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Green Book (2018)
10/10
A great film in its entierty
13 March 2019
Forget about analyzing a film in sections, talking about its cinematography or the production design, or the choices the director made to work with actors that may or may not have acted before. 2018 was cluttered with talks about films that pure and simply did not have compelling stories but somehow made it to the festival headlines. Thankfully, this was NOT this type of film. The fact that Green Book is able to cohesively tell a heart-warming tale of two men from different ethnicities who become friends in the early sixties USA, and somehow get the attention of even the most cynical of centennials, is an unbelievable achievement in itself. Add the fact that the script was inspired by true events, written by Frank Vallelonga's son, and that the director of "There's Something About Mary" was the astonishingly best choice to take this ship to sale, and you got something special. The film is funny, witty, controversial, and simply put: beautiful. And how about that Viggo Mortensen? The guy can go from Sigmund Freud to a hippie living in the wilderness to an Italian garbage truck driver in a split second, and you believe every word that comes out of his mouth. He deserved the Oscar for this in my book.
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8/10
A Music Icon, and a Sexual Predator
13 March 2019
It's been a few days since I watched this documentary, and even though I have never been the biggest Michael Jackson fan (or accuser, for that matter), somehow I can't seem to be able to shake this film out of my head.

I had previously watched a few of the Michael Jackson documentaries made in the past years, some of them inclined to defend and uplift him, others that attempted to make the viewer think deeper on the star's behavior towards children. But NOTHING quite like "Leaving Neverland."

Actually, I should clarify something: this is NOT a Michael Jackson documentary. There's no archive footage of his childhood years, his relationship with his father, or anything that remotely gives us a hint on any type of explanation on why he did what the film alleges he did. And a lot of Michael Jackson fans have openly spoken out about their disagreement over this approach. But I personally think that the decision not to show a different perspective (of say the Jackson family or any other Jackson supporter), was the correct one. Because, as I said before, this is not a documentary about Michael Jackson, but about Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two men who accuse Jackson of allegedly molesting them when they were 7 and 9 years-old, respectively. And it is precisely for this reason, that there's no space in the documentary to interview people who "were not a part of these men's lives, and therefore could not possibly know the truth about what happened to them" (in words of Dan Reed, the film's director.) And I agree with that.

I can't say that the film didn't change the way I think about Michael Jackson now, because it did. What I can say, is that it didn't make me admire his work any less (as an artist), or think less of him as a musician or performer. I do think less of him (as lesser as possible) as a human being though. I do believe that the type of violence that an adult person (much more a superstar like Jackson) can thrust upon a child can be as devastating as there is. It can negatively alter the child's life forever, and those around the child (as we see happening in this film), and there is no place or justification for this type of behavior. I do believe Jackson should've paid for these crimes when he was alive, and maybe if he had paid for them, more children would've spoken up about having been molested by him (or by other artists for that matter). I did believe the testimonies of the two brave men in this documentary, and I also believe that the trauma they suffered was such a tremendous one that it got them to defend Jackson when they were younger, and it prevented them from speaking out earlier (if you understand the basics of psychology and abuse, then you know their reactions were actually quite normal).

I think this is a powerful, tough and important documentary about speaking out when you're the victim of a violent and abusive crime, and that the film's impact relies there: on giving these victims a voice, regardless of who their predator was. And if the film achieves this, and helps this cause, maybe in the future, men like Michael Jackson will not be able to use their star power to hurt more people, and that is always a good thing. It doesn't matter if you like Jackson's music, or Cosby's TV show, or Weinstein's films (I do, all of them), what matters is that you can separate the artist from the man. And that when someone speaks out about being a victim of a crime committed by people like them, we can be open about hearing them, and making the perpetrator pay for what they did.

