Tag Archives: mexico

Duck, You Sucker! – Review

3 Oct

Sergio Leone had a really incredible film making career, even if he didn’t create as much as some other very fine film makers. It’s impossible to ignore how A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly made a huge impact on the aesthetics of a movie, the western genre, and pop culture as a whole. Leone’s next foray into film happened in 1968 with another classic, Once Upon a Time in the West. Finally, his last piece of work, and arguably his most ambitious, was the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. Aren’t these all unmistakable classics? But wait. What’s that movie hiding in between West and America? Why, it’s a pretty unknown movie that has one of the most incredible titles ever. This is, of course, his 1972 film Duck, You Sucker!. Upon its release, this movie got very little attention and bombed in the United States. It hasn’t really fared much better, and is still Leone’s most unknown film, besides maybe The Colossus at Rhodes. Does this movie deserve to be overlooked? Not at all, but it is Leone’s weakest work in the western genre.

In the midst of the Mexican Revolution, people have to do whatever they can to survive. Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is a bandit who, along with his family, robs from the wealthy who are making their living off the violence of the revolution. After a successful robbery of a stagecoach, Juan runs into John Mallory (James Coburn), and IRA explosives specialist exiled overseas after a heavy betrayal. Despite being at odds with one another, John is wooed by Juan’s idea to rob the Mesa Verde National Bank. The job seems to go off without a hitch, but things at the bank are not what they seem and the actions of Juan and John plunge them deeper into the world of the revolution. Now on the run from the sadistic Col. Reza (Antoine Saint-John), Juan and John are forced to join up with revolutionaries and help them fight while also reevaluating their own beliefs and moral code.

Sergio Leone is a classic example of an epic film maker. He never shied away from making a movie as grand as he possibly could. Duck, You Sucker! is no exception. This is huge movie with great set pieces and over the top action sequences that seem to span an entire country. It has the look I’ve come to expect from a Leone movie, which is surprising as to why this one gets so overlooked. There’s a really exciting scene at a bridge where the Mexican army is trying to cross, but John and Juan pick them off using machine guns and dynamite. It was explosive and exciting, and those are the reasons to watch this movie. The idea of having this story set within the Mexican Revolution is also interesting and makes for more epic scenes. Leone stated that he was not trying to offer any political statement, and I agree. It clearly is just showing the horrors of conflict and the effects it can have on the people of that country, especially in a more lower class environment. This makes for an interesting bridge between his more classic Once Upon a Time in the West and his more thoughtful effort with Once Upon a Time in America.

There is something that is severely lacking in this movie that is always ever present in Sergio Leone’s best movies. That is the dynamic between good and evil. We see an interesting arc with Juan where his character completely changes his ways, and that’s one of the better parts of Duck, You Sucker!. Unfortunately, Juan and John just aren’t the most exciting heroes, and don’t even come close to matching the Man With No Name. Col. Reza is also a sorry excuse for a villain. He’s in the movie for a matter of minutes and has no real impact until the very end. Remember the showdowns in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West? Those were outstanding climaxes that featured larger than life representations of good versus evil. Duck, You Sucker! certainly tries to keep that level of energy, but it just doesn’t quite make it. The arcs of the characters are much better than the characters themselves.

Something you can always count on with these movies however is that they are going to look superb. Duck, You Sucker! has sweeping cinematography of the landscapes that is juxtaposed with the traditional Leone close ups and zooms. Leone knew how to capitalize on the actors’ faces and expressions over dialogue, which is why some of his best scenes just feature the actors using their faces to speak. All of this works in tandem with Ennio Morricone’s always excellent score. Comparing this score to some of his others he did for Leone probably isn’t the best way to go about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. This isn’t one of his strongest and it doesn’t really stay in my head like the others. That being said, while the movies on it heightens the drama and the action considerably which is just what these musical pieces are supposed to do.

Duck, You Sucker! is far from being Sergio Leone’s best film, but it’s still a testament to his larger than life and highly artistic film making. It’s story shows an evolution from his simple drifter swoops in to save the day kind of stories and more to an internationally aware tale that showcases morality and change. The characters aren’t as exciting as I would have liked them to be, and a lot of this has to do with a lackluster villain. Still, Sergio Leone’s film making and Ennio Morricone’s music is more than enough for any fan of movies to check out this little known entry in Leone’s filmography.

