Tag Archives: eduardo noriega

The Devil’s Backbone – Review

3 Oct

When I think of some of the best film makers working today, one of my go to names will always be Guillermo del Toro. At his most personal, his stories delve into the darkest of fantasies and bring them to life using real world consequences. We see this with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. On the flip side, del Toro can create spectacles for the big screen with a vision completely different from any other big budget film maker. Think of the two Hellboy films and Pacific Rim. With it being the beginning of that wonderful season of Halloween, I thought it would be a great time to check out one of del Toro’s most praised ghost stories, The Devil’s Backbone, from 2001. He’s stated that this film is a sort of cousin to Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s clear why. This is a sombre tale of war destroying people’s lives, while also offering a spooky ghost story and a message of strength that bursts through the sadness to offer hope. To put it simply, The Devil’s Backbone should be considered a modern classic.

Carlos (Fernando Tielve), an orphan who’s father was recently killed in the Spanish Civil War, is taken into an orphanage the wise Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and his fellow administrator and teacher for the kids, Carmen (Marisa Paredes). Upon arrive there, Carlos finds something very odd about the place, and it’s a something that’s quite obvious. There’s a bomb in the middle of the courtyard that landed and got lodged in the ground, but never detonated. He also hears stories from the kids there about an orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde), who mysteriously went missing when the bomb landed. One night, Carlos is out looking for water and comes across what seems to be the ghost of Santi who warns Carlos that many people are about to die. This apparition keeps appearing to Carlos, and it doesn’t take long for the other kids to believe him. Meanwhile, the groundskeeper, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), with the help of his friends begin scheming to rob the safe that Casares and Carmen have hidden in one of the buildings. As tensions rise between all parties, Santi’s warning of violence and death becomes an inevitability.

There’s so much to love with The Devil’s Backbone, it’s hard to find a place to start. Let’s go with the story. Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller, and he works really well with telling these creepy tales through the innocent eyes of children. We see what Carlos sees and we know only what Carlos knows. There are only a few scenes where we are privileged enough to look behind the closed doors of the adults at this orphanage and see an establishment that is haunted by both the ghost of a young boy, but also crime, deception, and lust. While being a horror story and a drama and an allegory for war, The Devil’s Backbone has a strong mystery at its core. What’s the deal with the bomb in the middle of the courtyard? How did Santi really die? What does the warning of violence and death that Santi give mean? There’s so many questions asked during the slow burn of the plot that it had me riveted. I had to keep watching to find out more, and the payoff is quite literally explosive.

One of the most fun reasons to watch one of del Toro’s movies is his blending of genres and the fantastical with the brutal realities of life. The Devil’s Backbone is definitely a traditional ghost story at its core. A boy goes to an orphanage during a time of violence and is haunted by a ghost of one of its former residents. That may have been enough to support the movie, but it goes the extra mile. The humans in this movie often become creepier than the little ghost boy. The talks of the war and brutality that is happening in Spain is an ever present discussion by the adults in this movie that the kids can’t seem to comprehend. Jacinto also provides most of the actual horror in this film. He’s conniving and unpredictable and a true sociopath if I’ve ever seen one. Who’s stuck in the middle of all this? The children. They’re caught between the horrors of the real world and the people who inhabit it on one side and on the other the manifestation of the consequences of their actions. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but it’s horror nonetheless.

Amidst all this terror is a film that’s shot beautifully. There’s something about Guillermo del Toro’s eye for things that isn’t extravagant, but it’s enough to hold your attention. It’s hard to explain, but he just has a way of showing just what needs to be shown in the exact way it needs to be. Can I get any more vague than that? Probably. Just give me the chance. The design of the ghost is also great, and it’s clear that he puts a lot of effort into creating his different specters and creatures for his movies because they always seem to stand out in some way. Santi is one of his greatest creations. He’s just a pale ghost that can be seen through, but what really makes it special is the trail of blood that comes out of his head and slithers through the air. Try to get that image out of your head. I dare you.

What else more can I say about The Devil’s Backbone? I absolutely loved this movie. It’s a haunting tale of ghosts, violence, and war but ultimately ends with a message of strength and bravery even for the most innocent of people. This is a film that masterfully blends gothic horror and the drama of the real world with the victims here being children. Sounds pretty heavy, right? It is and I respect del Toro for making a movie like this. He truly is a master and this is one of his greatest creations.

Final Grade: A+

Advertisements

The Last Stand – Review

12 Feb

In 2003, action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his famous career making role in Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines. Since then, he became the governator of California and made small appearances in The Expendables and The Expendables 2. In 2013, however, and for the first time in a decade, starred in an action film. This was Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand, a movie that runs on all cylinders, hits you like a shotgun blast to the chest, and renewed some of my faith in modern action films.