No one will ever erase MJ's music, even if they try to stop playing his songs. What he did (musically) is much bigger than him. But now, no one will ever erase his actions as a pedophile either, and I think that is just as important.
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Roma (2018)
8/10
As close to being a beautiful film
28 November 2018
I somehow feel compelled to write a review of this film. I'm not quite sure why, though, there are so many out there already... mine is not going to make a difference, but still I feel like writing... something. So, here it goes:

The hype surrounding this film is not wrong, it is an exquisite film, in most (cinematic) regards. And still, I did feel that the hype has more to do with the fact that such a beautifully made film is struggling to find screens in the theaters of its own Director's-Editor's-Cinematographer's-Screenwriter's-Producer's country of origin. Don't get me wrong, I'm up for THAT hype as well, but the fact that I listed Cuaron's tasks in this film in a long-hyphened-one-liner is no coincidence. It is a statement on over-indulgence that kind of wants whoever reads this to consider that, maybe... just maybe... he should've entrusted some of these departments to someone else (ehm, screenwriting and/or editing), and the film might have just connected with me. I was constantly trying to find empathy with the characters. And I got very close, but sadly, by the end, I simply didn't. I was so astonished by how perfectly shot the film was, that it didn't really feel like a beautiful film, but rather, a beautifully made film. It's not the same. The first one refers to the story, while the second refers to the craft of making the film. It still got as close as it gets to being overwhelming, though. I think I'm even a little sad that it didn't. Not that Cuarón or anyone else cares.

Anyway, watch it, in the theater, or at home, it doesn't matter. Yalitza Aparicio's performance alone is more than worth your time.

Here's to my two cents on this Maestro's work of art.
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The Predator (2018)
3/10
There are dog-predators in this one...
5 October 2018
The "alien Whoopi Goldberg" line is the only thing preventing me from giving two starts to this film.
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The Wife (I) (2017)
9/10
A rare gem
26 August 2018
It's getting more and more difficult these days to find stories as well written, directed and acted as "The Wife." This gem of a film is a profound character exploration that managed to make me forget about script sctructure completely (which other screenwriters know is very hard to do when you live and breathe screenplays), and simply enjoy the intense psychological ride. There are a couple soft spots (narrative wise) that prevented me from going all 10-stars on this film, but it got as close as there is. And OH MY GOD, what amazing actors are Glenn Close and Anthony Pryce. There's a scene right near the end of the film in which their vulnerability is almost palpable. They went all-in with these characters, and it payed off. Standing ovation for those two.

