Straight Outta Compton – Movie Review

I knew Straight Outta Compton would be entertaining and compromised by having people be featured in and connected to the funding of the film, like Executive Producer Dr. Dre.

Despite the fact that O’Shea Jackson (a.k.a Ice Cube’s son) was unsurprisingly a very close match to the role he portrayed, it took me about ten minutes to accept that the faces on screen were the icons that most of us are so familiar with.  I eventually gave in and embraced the facts as they were being presented: a chronological and somewhat disorienting series of events involving multiple interconnecting storylines.

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 the images that I hope you don’t mind me using.

Why I love “Her” – Movie Review

2014 was another year of expected Oscar winners and if not surprised I was indeed thrilled to see Spike Jonze’s Her  get a statue for best original screenplay.

If you don’t agree, 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 more exciting argument than the one from audiences that limit their imagination with Scarlett’s physical appearance. Don’t we give named actors an opportunity to be someone different every time we see them in a film? Then why should hearing Her be any different? The role of Samantha is hard to conceptualize and it was probably also difficult to develop, hard to pitch and a tough casting call. But to me this is precisely what makes it so interesting.  We get to experience how an OS goes from playing a Personal Assistant to becoming the voice of God. Isn’t that amazing?!

For me, the cinematography of this film was stunning, captivating, crisp and engaging. It was obvious that every frame was thoughtfully orchestrated to achieve cohesiveness between other visual elements of the movie such as the art direction and the costume design. I loved the color scheme, the simple lines, the nostalgia of the retro designs. To me, all these aspects worked in perfect balance and calling it “hipster” doesn’t make it not true.

I walked out of the theater feeling happy, I don’t remember the last time I experienced such contentment from watching a film. I was glad that a film like Her was made. I was thankful that Spike dared to tell a story that was thoughtful and poetic and had something important to say. A concept that the film itself was passionate about.

We all have our own opinions about love and connection, two strong themes that keep us going back to the movies. This film gifted audiences with the opportunity to explore whatever they believe could happen in the future. Maybe the world will be lonely, hopeful, confused, or totally desperate. Or perhaps it won’t be. Maybe finding joy doesn’t have to be attached to a preconceived awareness that solely relies on human connection. I applaude this story for not judging itself but rather exploring possibilities with simplicity and grace.

And because of that, I can only give Her 5 out of 5 stars.

Blue is the Warmest Color – A warm review

I watched Blue is the Warmest Color with my brother and selling the invite required no convincing: “I found a french film about two lesbians, wanna go?”, “yeap”. 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.

“Marley” – Movie Review

You don’t have to be stoned to watch the most recent documentary about Bob Marley titled Marley. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you don’t have to be stoned to watch Marley. Really. I’ve seen it twice, the last time sober and accompanied by two friends: one friend who works in media and my roommate who works in tech. Like me, both of them really enjoyed the movie and the three of us were the perfect target demographic sampling audience:

  • A Bob Marley & The Wailers fan (aka. me).
  • Someone who enjoys watching anything related to music (aka. my friend).
  • A person willing to watch anything that’s educational (aka. my roommate).

The movie is beautifully shot and the kind of access that director Kevin MacDonald has is trully terrific. There are never before seen home videos, wonderful jamaican archival footage, private family photographs and multiple anecdotes from key players who were directly connected to Bob Marley throughout his life. Ziggy Marley (Bob Marley’s son and musician) and Chris Blackwell (former producer for Bob Marley & The Wailers) are Executive Producers for the film and even though that is usually not a good sign for a story that’s impartially told, in this case, thanks to their involvement the story feels intimate, three dimensional and complex. One of the reasons why their Executive Producer credits don’t bother me is because there are many ways of confirming the information that they disclose in their interviews. The documentary certainly presents Bob Marley under a flattering light, but many of the facts can be easily confirmed online which makes it difficult to argue that they happened in the way the documentary tells it. When you follow the life of a boy that grew up in poverty in Jamaica and becomes a man that achieves timeless international fame by singing songs about love and freedom, one has to try really hard to dislike the guy. Not every musician out there will (has or would) sing in the middle of a tear gas bomb attack. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it’s kind of unbelievable. Just sayin’.

The beginning of the movie is slow, possibly intentionally. It seems as if the filmmakers take time to introduce the story and they don’t assume that the audience knows anything about Bob Marley, The Wailers or the origins of their music. I can respect slow exposition if there is a steady build up and a meaningful pay off and I believe this film has all those elements. Like my friends, I think there could have been more context, especially in terms of Jamaican politics and the Rastafarian philosophy. At the same time, it is mentioned that Bob did not care about politic, and even though his songs were politically charged, political party association was never part of his agenda. To me, that’s a good enough reason to let go of my curiosity about Jamaica’s political climate. Ultimately, that is not what this film is about.