Final Grade: B+

Advertisements

Apocalypto – Review

10 Oct

 

Mel Gibson has become a name that is synonymous with controversy. In my opinion, regardless of what Gibson has said or did, it’s important to separate an artist from his work. For this particular film maker, he’s proven himself to be quite a talent with his most well known epic films being the modern classic Braveheart and the meticulously made Passion of the Christ. In 2006, Gibson took epic film making to a new level with his severely underrated film Apocalypto. Movies are a very exciting thing, and when one this huge is made with so much attention to small details along with a captivating and exciting story, I almost lose myself in thinking about it. This movie is a masterpiece.

apocalypto1_large

Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who along with his father and many friends, is a hunter in the jungles of Central America during the collapse of the Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw’s village is separate from all that as these people live a peaceful, secluded life. One morning, the village is attacked by a warrior named Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his followers. They kill many villagers, but take many to bring back to the Mayan city either to be sold into slavery or be sacrificed to the gods. Jaguar Paw manages to escape from his Mayan captors and begins a chase through the thick Central American jungle to get back to his wife (Dalia Hernández) and son (Carlos Emilio Báez). With the vengeful Zero hot on his trail, Jaguar Paw has to think like a hunter once again if he’s ever going to see his family again.

From the opening shot of the jungle existing naturally without any interference to the very last shot that bookends the film both visually and thematically, Apocalypto is a gorgeous movie. Shot on location in Mexico, very little computer generated images were used in favor of showing the natural majesty that these jungles have to offer. It makes for exciting chase sequences through the thicket and roaring waters. A lot of credit has to go to the stunt team for making these kind of high speed chases through territory like this possible. When the characters are in the Mayan city about half way through the movie, it’s even harder to believe that most of what is seen is not computer generated. Like the epics of the 1950s, including Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, the towering structures were actually built by a team of set designers. It’s an incredible sight to behold and made me feel like I was looking through a portal to a time long since past.

c29488c97813736dbc79a5243f6e18d0

I said earlier that the attention to detail is extremely impressive in this movie. Much like with The Passion of the Christ, all of the dialogue in Apocalypto is spoken in an approximation of what language would have been used in that time or place. In this case, the language is Yucatec Maya. It’s a decision that makes it so much easier to immerse yourself in the world that has been created. It’s obvious that this was one of the main intentions of Gibson’s from the very beginning. Other than taking the time to get this language down properly and film all the scenes with it, it’s important to recognize the costume design and make up. It boggles my brain how this movie didn’t get any Oscars for its costuming and make up. There are hundreds of extras in this movie along with the handful of main players, and each one of these people have a unique make up and costume design. This is an enormous undertaking and it’s a cinematic feat that I’ve never seen anything like before.

While the story, itself, isn’t anything too groundbreaking or complex, it’s enough to keep the action and adventure moving at a quick pace. Apocalypto is not a short movie with it’s run time closing in on two and a half hours, but never was I bored throughout the entire movie. There’s a surprising amount of time building up the characters that will be present throughout the movie, and I was surprised by how much I really cared for Jaguar Paw and his family and friends. Once the attack happens the the villagers are taken to the Mayan city, the plot feels like it’s shot out of a cannon and the excitement doesn’t stop until the closing credits.

Apocalypto is one of those movies that reminds me why I love movies so much. It’s kind of a cheesy thing to refer to movies as magic, but sometimes I don’t know what else to call them. Apocalypto is pure movie magic and an achievement that is greatly under appreciated. The fine attention to detail mixed with loads of excitement, action, and adventure makes this a movie that I won’t forget for quite a long time.

Final Grade: A+

Sicario – Review

23 Oct

I’ve seen plenty of new movies this year, each with various degrees of emotion, suspense, and tension. Looking back on everything I’ve seen, I can honestly say that Sicario is the most intense film I have seen and probably will see all year. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners and Enemy), written by Taylor Sheridan (known for a performance on Sons of Anarchy), and filmed by Roger Deakins (who worked with Velleneuve and on many of the Coen Brothers’ films), Sicario not only looks beautiful and offers a very powerful and realistic story, it also features strong performances from all its actors. Sicario is definitely a stand out film of 2015.

