Straight Outta Compton – Movie Review

I knew Straight Outta Compton would be entertaining yet compromised by the fact that it featured some of the people connected to the funding of the film, like Executive Producer Dr. Dre.

O’Shea Jackson (a.k.a Ice Cube’s son) was unsurprisingly a very close match to the role he portrayed, but it still took me ten minutes to accept that his face and the other faces on the screen, were meant to be the icons that most of us are so familiar with.

The film was engaging except for perhaps a scene or two that were painfully cheesy due to heavy music cues and overly convenient blocking to set up the perfect brotherhood shot. That being said, there were subtleties to the performances in many of the emotional scenes and there was great power in the accurate recreation of huge moments of rap history. High production value made all the party scenes bootylicious and masterful editing allowed audiences to feel connected to millions of fans taken by the beat. 3026953-inline-i-2-how-spirit-award-nominee-keith-stanfield-dug-deep-for-his-big-short-term-12-breakdown-scene

When Lakeith Stanfield came onscreen it was clear that Snoop was in da house. The guy sitting in front of me raised his hands in the air saying: “Ain’t nothin’ but a G thang, baaaaabay!” and everyone laughed because we were all silently singing along too.

Sex, drugs and music will always sell and Straight Outta Compton is no exception. If looked at it as just another biopic, I would not be particularly inspired to write about it. What made this movie special are a couple of choices that I respect: The intentional inclusion of police brutality actions against African American communities, and the mention of how the gagster lifestyle is sensationalized not only by media but by the people. Even if the screen time dedicated to social commentary contributed towards a 2.5 hour long film that should have been 2 hours, I still support the effort to expose these issues. 960x410_0b2a51d27eb306730620fcea4ab26438 I hope that thousands of multicolored fans will walk out of the theater thinking that at the core of it, this could be a story about persistence, talent and hard work. I personally walked out believing that also I had something unique to say. I got inside my friend’s prius, speeding through the streets of Oakland on our way to the nearest Whole Foods, salads for dinner perhaps being the single least gangster thing anyone could ever do, but screw it. The whole time I was thinking: dare a police officer pull us over for no reason! If they did, I  would raise my middle finger and stand up for the minorities that I represent because “Fuck Tha Police” is about more than catchy lyrics, it’s about the voices of a generation that got tired of not being heard.

For that, I must give Straight Outta Compton 4 out of 5 starts.

PS: Thank you watchcloud, RollingStone and the odeon for letting me feature these images.

Why I love Her – Movie Review

2014 was another year of expected Oscar winners but I was thrilled to see Spike Jonze’s Her  at least get a statue for best original screenplay.

If you didn’t like the film that’s fine but I hope that your opinion is based on more than disapproval over Scarlett Johansson’s role as Samantha. I would love to hear a better argument than the one from audiences that ruin their own viewing experience with Scarlett’s physical appearance… specially since we don’t even see her in the film. Don’t named actors deserve an opportunity to be someone different in every film? The role of Samantha is hard to conceptualize and it was probably also difficult to develop, pitch and a tough casting call. To me this is precisely what makes it so interesting.  We get to see how something goes from being an OS to becoming… God?

The cinematography is stunning. Every frame is captivating, crisp and carefully arranged. It was obvious that everything was thoughtfully orchestrated to achieve cohesiveness between all elements like the art direction, sound design, editing and the costume design. I loved the color scheme, the simple lines, the nostalgia of the retro designs. All of it worked in perfect balance and calling it “hipster” doesn’t take away from its artistry.

I walked out of the theater feeling happy. I don’t remember the last time I experienced this kind of contentment after watching a film. The story is not emotional in the same way as other love stories are, but it is poignant. I was glad that Her was made. Spike dared tell a story that is cutting-edge, fresh, thoughtful, subtle and poetic. At all times, audiences are delighted not only with warmth and style, but with plenty of silence and stillness to take everything in.

Debates about connection and love is ultimately what keeps us going back to the movies. This film gifted audiences with the opportunity to explore a future in which the world could be lonely and cold (this is how my brother and mother interpreted the movie) but perhaps it could be viewed as a world that’s hopeful and optimistic. I connected with the positive side of the argument. I’d like to think that maybe connectedness doesn’t always have to come from human connection. I applaude this story for not judging itself but rather exploring the possibilities of a world that is complex and ultimately ran by an elevated understanding of oneness.