Quick suggestion: go watch this film without seeing the trailer. It will be a better experience if you know nothing about the plot. I watched the trailer beforehand and it ruined an important plot twist for me.
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Skyscraper (2018)
3/10
Die Hard wannabe...
14 July 2018
It's a Die Hard wannabe film for the modern day, but falls WAAAAAY short...
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Isle of Dogs (2018)
10/10
Isle of Dogs vs Hollywood Blockbusters
8 May 2018
It is no surprise that a Wes Anderson film is good anymore, because let's face it, the guy knows what he's doing. What I loved most about "Isle of Dogs" though, was the script. It is far more insightful than anything that's out there right now, because of the level of CARE that Anderson puts into the story, the characters and their development, and the MESSAGE he wants his audience to take home with them. Over the last few years there's been a lack of good writing in the movie industry (specially in Hollywood). This has not been true for TV, though. Although most serious screenwriters have moved onto television, this is not because they earn more money, or they can't get jobs in films, it is simply because TV producers are caring more about the scripts than movie studios. Remember when the story mattered? When it wasn't about visual effects or how many screens a distributor could get for your film? Well, for a moment yesterday, "Isle of Dogs" transported me to that era. The era of "Shine" or "Jerry Maguire"... when movies that made money at the box office actually struggled to get a lot of screens, but climbed their way to the top for one simple reason: GOOD STORYTELLING. Nowadays, good vfx or good advertising have overcome good storytelling. Think about it. Do you really believe that "Infinity War" would have been more successful than, say, "Schindler's List" back when good storytelling was what made the difference? The more admirable production value "Infinity War" has is the gigantic distribution it was given. When you go to the theaters and all you can watch is the new sequel to the Avengers... you'll end up watching that because you have NO MORE CHOICES. But back then, when you actually had options, when your film was screening at the same time than "The Fugitive" or "The Nightmare Before Christmas", it was a BIG DEAL to be number one at the box office, because it meant that your film was most likely, the best film screening at the time, and not the one with more money spent in advertising and distribution. All these new "infinite sequels" are doing is spoiling the audience's taste and right to cinematic cultural diversity. I'm not saying there shouldn't be any Avengers films. I'm simply saying there should always be more options for our audiences to watch, because, as you all know, once a film is cut out of the theaters, it most likely will never be screened there again. And when exhibitors permit that one film is shown in the vast majority of theaters, that means that a whole lot of good movies are going to be cut out, and people are going to lose a chance to watch them in the big screen. Imagine if you never got a chance to watch "Fargo" in the movie theaters because "Titanic" was the only film showing. Imagine not being able to watch "As good as it gets" because the distributor for "Men in Black" kicked everything else out of the theaters. Thank God that didn't happen back then. Because they are all great films, and should be given a chance to be enjoyed by the audience. But nowadays, it seems that it's all about marketing and making money, and it is not about content anymore. It is not about the stories. If you are a true believer in cinema, and in the power that a good film has to change, not only perspectives, but PEOPLE'S LIVES, then you should definitely watch "Isle of Dogs." If all you care about are sequels and visual effects, and scripts without purpose or message, then this film will probably seem boring to you, but you should give it a chance anyway, because everyone else gives a chance to the movies you like (we mostly don't have a choice anymore.)
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Black Panther (2018)
8/10
A refreshing script in the Comic Character world
9 April 2018
It's now been a while since I actually enjoyed watching a superhero flick at the movie theater. Don't get me wrong, I used to LOVE superhero films, but ever since the formula worked so well (money wise) for the studios, the scripts have unfortunately lost all meaning. Thank God, this is not the case for Black Panther. Although the film does start somewhat as a low-paced, vfx plastered (specially in the fictitious world of Wakanda), cliché adventure film, if you can power through the first 10 to 15 minutes or so, you're gonna be in for a treat. What I loved most about Black Panther is the fact that each and every important character in the story has a well shaped backstory, they all have clear motivations for their actions, and the melodrama of the family relationships works perfectly, because it gives all of the main characters a conflict that is much needed in these types of films, and as we move forward, the plot thickens, and the stakes rise. All in all, a well written film with marvelous performances (even in small roles, as Sterling K. Brown shows us). The script finishes off with a much needed message that envelops the whole point of the film: "...in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers." The relevance of this film shoots up to the sky, when the theme is so intertwined with what's going on in the world right now. And the fact that the screenwriters managed to write in a message like this, in the context and with the studio pressures that come with a blockbuster type of film like this one, is something to stand up and clap about, if you ask me. I can only hope that the sequel to this film does the first one justice, and I can almost be sure it won't, but oh well... that's Hollywood.
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4/10
Stunning visuals, painfully boring script
15 October 2017
Denis Villeneuve's slow-paced filmmaking does a service to the narrative only when the story advances rapidly. He functions as a marvelous counterpoint when conflicts and character-development escalate. Sadly, this was not the case at all. Forget about the film's predecessor. As a stand-alone, this was excruciatingly boring.

Sunning visuals, though.
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Mother! (2017)
9/10
A controversial masterpiece doomed to be under-appreciated
5 October 2017
Aronofsky's always been dark. There's no doubt about it. I think his "lighter" film would be "The Fountain", but if you think about "Requiem for a Dream", "The Wrestler", "Black Swan" or even "Pi"... the tone of this new film shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone.

Yes, it is true that this film is the darkest one, specially because of the graphic violence of the third act, but that didn't spoil the film for me.