I strongly recommend you check out Marley not only because you can watch it for “free” on Netflix, but mostly because I would hope that this story will remind you of just how strong will-power can be. Perhaps this film will urge you to think about what you believe in and highlight some of your values, your morals, your love. I don’t use this word lightly, but yet, I would call Marley an inspirational film and in contrast to what other local critics are saying, I don’t think this is a movie for fans only.

For that, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

It’s awards season boys and girls!

I looove the red carpet, I love it. I love picking the best and worst dressed, the speeches, the fuck ups, the emotional rants. This year I went to see the Golden Globes at Producer Heather Haggarty‘s house. The cocktails were fabulous, the pork was a little fatty, and at the end of the night I left Heather’s house with a promise to get up to speed before the Academy Awards. So far I’ve seen most of the films nominated for best picture with the exception of Lincoln and Beasts of the Southern Wild. All the rest:  Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour and Argo I have seen and I am very underwhelmed.

Where are the memorable moments of supposedly the “best films of 2012”? So far, the nominees for best documentary film have been far more stimulating and thought provoking with Searching for Sugar Man and The Invisible War (go ITVS!). Does anyone know why documentaries can’t be nominated for best picture? Really, I would like to know.

I believe in the power of good performances and am sad to admit that… none have swept me off my feet this year. There are some very strong moments:
– Anne Hathaway’s solo song in Les Miserables was great yet I really hope I don’t have to listen to another one of her overly rehearsed speeches.
–  I loved Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and I wonder if a romantic comedy could award him the golden statue.
– Samuel Jackson was brilliant in Django which was probably the one aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed.
– Jessica Chastain was good in Zero Dark Thirty but to me, rather than her performance, it was the symbolism of her final close-up with the white straps and the red background, what made the moment memorable.

I have not seen Lincoln yet (Sue McNamara: I’m still rooting for you!) so I have not lost faith. If I had to pick a favorite  right now my vote would go to Argo for one simple reason: Ben Affleck just seems like a reeeeally nice guy. Yes, awards should be about more than that. They should all be about celebrating the best films, the best crews, the best performances; they should not be about grand screening parties or profitable distribution deals. But we have to remember that Hollywood is a business and the Oscars, its biggest political campaign.  Ladies and gentlemen, come February 24th I hope you enjoy the show.

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 list of top most depressing movies ever made, accompanied by Lilja 4-Ever (also an immigration film) La Vita è Bella (loose related to immigration), Schindler’s List and Dancer In The Dark (the ultimate sad movie). So, I would like to start this review 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 and 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, who 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 brother and sister who run away from the Guatemalan Civil War in the early eighties to come to the US. During the first act, I think the film does a good job at painting an accurate picture of what rural Guatemala could have been like during this time. The director, Gregory Nava, does a great job at amplifying the differences between continents and during the second act, he even allows for a sporadic laugh when multi-cultural interactions 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 you feel directly connected to the scenario 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 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.

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Film Review

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time when I was a sophomore in college. My roommate at the time, Katarina, introduced me to the book and since it was one of the first novels that I read (in English) purely out of pleasure, it made quite an impression on me. I re-read it a couple of times, I even fantasized with a group of friends about acquiring the rights from MTV. Nothing came out of that, but, last night with much anticipation and some regret for moving right before Summit Entertainment started scouting in Pittsburgh, I went to see the film.

If I wouldn’t have known that Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay and directed the movie himself, I would have walked out of the theater feeling a little cheated; as if I was really loving my ice cream but half way through I found out I was having frozen yogurt instead. This book is incredibly visual and it invited me to paint a distinct picture of the main character, Charlie, which was nothing like Logan Lerman’s interpretation of him. Fortunately,  it worked. The mood was spot on and obviously there is no question that everything you see on the screen is an accurate reflection of the story printed on the page.

The movie is showing now in theaters so I don’t want to spoil it. What I can tell you is that if you decide to watch it you will be delighted with a subtle film that is classically made and a complex story that is delicately told. There is nothing extravagant about it, it didn’t scream 80’s or tried to rely on anything other than a really good story; it was tasteful. Of course, the mood was enhanced by  a beautiful score and a fantastic soundtrack, but, ultimately the story is as relevant today as it was in 1999 when the book was published and it will continue to be relevant tomorrow. For me this is always a huge challenge for any artist and Stephen Chbosky nailed it, again.

There are moments in our life that mark us in permanent ways. It’s like my friend Clare said: we bury memories and one day something hits a nerve and makes us think “wow, that feeling is still there and I’m actually still really fucked up about it”. For some of us those moments live deep inside, guarded by fears, insecurities and maybe even a hint of possessiveness. For Charlie, those feelings are released when he feels infinite coming out of the Liberty Tunnels. Whatever they are for you, I believe this film will bring back emotions and hopefully allow you to appreciate them for everything that they are; full of pain, full of joy and full of life.

Two thumbs up for this film and for the entire crew. To me, it gets five (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