To me, Her decidedly gets 5 out of 5 stars.

A warm review for Blue is the Warmest Color – Movie Review

I watched Blue is the Warmest Color with my brother. Selling him on watching the movie required no convincing: “I found a french film about two lesbians, wanna go?”, “Yep”. And that was that. But not only because of the lesbians, at least 35% of the excitement was due to his love for french cinema, a love that has also rubbed off on me.

Many of us are familiar with the pacing of french films. We know that they are slower than most American movies and we feel a hint of cinema verité that bleeds into many aspects of the production: script, performances, editing, et cetera. Yet another great quality of french films is the unexpected plot twists and unconventional structure of the storyline. A french film can take us on a journey that doesn’t give us clear clues (or any clues at all) for what’s going to happen next. It’s a different viewing experience than watching American movies because most of us who are used to watching mainstream films, like to try and guess what’s going to happen next. Even more, we like to be right about our guesses. Every time we say “I knew that was going to happen!” we feel like experts, like cinema connoisseurs. French cinema on the other hand doesn’t encourage audiences to guess, instead, our guesses are ignored with multi-directional plots and quietly unexpected turns. Blue is the Warmest Color does this well and it keeps us engaged with a well crafted story that is intimate, entertaining and satisfying even thought -like always- some might disagree. Oh well, c’est la vie.

Adèle comes to us as a confused high schooler and she walks away as an adult who knows herself better. Actress Adele Exarchopoulos does an exceptional job at adjusting her screen presence with a refined subtlety that allows her character to develop emotional maturity. Her performance gives us no room to wonder what’s going to happen next, because we are genuinely invested in what’s happening at that very moment. It’s an existentialist approach and I might be reading too much into it, but if anybody knows existentialism, it’s the French. Just sayin’.

Adèle falls in love with Emma as we fall in love with Léa Seydoux‘s immaculate performance. She is smart, smooth, strong and so interesting looking with her cool blue hair. Throughout the film blue is the color of beauty, the color of safety, the color of calmness. Emma’s hair, Adele’s English classroom, the nail polish of her first kiss, all blue. All bliss.

This is a film about relationships. Most obviously, the love relationship between Adèle and Emma but ultimately, Blue is the Warmest Color is a film about Adele’s relationship with herself. Her story resonated with me and it will also resonate with anybody that has fallen in love, anybody that has made a mistake. anybody trying to let go. Go watch it.

I give these three hours of warm blue bliss 5 out of 5 stars.

On the Road- Private screening with Francis Coppola

A little over a week ago I was invited to George Lucas’ stunning Skywalker Ranch for a private screening of On the Road.  The “screening room” was perhaps the best movie theater that I have ever experienced, not because it was ostentatiously decorated, but because of the quality of the sound, the seats and the screen. Arash, my friend and daytime Emmy award-winning producer of Cyberchase, was kind enough to let me tag along under his wife’s name.

There was wine, there was cheese, and there was Francis Ford Coppola – appropriately jolly and bearded for the christmas tree we’d passed in the lobby. At some point Arash actually pointed out that I had eaten a piece of cheese next to my good old friend Francis. Lead actor Garrett Hedlund, supporting actress Kristen Stewart, and director Walter Salles were also there, and as grand and fun as the mingling was, sadly, the film was not the highlight I’d anticipated.

It was shot beautifully and that alone could be enough to keep some audiences engaged, but, the main problem that I had with it was that the story felt very looooooong. Naturally, I want to blame Kristen Stewart. Because even though she was generous enough to share her breasts with the audience, listening to her think during the Q & A was, much like her performance, painful. But while Stewart is an easy to hate princox, the truth is she was only onscreen for a third of the film so she cannot take full responsibility for the snorer.

The movie was underwhelming for a number of reasons and I think Arash nailed it when he said that for him, it didn’t feel like the film was alive, rather we remained at arm’s length, spectators from afar. This is by definition what we do when we watch movies, but, in comparison to the depths we explore with a book like On the Road, it was disappointing to get a flat, romanticized screen-version of 1950′s Americana. So, what happened Walter? The director was charming and thoughtful afterwards, but the film seemed to clearly recycle some of the cinematic tricks from The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie that by contrast, feels engaging, inspirational and innovative. Three words that no doubt fit Kerouac’s classic novel: Engaging (riotously so), inspirational (the manifesto for a generation) and innovative (in all ways cultural and literary). But three words that have no place with the current iteration.