50057d38-15da-11e5-adfc-005056b70bb8

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a young FBI agent with a bright future ahead of her. After a terrifying encounter with murderous members of the cartel, Macer is recruited by mysterious government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to be part of a strike force aimed at crippling those responsible. She soon meets Graver’s partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who she can’t quite place on any particular side or agency, making him the wild card of the team. After joining this special operations team, Macer is plunged into the violent world of the Mexican drug trade where the reprehensible violence is done by the cartel as well as the Americans she is working for, and soon clear right and wrong becomes indistinguishable.

Sicario very much reminds me of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic from 2000. Both films show the realities of the drug trade and the lives that are affected by all of the violence. While Traffic is most certainly unapologetic, Sicario feels like a behind the scenes look at something we’re not supposed to see. There’s crime, lies, torture, and murder on both sides of the spectrum, which forces the audience to find logic in the lesser of two evils. This isn’t really a film that will allow you to kick back and relax for a few hours. There is way too much thought that has to be put into the story and characters, plus it’s just way too stressful.

sicario-looks-like-the-best-crime-drama-since-traffic-1107058-TwoByOne

There’s a scene in Sicario where the special forces team is attempting to cross the Bridge of the Americas to get back into the United States. The only problem is that they are caught in a gridlock and are surrounded by a few cars filled with cartel members. Instead of creating what could’ve been a run of the mill action sequence, Villeneuve and Sheridan create an incredibly suspenseful and low key scene that explodes in only a few seconds of realistic violence. This scene is the best example of the tension that this movie creates. Never does anything in this movie seem overblown or unnecessary. This also means that there is a lot of down time between missions that the team goes on, which may seem boring, but remember that this film is striving for realism.

Even though Sicario strives to paint an accurate portrait reality, never does it forget that it is still a movie and requires time for cinematic drama and character development. Sheridan’s screenplay is very down to earth and all of the actors play their parts very well. Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro especially stand out as the scene stealers of this movie. Deakins’ cinematography is as beautiful as ever and deserves a possible Oscar nom when all is said and done. Speaking of Oscar noms, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is haunting and is certainly the best music I’ve heard in a movie all year.

Sicario is an unforgettable movie experience that feels like it sometimes bends the rulers of modern film making in order to create a unique story with real characters and situations. There have been a lot of great movies that came out this year, and this film stands up there in the upper echelons of my favorites of 2015. It can be difficult and unsettling at points, but it feels so authentic that it should be required viewing for anyone who loves movies.

Cronos – Review

18 Nov

Guillermo del Toro is the man. That’s been firmly established with Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, and Pacific Rim. There hasn’t been a film that del Toro made that I really haven’t liked, so I was more than ready to check out his debut film from 1993, Cronos. This is a vampire story with a kind of twist to the genre that only a film maker like del Toro could make, in fact I’m sure that he’s the only one who can make something like this. It’s an amazing debut film.

600full-cronos-poster

Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) is an antique’s dealer who mildly spends his days in his shop with his granddaughter who seems to never leave his side, Aurora (Tamara Shanath). Things change when he finds a mysterious device inside a statue of an archangel that latches itself to Gris’ hand so hard that it draws blood. This begins changing Gris into a much more invigorated man who has acquired an unquenchable thirst for blood. This draws the attention of the dying businessman Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) who sends his nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to retrieve the device, but Jesús isn’t willing to give it up, especially after discovering what it really does.

Let me get this out of the way, if you’ve seen any other movie by Guillermo del Toro, you know pretty much what this movie is going to feel like. Think of Pan’s Labyrinth and how it mixed reality with fantasy in a way where it felt like a fairy tale is coming to life. That’s what Cronos ultimately is as well: a fairy tale. It’s also not a very overt fairy tale, which really makes the movie feel special. The word “vampire” is never even used in the movie once. It’s simply alluded to through the images that we see and the prior knowledge that we already have about vampires. It also recreates the myth of the vampire through the alchemical device inhabited by an insect.

cronos-device

So, since there’s vampires in the story of Cronos, it’s pretty fair to label it as a horror movie. There are some pretty icky gore effects with the device digging into skin or flesh being peeled off of the body. Those scenes work very effectively at the body horror that del Toro does very well. Still, this is more than a horror movie because there is so much more to it than that. It’s a movie about dealing with age, facing death, and the importance of family. Gris’ family is close and a model of happiness while Angel is miserable being in the same family as Dieter. There’s also the paranoia of dying, but the reminder that death is the natural order of things and eternal life may not be so pleasant if the body can’t support itself.

