG: And it was the only way I got to animate! I animated a lot of those sequences. For the fans of “El Tigre,” that’s how we snuck in a bunch of “El Tigre” cameos.

Even though there are sequences in both 2D and 3D, the style of the entire movie is seamless.

JG: I’m a lover of animation, so I put references to not only how Sandra (his wife and animator) and I draw, but also to the history of animation. So, I make references to stop-motion and rubber hose [animation] and Japanese animation and basically all the things we love and adore. I figured, this is my first movie, but at the same time, this might be my last movie. So, I put everything in it!

Kate, you’ve worked on animated films before. Have you seen anything like “The Book of Life?”

KDC: I worked on “Cars,” but only the Spanish version. “The Book of Life” went beyond my expectations. I knew it was going to be amazing, but I was chilled to the bone when I saw it for the first time yesterday. I was touched on every single level. I laughed like crazy. I felt so much pride being Mexican. This is a dream come true to be picked to voice this iconic character.

Jorge, what did you see in Kate that made you want to cast her as La Muerte?

JG: When we were designing the character, I kept telling my wife, “You know, Kate del Castillo would be fantastic as La Muerte.” She is not only known as a great actress, but a really strong role model for Mexican women. When I told Guillermo about it, he had just met with her and said, “You have to cast her!” When I pitched her the movie, she showed me a picture of herself from the previous Halloween and she was painted like a skeleton, like a Catrina. Within the first five minutes of me telling her about the movie, she said, “I’ll do it!”

KDC: I was mesmerized by the story! I’m very lucky.

Did the look of the film change in any major way from pre-production to the actual creative process?

JG: You know, every department has a say in the animation. Someone will say, “That’s too hard to animate. Let change this or that to make it easier.” By the end of it, sometimes an animated movie can get watered down. But because I was the director and the main designer, I basically said, “We’re not watering anything down.” You’re all going to hate me at the beginning, but in the end, when the movie is done, it’ll look like nothing anyone has ever seen.

The more papel picado the better, right?

JG: The more papel picado, the more skulls, the more skeletons! I thought, “Somewhere down the line, someone is going to tell me I have to take half the skulls out of the movie.” So I put a billion skulls in there. So when I have to take them out, there will still be 500 million skulls. But that day never came, so we got to show everything.

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.