I don’t know what my fellow movie lovers are saying out there, but come December 21st you can all go to your local theater and check the movie out for yourselves. I hope you tell me your thoughts, specially if you think I completely missed it and should refrain from ever writing on this blog again. Let me hear it! My only requirement: be articulate.

Until then, I will give this film, which at an hour and a half felt more like a three hour endeavor, two (out of five) stars.

El Norte – Movie Review… from a U.S. Citizen!

I usually don’t like immigration movies and El Norte is definitely on my top list for one of the most depressing movies ever made. There are many beautifully sad films like Lilja 4-Ever (also an immigration film) La Vita è Bella (loosely related to immigration), Schindler’s List and Dancer In The Dark (the ultimate sad movie). So, I would like to start by saying that if you fancy supremely depressing films because after watching them you are able to appreciate how easy you’ve got it, you need to watch El Norte.

And perhaps you are like me. Maybe you don’t love films that highlight tragedy as a theme, or plot-points that take you from one bad situation to another. If that’s the case, let me surprise you by saying that there is still a chance that you’ll enjoy this film. As a brand new US citizen (muahaha!) I have gone through my fare share of BS in order to be a part of this society. As much as we all enjoy criticizing our own cultures there are some people out there, people like Arturo and Rosa from the film, people like me, that will go great lengths to walk past all those imperfections and take advantage of the opportunities that the north has to offer.

Arturo and Rosa are a brother and sister who run away from the Guatemalan Civil War in the early eighties to come to the US. It feels like the film does a good job at painting an accurate picture of rural Guatemala at this time. The director Gregory Nava does a great job at amplifying the differences between continents. During the second act, he even allows for a sporadic laugh when multi-cultural interactions full of mishaps get ridiculous. Lastly, the third act invites us to engage with some very compelling performances that make this tragic and realistic story resonate with all of us, wether the situation feels close to home or not. El Norte was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984 for Best Original Screenplay and it is also a part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. To me, specially the latter recognition is usually a good enough reason to watch this or any film.

I took my citizenship test a couple of weeks ago, a day that was more than ten years in the making. Ten years that took my time, great commitment, support from my loved ones, money… all of it for that moment. I was in a room waiting to be tested on my worthiness for probably the biggest challenge that I have decided to take onto so far. My interviewee said “you passed, congratulations” and I smiled. I walked out of that government building alone yet feeling empowered because I knew that I didn’t need anybody to congratulate me. I made it. For those of you who know exactly what I mean, watch this film and be thankful.

I give this film four (out of five) stars.

Why The Smoking Fish?

I grew up watching movies. Every weekend my parents, brother and I went to a video store owned by very close family friends. The deal: one free rental for every five VCR tapes. Each family member picked one title and together we decided on a movie that was good for the whole family. Finally, we took turns selecting the free rental. We did this for years, it was simple, joyful, it was our family tradition. My father and I also watched the Oscars every year; we highlighted our favorite films from newspaper clippings and made bets on which ones would win more Academy Awards. Due to the time difference between L.A. and Venezuela (obviously, well before Tivo) I was awake until two in the morning and then up again at six to get ready for school.

I love films that let me experience people and ways of living that are very similar or completely different than mine; when I watch a good movie I can disconnect and let go of my own stress, my own fears, even my own happiness… I step out of my head and connect with somebody else’s. I vaguely remember how I found out about El Pez que Fuma (The Smoking Fish…aha!). I think I asked my dad what his favorite movie was and he drew his answer with a sketch inspired by the poster of the movie…. he told me the story, was not suited for children.

I was in the seventh grade when the Internet came to my parents’ house and I started experimenting with chat rooms, multiple unnecessary email accounts and content that I had never seen before — including snippets of El Pez que Fuma. I absolutely loved it. What I loved about it was that up until then I knew nothing about this world of prostitution, cursing, crime, and city life…  all the good stuff that – thankfully – I had not been exposed to in the up-and-coming industrial town of Puerto Ordaz.

