TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID – movie review

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Shutter
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Issa López
Screenwriter: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón Lópex, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero, Tenoh Huerta
Screened at: Technicolor Screening Room, NYC, 8/6/19
Opens: August 23, 2019

Image result for TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID MOVIE POSTER

Feel free to call this movie an example of Guillermo del Toro light, considering that del Toro is best known for “Pan’s Labyrinth” (n the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world). Like the master, writer-director Issa López fills her works with magic realism, a technique for characters to conjure dreams as an escape from reality. Perhaps “Tigers are Not Afraid” does not succeed because the actors, however skillful and talented, are ten-year-olds with a limited grasp of the situation but more likely it is because the actions in this Shutter release come across like a work-in-progress. Its plot that does not congeal, landing across the screen as a bunch of actions not full thought out.

 

Since the principal characters are all young orphans whose parents have presumably been rubbed out by drug lords during the war that began in Mexico in 2006, we can accept the ease by which these kids fill their time with fantasies about killers on the loose. The story opens on a classroom. The teacher assigns the writing of fairy tales, stories which for ten-year-old Estrella (Paola Lara) star tigers because tigers are not afraid. She and her classmates have good reason to be afraid when shots are fired down the hall, the children and teacher hitting the floor. However Estrella holds three pieces of chalk in her pocket, each with the power to grant a wish. With the first she succeeds in killing a local mobster, an initiation of sorts into a roving band of street urchins who include El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez).

Issa López, who wrote and directs, projects that for these kids, things that go bump in the night may be seen as by adults as just superstitions, but for these kids they are as real. They include shadows, ghosts, the dead whispering their demands for vengeance. A line of blood follows Estrella as she and her male pals plan on dealing with members of the cartel including El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), whose cell phone with damning evidence of murder has fallen into the hands of the children and which the drug lord seeks—not that the cops are interested in doing anything with the evidence as Estella and company find out.

Though the film is described as horror, at most it could be called supernatural, with visions that are not overdone by López, whose “Efectos secondarios” about four young adults adrift in Mexico City shows her versatility. Good performances aside, “Tigers are Not Afraid” is filled with repetitive and dull commentary by the street kids and lacks the kind of variety that would substantially fill even its brief running time.

83 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

MUSEO – movie review

MUSEO

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Alonso Ruizpalacios
Screenwriters:  Manuel Alcalá, Alonso Ruizpalacios
Cast:  Gael Garcia Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro, Simon Russell Beale, Lisa Owen, Bernardo Velasco, Ilse Salas, Leticia Brédice
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/6/18
Opens: September 14, 2018
Museo (2018)
People obsessed with materialism often find that their booty makes them into virtual slaves.  You want a Beemer or a Mercedes?  Struggle with the payments, and then try to find an honest repair garage which makes you realize the plight faced by Diogenes, looking for an honest person.  You like Brooks Brothers clothes?  You fill up your closets until you have to use your living room as a coat rack.  You have a yen for Aztec treasures?  You may not need much closet space for the masks and other images of the gods, but if you want the real thing, you’ll have to break into a museum, worry about fencing the goods, and set yourself on the run from the police.  The last example brings us to the two strange people in “Museo,” put together by Alonso Ruizpalacios, known principally for TV shorts and docs and whose freshman film “Güeros” finds a mom so exhausted by her son that she sends the boy to live with his older brother.

A similar theme is on display in “Museo” (“Museum”) as Juan ( Gael Garcia Bernal), the son of  doctor Nuñez (Alfredo Castro), is studying to become a veterinarian, but who lives with his parents–who are able to give him all the money he should need.  For reasons that we in the audience have to guess, he aims to steal lots of pre-Hispanic treasures during Christmas Eve when the security staff of Mexico’s famous National Museum of Anthropology are busy partying in a remote section of the building.  Together with his not always trusty friend Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris),aka his Sancho-Panza-like follower, he enters the building quietly and just as silently lifts the casings from a roomful of priceless treasures.  Without car crashes, explosions and super-human distractions, director Ruizpalacios, working from a script he co-wrote with first-timer Manuel Alcalá, has the movie audience breathless.  Will the guards make the rounds and catch these two losers in the act?  Will the thieves become frustrated with the task of removing the goods from their glass cases?  Is there even one alarm system that would tip off the authorities?