I think as viewers, we're supposed to engage with films, but also distance ourselves from them far enough to appreciate their value. I cannot sit here and tell you that I ENJOYED the film, because that would be a lie, or it would make me mentally unstable. I did enjoy the first two acts of the film, the deliciousness of the slow-burn psychological thriller that constitutes the first two thirds of the story. But I can't grasp a person who could say they enjoyed the third act, because it is there to be appreciated, to send a brutal message, "like a missile into a wall" (in the director's words), but it's not there to be enjoyed, I don't think.

In any case, a film that is capable of making you squirm in your chair, and feel physically ill while watching it, is something special. Simply because it is not an easy task to achieve that visceral reaction in an audience, and it is even harder to do it with meaning, with a purpose. As Harvey Weinstein said in an interview while talking about "Nosferatu": "it is too scary to look at, but too fascinating to look away from." (Actually the cinema I watched "mother!" at was full, and lots of people were complaining out-loud during the screening about how bad the film was, but NOT ONE OF THEM walked out of the theater before the ending... just something to think about.)

Aronofsky asks as much of his audience, as we ask of our filmmakers. I'm not talking about the audience that wants to be entertained without having to think or question themselves, I'm talking about a mature audience, the ones that challenge themselves to think outside the box, to be better than the average person who sits numbingly waiting to be entertained like a dictator would ask of a buffoon. This audience, who is constantly begging for better content, for bolder narratives, and directors who take risks, is the audience who should not only appreciate this film, but has the responsibility to at least analyze it long enough to give it the valued criticism it deserves from us.

We, as an audience, are equally responsible for the risks the filmmakers take, and for the quality of their work. If we restrain ourselves from appreciating a work of art, simply because it made us feel uncomfortable, we do not deserve the level of storytelling this helmer is offering us.

When you watch this film (if you haven't already, or even if you're watching it again), think not of how disgusting it is to experience the difficult and violent scenes, but rather think about what they mean in the context of the story, what they mean to the characters in the story, and maybe you'll get to appreciate it in the level it deserves to be appreciated.

After you do, ask yourself (as I did a day after I watched it for the first time): did I enjoy this? (Hell no!). Do I think it's a good film? (An absolute gem.)
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The Circle (I) (2017)
3/10
Hollywood, please, give real screenwriters a chance!
14 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
One would think that a top notch producer-duo like Anthony Bregman and Gary Goetzman, an amazing cinematographer like Matthew Libatique, an unbelievable composer like Danny Elfman, two talented editors like Lisa Lassek and Franklin Peterson, and incredible actors like Tom Hanks and Emma Watson would guarantee a great film, right? -- Wrong... this is why the screenplay is so important. To be completely fair, I haven't read David Eggers' novel, so I don't know if it's good or not, but if we base that judgement on the film, it sure as hell doesn't seem like it.

Why is the script so poorly written? The first big problem is that we don't know our protagonist's intent or obstacle. We have no idea what she wants, what she's doing to get it, or what stands in her way. This is at the top of every screen writing seminar, course, book, or principle list that you can find. If this is not clear within the first 10 to 12 pages of your script, then don't even bother filming it.

We do know that she dislikes her job and that she has a sick father whom she loves. But she's not doing anything to help her dad, and she's not looking for a different job either. She does go kayaking though, so... good for her! The job offer (inciting incident) that gets her to embark onto a promised adventure, comes in a phone call from a friend. A phone call that takes our protagonist by surprise. So, to make matters even worse, our main character is completely reactive. Things happen to her, she doesn't make them happen, which makes her dull and boring -- Something one would think could be a big decision-changer for actors like Emma Watson to accept a role in a film at this point of her career. But hey, maybe not! Our protagonist agrees to the interview (a very weird one that includes picking between her favorite Beatle and reacting to an inappropriate invitation to go out with her interviewer) and she gets the job! And now we embark onto the adventure.

At first, everything is very expository. Tom Hanks' character is introduced as a quite literal Steve Jobs-like company manager, who believes in technology's power to help us know everything about everyone in the world, basically. Then, an opportunity to help her father reveals to our protagonist by, again, the same friend who offered her the interview in the first place. So, our protagonist is yet again reacting to what is happening to her.