The movie was made in 1977 during the “Golden Age” of Venezuelan cinema… that’s what some people call it anyway. Recently there has been a big effort to invest in Venezuelan productions; for various reasons the government has managed to bring cinema back to the people and there have been many very well made, exciting, Venezuelan films produced over the past 5 years or so.  Now, instead of the national films that were rarely good enough to make it to our North American dominated theaters, most -if not all- theaters have one or two of our own productions showing at a time. That being said, El Pez que Fuma is still my favorite.

I don’t want to spoil the movie because I’m assuming that most of you haven’t seen it (It’s not available on amazon or netflix, but it’s here on youtube). The vintage tone of the art direction, the costume design and the editorial style are perfect for lovers of classic cinema. The performances are really strong; the content is edgy and exciting; and the underlying theme is relevant, still today. I hope you watch it and tell me what you think, it’s definitely worth it.

Is this my favorite film? Frankly, I think it’s silly when people ask me to narrow things down to one single title. It’s like asking me what kind of jacket I like to wear. But, what if I had to pick a favorite film? Would it be El Pez que Fuma? Maybe. But I love them all… I even love complaining about films that I don’t like! which is why I started this blog. I’m combining my passion for movies, for collaborating in projects, for watching and discussing films, and I’m wrapping it all with one fishy blanket, like a burrito, a smoked fish burrito. El Pez que Fuma is a film by Roman Chalbaud and one of my many inspirations. I hope that all of you watch it and hopefully, enjoy it.

Take This Waltz – Film Review

Take This Waltz is a romantic dramedy starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby. I was hesitant to watch it based on the ambiguous name and uncreative poster. But, there was something that called my attention when I saw the trailer, so I decided to rent it through apple tv anyway.

The distributors advertised it with misleading materials for supposedly another easy-to-watch romantic comedy, but, I don’t think that was a good fit for this film. This drama had some consistent kind-of-funny moments but ultimately it didn’t make me  laugh out loud; the content was heavy, the cuts were long and the music was moody. I like moody, but in this case those stylistic choices created room for Margot to come across as too depressed and Daniel to read as a little too cool.

In one of the first scenes Margot is in the kitchen baking and we accompany her from a very intimate, low-angle perspective. The camera work is engaging throughout the film and it is successfully in tune with Margot’s perception of her community and her life. The over-stylized blues and oranges are clever -for about a minute- but they become too much when the set dressing and the heavy handed color correction meet. Sarah Polley decided to make her film stand out but she forgot an important sense of subtlety. In some cases, it came across as the product of an artist who was trying too hard.

A young couple has a seemingly happy marriage; the wife meets someone else and despite some efforts to control the attraction, they fall in love. Nothing new. But what I liked about this film is that it doesn’t romanticize the devastation that comes from a simple change of hearts. One of my favorite scenes is when Margot and her husband Lou are in the kitchen; he is cooking chicken while she is trying to seduce him, he asks her to leave him alone because he is busy. The scene is choreographed beautifully, everything about it is desperate and common. Margot’s approach is awkward and Lou’s response is hilarious. He tells her “I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m just making chicken”, “you are always making chicken” she says. Oh! the joys of subtext.

Michelle Williams allows herself to become Margot; she is a woman yet still a girl, she is insecure, confused, and to be honest, a completely hateable character. I found myself saying “who the hell wants to be this woman?”: nobody. Nobody wants to be Margot, yet, many of us can sympathize. Seth Rogen wasn’t in the film for very long but just like Michelle he allows Lou to be simple; he cooks, he writes, he is silly and he loves his wife. The end. For some, this could be considered poor character development, but, I dig it. I think it takes certain sensibility to appreciate the depth behind minimalist actions; Lou is real. Then there is Daniel, a character that was possibly already bad on the page but could have been improved through a stronger performance; he was flat. Daniel is handsome, a talented artist, an amazing lover… but, I don’t buy him. At the end of the film I was engaged wondering if Margot made the right decision or if Lou still loves her. But with Daniel…. well, I kind of don’t care.

I’m glad I saw this movie in the comfort of my own home, I was able to sink into the couch and connect with “the grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome. I was surprised to see that in Rotten Tomatoes the audience vote was in the underwhelming 60%, yet the critic’s vote was almost up in the 80%. I would’ve predicted that it would be the other way around, specially with the triple full frontal nudity. Oh, well!

To me, this films deserves three and a half stars (out of five).

imdb | rotten tomatoes