By the time we catch our breath, the two are off to Palenque, Chiapas, to fence the materials, but the hoped-for buyer is away in the Caribbean, leaving them to negotiate with Frank Graves (Simon Russell Beale),  a British collector in Acapulco, who reads them the riot act, summarized as “Who would want to buy stolen goods that are so easy to identify as hot?”

As a clue to Juan’s emotional terrain, look no further than his turning off the headlights of his father’s car and speeding down a highway as bereft of lighting as the young man’s own brain.  The story is filled with humor, acted with authenticity by Bernal—who is forty years old as is the director but who comes across as a fellow barely out of adolescence.  For variety, the film hones in on Sherezada Rios (Leticia Brédice), where Juan becomes the victim of a nightclub brawl.  When Juan admits to his stupid act, not the sort of caper indulged by veterinary students anywhere else, he faces a climactic scene with his dad and mom, who become as exhausted by the young man’s exploits as is the father of Tomás in “Güeros.”  The movie won Best Screenplay at the 68th Berlin International Festival.

129 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical –  B
Overall – B

LOVING PABLO – movie review

LOVING PABLO

Universal Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Screenwriter:  Fernando León de Aranoa, based on Virginia Vallejo’s novel “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar”
Cast:  Javier  Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/20/18
Opens: June 15, 2018

The most disappointing thing about “Loving Pablo” is that the Colombians, especially members of the drug cartel, mix their Spanish with a great deal of English.  It’s pretty certain that in real life they would not be speaking our language, so the suspicion is that the filmmakers were afraid that a major potential audience would resist reading anything that doesn’t come from their friends on iPhones.  Otherwise there is much to praise about the project, including an insight for us into the lives of people with vast sums of money and an array of weaponry that makes the standard police revolver about as potent as a cap pistol.

The movie deals with two realities in the life of Pablo Escobar: one is the cartel he ran in Colombia’s Medellin (now a cleaned-up, renovated tourist attraction); the other is his love first for his family, including his wife and two young children despite his broken promises to abandon the glamourous TV journalist Virginia Vallejo—whose novel has been adapted by writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa—he can’t get enough of Vallejo. (An English language edition of the book will be available May 29 of this year.)

Madrid-born director León’s film résumé includes “A Perfect Day” (aid workers resolve a problem in a conflict zone) and “Mondays in the Sun” (former dockworkers, now unemployed, treat every day as though it were Sunday).  He is not the sort of filmmaker interested in small romances.

“Loving Pablo” would be his most glossy film using the epic-style associated with the “Godfather” films given the number of incidents scattered throughout which can satiate action-adventure types of audience members.  At the same time the family drama  involves a major journalist who loses her job because of her connection with Escobar.

The opening party scene is loaded with glitz.  Escobar (Javier Bardem) flies Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz) to his ranch home, making use of her to promote his reputation as a Robin Hood who is interested in feeding and housing the slum kids of the city and the homeless in general. (He will later arm the youths with powerful assault weapons to take out figures of authority as low in status as traffic cops.)  She is smitten with the man, though later he will ask her rhetorically whether he would have had a chance with her if he were an ordinary middle-class citizen.

The hands-down best action scene finds Escobar’s men using a large truck to block traffic on a 3-lane highway in Florida to allow a small plane to land with cocaine.  His men lug huge bags of the powder for shipment which, when cut and processed will be worth some 30 times more than the raw product.  The plane, likely to cost an average person’s lifetime income, is so unimportant to the cartel that it is abandoned on the highway when the powder is trucked away.

When Escobar causes mayhem in Medellín, his slum boys killing anything in a uniform while he, elected to congress, orders a hit on the Minister of Justice after a rousing speech calling for Escobar’s ouster from the House.  By the time DEA agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard) gets as much information as he can from Vallejo, she is desperate and feels in danger of his life.  Crime doesn’t always pay.

Bardem, whose weight was pumped up for the role and who shows off his hanging belly without shame, plays the gangster with a monotone, mumbling much of the time, which could make literate audiences wonder why they could not have seen this picture in Spanish with English subtitles.  Despite his speech, he is charismatic, a slimy goon despite the worth of his estate judged to be $30 billion in the 1990s, which would mean that by today’s standards his wealth would rival that of Bill Gates.  Just the deal he is able to make with the government in return for turning himself in (he doesn’t stay turned in) is the revocation of the extradition treaty that would allow American agents to seize drug criminals on the grounds that the product is sold in the U.S.