To make matters worse, what pushes her (very late so) to make her first big decision, is that she inadvertently decides to take a kayaking trip in the middle of the night, and go sailing onto the darkness with no life-vest (or even a flashlight for that matter), for a ridiculous nocturnal, meditative promenade (because, you know, YOLO). This really bizarre, nonsensical decision is what propels her to take action with Tom Hanks' character and take an active part of the all-time-surveilling-technology of the Circle. Then the story turns into a modern era "Truman Show" without the innovative factor of reality television, and with an improbable audience who is all-love-and-no-hate for our always innocent Mae Holland. (Seriously, this Utopia world presents no haters in the social media.) The technology gets so big, they challenge themselves to find any person in the world, with the help of their hundreds of millions of subscribers. The first person they challenge their users to find is an outlaw murderer woman. She is found within 10 minutes, and guess what? These hundreds of millions of users find her without a shred of mistakes. No one mistakes another woman for her, there are no complications, and her capture is done by a police officer with calm and accuracy. Let us just say that plausibility is not this film's strongest suit.

The next person they challenge their users to find is an ordinary person who's not a part of the Circle's network, and who's a former friend of our protagonist. What happens next is simply too stupid to face, because people actually chase for this guy down a highway in the mountains and get him killed in live-feed broadcasting. And what's even worse: there are no consequences to his death. Instead, what happens is that Mae finally "opens her eyes" to the fact that what the Circle is doing is wrong (duh!) and that violating people's privacy could get them killed (oops!). And so, she designs a trap to expose the people behind the Circle and their true intentions (evil laugh). And guess what? SHE DOES IT! She exposes them, all their conversations, their plans, all their private correspondence, all of it! And do you know what they were hiding? -- Neither do I, because the screenwriter forgot to tell us, I guess... Or maybe he did write it but the editor cut that part out... or maybe the director forgot to film that part... or maybe it's not even in the original novel... who knows? And at this point, frankly my dear... who gives a damn? Yes, the antagonist played by Tom Hanks is a uni-dimensional character who we pretty much know nothing about. He has no intent either, no obstacles along the way, and no clear agenda at all. How they got Tom Hanks to act in this film, is just a complete mystery.

The end of the film is as nonsensical as the rest of it. Mae goes on yet another one of her kayaking sails -- but wait a minute, this time she's not alone. She's surrounded by drones who are watching "over" her... because, you know, that is what this was all about...

Please, please, Tom, Emma, Anthony, Gary, Danny, Matthew, Hollywood, the studios, THE AUDIENCE... give some real screenwriter a chance. We promise, we won't let you down.

Cheers from Mexico.

Sincerely, Carlos Algara
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Dunkirk (2017)
7/10
Everything is AMAZING... but what happened to the script?
29 July 2017
Incredible cinematography, amazing camera work, mind blowing action sequences and impeccable production design, music and sound.

But I just walked out of the movie theater and for the life of me, I can't remember a single character's name... that ought to tell you something about the script, right? Was there even a protagonist? Anyways... next flick please, Mister Nolan.
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8/10
A courageous proposal from a new generation of Mexican filmmakers
15 April 2017
Director Victor Dryere's horror proposal is gritty, tenacious and bold. Just when the audience was starting to get bored of the narc-crime and poverty Mexican themed films that populate international film festivals, comes a new perspective from a filmmaker that is a part of a new generation of Mexican auteurs. Even though some will say that it is too early to refer to Dryere as an auteur, the fact remains that through the (almost) 5 years it took him to finish this piece, he remained true to his voice and maintained creative control over his work; and it shows. The fact that he pushed the boundaries of a somewhat overused narrative tool (the found footage) by enhancing it with detailed sound design and unsettling music, makes the audience overlook the slow pace of the first act and the simplicity of the script, by taking us onto a full cinematic and sensory experience; well acted and thoroughly rendered. The result is more than fulfilling. Once the film is over and the enigmatic mystery that surrounds the characters is finally unveiled (won't spoil the ending for you), one is left with the satisfaction that comes with good storytelling, plain and simple. The moments of horror are few, but well constructed, both visually and aurally, with a quality that is uncommon in Mexican thrillers and horror films in general. And the fact that the film was actually shot in crude 8mm film gives it an authenticity that is rare and extraordinary. All in all a well constructed, powerful first work, which produces the sensation that this filmmaker is for real, and that we better be on the lookout for what he comes up with next.
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Desierto (2015)
4/10
Desierto: Mexicans chased by a maniac with a rifle, over, and over, and over again
20 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Although there are some good (technical) elements in this film, such as the camera work, the music score, and the production design; the screenplay is so bland and apathetic that it makes the film feel like a tragic waste of a nice concept.