I kinda wanted more out of Cronos since there was so much in there to love. Sadly, the story kind of begins and ends. I’m one to complain if a movie’s run time goes too long, but I was so into this one that I wasn’t ready for it to end. I felt like there was a lot more to be explored, especially when the resurrected Jesús comes home after escaping from his own cremation. There were a lot of places the film could’ve gone from there, but instead that’s when the movie begins moving towards the ending. The make up looked awesome at this part too, and the bond between Jesús and Aurora also got a lot more interesting at this point.

Guillermo del Toro said that the most important movies in a film maker’s life are their first film and their last film. His reasoning is that the first film sets the stage for what they will be making throughout their career and the last film is the one that closes the book on their work. Cronos perfectly set the stage for del Toro’s career, even though it’s a minor entry into his filmography. Vampires would come back to del Toro when he made Blade II, and his take on fantasy can be seen in almost all of his movies. This is a really beautiful and relatively quiet look at vampires and horror that may not have the most prestige or biggest budget, but is obviously superior to many other vampire movies being released now.

Santa Sangre – Review

26 Jun

If you have read my blogs before this, then you know that writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky is no stranger to the bizarre. Santa Sangre may not be Jodorowsky’s most strange and confusing film, but it is certainly his most disturbing. Let me put it this way: El Topo is Purgatory, The Holy Mountain is Heaven, and Santa Sangre is Hell.

A man finds himself in a mental hospital, and refuses to act like a normal human being. Cut back to his childhood. Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) is a circus performer along with mother (Bianca Guerra) and father (Guy Stockwell), who is having an affair with the tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou). Fenix is abused by his father and hates the life he was given, but finds solace in the new mime, a deaf and mute girl named Alma (Faviola Tapia). One night, all of the conflict in his life collides, and we are then transported again to the present where the older Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) is still in the mental hospital. He escapes to find his armless mother and lives with her to be her arms. Every chance Fenix now has at love is crushed by his mother who can now control his arms and uses them to kill the women, maybe even his original love, Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison).

This is one of those movies that when the credits begin to roll, the viewer is forced to just sit  staring at the screen and contemplate what they just witnessed. So much happens in Santa Sangre that it’s almost difficult to take it all in. The movie is loaded with family dynamics, love deeper than the surface, possible incest, mental disorders, and the plight of mortality. Now that’s a fully loaded movie.

For fans of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, some people might be disappointed with how linear and down to earth this might be. In fact, I was on the IMDB message boards for this movie and people were complaining that it wasn’t “trippy” enough. If that’s the only reason you’re watching a Jodorowsky film, than yes, Santa Sangre won’t really be enjoyable for you.

For me, this was an incredibly moving and haunting experience. As I said before, this film is hellish in a surreal, but also very real kind of way. It shows sides of the world that I don’t particularly know a lot about, but does exist. There’s the side of living with a torn family and also a side of living with overwhelming guilt and shame. If you aren’t sympathetic towards Fenix, then you must have been born without any sense of feelings, because he may be one of the most tortured characters ever in a movie.

While Santa Sangre tries to keep itself down to earth, it still has a beautifully unsettling surreal atmosphere to it. I still feel distanced from this world the Jodorowsky created, but that’s fine because I never want to be there. It’s terrifying. Is it surreal for the sake of being surreal? Or is it because Fenix’s view of reality s distorted due to the abuse and traumas that he has suffered. I like to think that the answer falls in the latter category, especially since we get glimpses of reality throughout the movie.

Santa Sangre is a magnificent piece of film making that may be difficult to sit through for some and may bore others entirely. It is not a movie that is to be watched for solely pure entertainment, but to reflect on your own psyche and your impressions you leave on other people. The personal evils are brought to light in this haunting Jodorowsky film, and I can honestly say that what I have seen, I will not forget.