Rated R.  125 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B- (for use of English instead of the native Spanish)
Overall – B

EN EL SEPTIMO DIA – movie review

EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA (On the Seventh Day)

Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jim McKay
Screenwriter: Jim McKay
Cast: Fernando Cardona, Gilberto Jimenez Núñez, Abel Perez, Genoel Ramírez, Alfonso VelazquezScreened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/29/18

Poster

On the seventh day God rested, never worrying that a boss would tell him that he has to work on Sunday. Not the case for an ordinary mortal like José, an immigrant from Mexico working as a delivery man for a high-end restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. José is not only the best worker that restaurateur Steve (Gabriel Núñez) has on his staff. He is also captain and best player of a soccer team named for the Mexican town of Puebla. Here’s the movie’s big conflict. The Puebla team has made the semi-finals in soccer. The group will play the finals on a Sunday and without José they are sure to lose. When La Frontera restaurant schedules a birthday party on Sunday funded by a high roller, Steve needs his entire staff present. Days off are canceled. If José chooses to play in the finals, he will be fired. If he chooses work at the restaurant on what should have been his day off, his team will lose. How would you choose?

“En el Séptimo Día is under the direction of Jim McKay using his own script, a filmmaker best known for directing some TV episodes like “The Good Fight,” “Law and Order,” and “Bosch” but whose last full-length feature “Everyday People” about the closing of restaurant resulting in a loss of jobs, shows that he has the common touch. Here McKay has picked up a group of young, energetic, non-professional actors, Mexicans who live together at a place in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. They horse around, they give advice, they tease one another and are an all-around bunch of good guys. José gets conflicting counsel from the people in his circle. The more reasonable ones, knowing that he expects to bring his pregnant wife Elizabeth (Loren Garcia—seen only on Skype) up to Brooklyn to be with him, requiring him to make enough money and get good references to support her and the child she is carrying. To most of us in the movie audience, the choice is clear, particularly since he knows he can get another job in a similar capacity though he insists that he wants to work only at La Frontera.

Yet José refuses to let his team down. How he manages to solve the problem and with the help of Elmer (Gilberto Jimenez) a young man who watches the game behind the fence and roots for the Pueblas, becomes the film’s most engaging and humorous action. Cinematographer Charles Libin knows how to give the working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn a look at a place that the great borough must have appeared decades ago before gentrification, not the kind of location that would prompt many of us in audience to visit where the big attraction is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with its spectacular nighttime view of the city skyline.

Throughout the movie José is riding his bike, pumping away vigorously even in the pouring rain when the wind blows his plastic raincoat into a balloon-like shape. He takes dangerous actions without wearing protective headgear (I say from experience that delivery people in Brooklyn simply don’t go for the prissy protection on their heads). That one of his teammates is sidelined with a knee injury received on the field does not worry him. When needed inside, he busses tables and washes dishes, trying now and then without success to convince manager Steve to give him the day off. Some of these young people may be undocumented but in New York City we fight to keep I.C.E. out of our territory. In the lead role Fernando Cardona does such a terrific job at projecting the life of a bilingual working class stiff that he can look forward to a bright future in the business. A solid entry by McKay after a fourteen-year break.

Unrated. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

GRINGO – movie review

GRINGO

Amazon Studios/STX Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Nash Edgerton
Screenwriter:  Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone
Cast:  Joel Edgerton, David Oyelowo, Amanda Seyfried, Charlize Theron, Yul Vazquez, Thandie Newton, Sharto Copley, Harry Treadaway
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 3/1/18
Opens: March 9, 2018

Gringo

A cartoon that appeared the other day in the New Yorker magazine online finds a husband reading the newspaper and saying to his wife, “February 29 flew by without a single mention of corruption in Washington.”  We’ve gotten so used to corruption in government since the Trump administration took over—and some of us have been around enough to know about Richard Nixon’s forced resignation—that we are no longer shocked in the slightest when the next wave of same ol’ news comes around.  Government is hardly the only agency of malfeasance: corporations have long done everything to evade a responsible watch by our representatives, but “Gringo,” which is Nash Edgerton’s new movie, shows that while  bosses finagle to line their pockets, employers are out to make financial gain by crook as well as by hook.