The-Last-Stand-poster-final

 

After a violent past working as an L.A.P.D narcotics officer, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) moves to the small town of Somerset, Arizona where the only crime is keeping some drunks or local gun nut Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) quiet. Hurtling towards this small town at over 200 mph is an escaped cartel kingpin named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) who fled from his transport in Las Vegas and is now making his way to the Mexican border. Hot on his tail is FBI Agent John Barrister (Forest Whitaker) who also warns Owens that this criminal and his army are making his way to his town. Low on men and weapons, Sheriff Owens, his deputies, and Dinkum turn the town into a blockade and prepare to fight the criminals off with Dinkum’s arsenal of heavy firepower.

Wow. Honestly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I loved this movie. After recently watching Parker and spring boarding off that to think about how action movies just haven’t been impressing me, it was great to watch The Last Stand and really enjoy it. Right from the beginning, this movie’s filled with humor and action, and anyone who tries to deny that obviously hasn’t seen the movie. Even the story of this movie makes me smile just thinking about it. Sure it has some cliches, but it’s more original than a lot of action movies Hollywood is producing. Having a speeding car jetting towards a small town that’s been turned into a blockade is something I wish I wrote. It was exciting and engaging the entire way through.

stand5

 

Another great thing is that the movie does a great job at making you care about its characters. While there is plenty of action and comedy, I was surprised that there was a large heaping of drama to go along with this movie. The characters aren’t really anything different from what you’d expect in an action movie of this kind, save maybe for Knoxville’s character, but there was still enough personality to make them three dimensional. When the action starts, I wanted to see all of the heroes get out alive. Unfortunately for them, the action in this movie seems bloody and relentless at points, which was just a joy for me.

The only problem I had with this movie was some really weird pacing and cuts in the scenes. At a certain point in the movie where the shit begins to hit the fan, we are literally all over the place and in three states at once. It made for some really awkward cutting. The characters in Somerset are obviously the main focus, but at the point I’m talking about the scenes in Vegas with the FBI was more important. Instead of staying with a certain group of people for an appropriate amount of time, I felt like I was being thrown all over the place to get a ridiculous amount of information really quickly. It was like riding a wooden roller coaster that has seen too many years.

All in all, The Last Stand was a really fun movie that I’d love to watch again and again. This isn’t a movie where you have to think too hard or really put effort into it, but if you want to see an action movie, then you really can’t go wrong here. It’s full of bullets, blood, laughs, drama, and an exploding torso. Doesn’t that just sound like a recipe for success right out of the Action Movie Cook Book? It may not become a classic, but it is one of the better films of the genre to be released in a very long time and I think The Last Stand has done me good and will do me good, and I say God bless it.

TransSiberian – Review

8 Aug

I’ve had a few lame vacations, but none of them can compare to the nightmare that the couple in TransSiberian have to endure. The worst part is is that it is all because of their own mistakes and the fact that bad people possibly outweigh the good. This is an intriguing  and tight thriller that requires one viewing, but deserves multiple.

 

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are an American couple who are traveling from Beijing to Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Along their travels they meet another couple: Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). There seems to be more lurking beneath the surface of these two, and when a Russian narcotics officer, Ilya Grinko (Sir Ben Kingsley) gets thrown into the mix a supposedly innocent trip turns into a violent game of cat and mouse filled with murder and deception.

As I was watching this movie, my mind kept going to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train. That is because TransSiberian hearkens back to the golden age of thrillers before high tech espionage and intense car chases became the norm in movies of this genre. The thrills come from the characters, their decisions, and the consequences of these decision. I always found the volatile nature of humans and their extreme drive for self preservation to be more interesting than any CGI-fest or high octane action thriller.

The setting of this movie is almost as dangerous as the characters themselves. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the foreboding Russian tundra is just as much a character as Roy and Jessie. Not only the cold landscapes, but the broken down interiors, minus the inside of the train, just scream tetanus. It couldn’t have been a better setting for a movie such as this.

Thematically, TransSiberian explores the snowball effect of lies and the amount of trust that we should put in other people. All of the trouble caused in this movie stems from these two themes. Another interesting theme of the movie is that of the Russian legal system especially in poverty stricken areas and against foreigners. I was on a message board and there was a post that claimed this movie was strictly anti-Russian propaganda. Another poster argued that they were actually from Russia, and this film is an accurate depiction of the problems the country is facing. Kingsley’s character has an interesting dialogue on the differences between Soviet Russia and modern day Russia. He pretty much says that things have changed, but not necessarily for the better.

 

So the themes, characters, and setting are what really make this movie thrilling. I have a gripe about the story, however. I understand that, without giving too much away, a certain character is faced with a massive problem that is only made worse by lying, even though telling the truth probably would have made things go a little smoother. I can’t speak for the characters or what others would do in this situation. I’m not even sure about what I would do. Let’s just say there were times where I wanted to knock some sense into this character.

TransSiberian is a gripping thriller that would make any Hitchcock fan proud. There isn’t wall to wall action, steamy sex, or death defying stunts. What we have is an intelligent and well crafted thriller that is supported by its aesthetics and its characters and how the actors portrayed them. I didn’t know much about this movie when I watched it, but when it ended I felt fulfilled and ready to share it with other people.