First of all, if you've seen the trailer to Desierto, then you've pretty much seen the film. Nothing much happens aside of what you see in the trailer: a psychotic madman spots some illegal Mexicans attempting to cross the border into the U.S. and he decides to take matters into his own hands, by killing them all with his rifle. This pretty much happens within the first 15 minutes of the film, so no spoilers there. What might feel like somewhat of an anti-climactic spoiler is that THAT IS IT -- Nothing more happens in the film.

If you expect some kind of explanation to the villain's motivation to kill the Mexicans, there is none. If you think that at least there is an interesting story behind some of the illegals that are trying to reach U.S. soil, nope, sorry, you won't get an interesting story there either.

Instead, what the script does is basically repeat itself: once the first shootout takes place, we're left with 5 characters the villain still has to chase after. Then, the villain's dog takes care of murdering one of the 5 left (quite easily and without much struggle from the poor Mexican fellow, I might add), which leaves 4. Some more hunting goes on and the 4th guy dies, victim of another gunshot by the merciless, yet unexplained murderer. And then there were three...

And guess what happens next? More story? A nice chunk of juicy background to shed some light on who our characters are? -- Nope. The villain's dog takes his second victim. And just when we have two victims left (Gael Garcia is one of them, of course), the killer mastermind and his evil pet decide to call it a day: "Come on Tracker, we'll get them tomorrow..." (sorry but: WHAAAT?!?!?)

Anyway, moving on: our two victims exchange some words before nightfall in the middle of nowhere (in the desert, of course). That's when I thought to myself: "Yes, finally, some interesting facts about our characters so that I can actually care if they live or die... right?" -- Wrong... Unfortunately this conversation reveals just about as much information as a "small talk encounter at a super-market" would reveal about them. And suddenly, hey, IT'S DAYTIME AGAIN!

But wait, where did they sleep? What did they use for shelter? Isn't it supposed to be like super cold at night in the desert? -- Huh... guess that doesn't matter...

Morning arrives and our only two unharmed victims wander around the desert attempting desperately to find help, and... you guessed it, story starts all over again, and the maniac with the rifle and his demonic dog start tracking them, AGAIN, even though they had already tracked them the day before, but got too tired to finish the job, which (if they had finished it) would have also made the film a short film.

And so, the suspense moments of the piece have its highs and lows, some feel so ridiculously low that people at the theater started laughing (can't blame them). There is one sequence in particular in which Gael is attempting to get away from the killer by going round and round a gigantic rock. Both characters chase one another around this rock for what feels like an eternity, until Gael finally remembers his childhood (I'm venturing a guess here) and he stops, and climbs the rock so the killer can get past him, and Gael can now become the chaser... Can't even begin to express what a waste of time that sequence was.

All in all, a lazy script which has a promising and gripping high concept idea, but which fails to engage, and therefore ends up being nothing more than that: a concept. It would have made a nice 20 or 30-minute short film, but because it doesn't go deeper, the narrative has to repeat over and over until we get tired of it and it becomes numbingly boring.

And yet, the film has made its way through Toronto, London, and now Cannes -- Huh... I wonder why that is... probably has nothing to do with the fact that it was written, produced, directed, and edited by Alfonso Cuaron's son...
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