The venality of big business, in this case Big Pharma, covers the screen, the theme being a worthy one about the corruptibility of formerly honest people who turn crooked.  Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), treated as a friend of Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron), becomes frightfully disillusioned by listening in to captured conversations by his two employers running a company about to sell weed in pill form. With Elaine using her wiles on customers and Richard’s assuring clients of the value of his product, the two will do whatever they can to get out of their company’s financial difficulties.  Harold, a mild-mannered businessman, worries that a prospective merger of his company that would find his skills redundant, hits upon a plan.  He will fake a kidnapping in Mexico, using two dorky managers of a Mexican fleabag hotel to serve as actors.  He will shout to Richard and Elaine that he has been kidnapped by drug lords demanding $5 million in ransom and, when released will pocket the money himself and take off.

Though “Gringo” has enough twists to confuse the audience as to who is getting money from whom, the surprises are on a juvenile level.  Harold winds up actually kidnapped by a drug lord who thinks the poor guy is the real boss who knows the combination to a safe hiding the recipe for the weed.  He is turn switched from one group of bad guys to another.  The entire picture is on a level appreciated by an audience of adolescents in both age and intelligence though it features David Oyelowo who, considering his previous role as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” could feel guilty about his starring role in a movie that recycles car chases, crashes, and a surrounding group of cartoon characters.

Rated R.  110 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – C+
Technical – B-
Overall – C

NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED – movie review

  • NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED (Etiqueta no rigurosa)

    Outsider Pictures/Strand Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Cristina Herrera Borquez
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/17
    Opens: November 3, 2017

    There is every reason to applaud the wisdom of New York City’s Human Rights Watch Festival to accept “No Dress Code Required” for exhibition since, after all, that two people in love have the right to get married is accepted all over the world. But there is an exception.  In some of the more benighted countries, the public may consider it bizarre for a couple of the same sex to join together in matrimony, and even further, some states consider even being homosexual is deserving of a death sentence.  The good people of Western Europe and the United States now proclaim the right of same sex couples to join together and enjoy legal benefits, and surprisingly, a strongly Catholic country like Mexico now permits such unions, thanks to their supreme court’s decision.  But the population of Mexico, like that of the U.S., is divided, and even though marriages are performed in progressive Mexico City, some smaller states have resisted the law of that land.
    No Dress Code Required Poster #1
    Enter Victor and Fernando, beauticians living in Mexicali, Baja California.  The homophobic governor of Baja and the mayor of Mexicali cite religious reason for refusing to grant same sex marriages, not unlike the case of Kim Davis in Kentucky, whose job it is to issue marriage licenses to all couples but was sent to jail by a federal judge for refusing to do her job.  The authorities in Mexicali are hell-bent on disobeying the decision of the court, putting the persistent Fernando and Victor into a bureaucratic maze that delayed their nuptials for years.  They claimed that the couple had dementia.  There were discrepancies in the certificate that attested they attended a premarital class, which taught such bits of information as that God will join you in your marriage bed.

    They dreamed up technicalities that would win awards for creativity.  One administrator claimed that the signatures on a paper certifying their eligibility to be married had discrepancies.  There was a problem with their birth certificates, which had been issued to them under a different Mexican government.  They denied them a reservation date with the civil authorities, and when the couple did finally confirm a November date, the reservation was canceled.  But the two had friends, best of all being their lawyer who, if he had charged them normal rates, put it enough billable hours to allow him to retire.

    Happily for the movie audience, Fernando and Victor are not ciphers or people as dull as our Rex Tillerson.  They are downright charismatic, displaying their affection publicly and determined to go through all the red tape rather than be married immediately in Mexico City because they wanted others in the same boat to profit from their litigation.

    As photographed by Cristina Herrera Borquez, the director, and by Cristina Flores Valanzuela, Mexicali looks like just a small Mexican town projecting the small-town hatreds of its officials.  To coin a cliché, you certainly don’t have to be gay to side strongly with the loving couple: you need only to be free of reactionary thinking.  This is 2017: there is no need for Baja California to have the mindset of some Middle Eastern dictatorships.  You will root for the union of these two principled people and their large array of friends and supporters.

    This is an engrossing documentary, using some animation but none is really needed.  You will feel like a grandstander at the Super Bowl cheering your team, the team of all people of integrity: that of Fernando and Victor.

    Unrated.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?