Posts Tagged ‘Guillermo Del Toro’

The Book of Life

When you walk out of a movie, any movie, smiling it’s definitely a win, but after the end of writer/director Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life not only was I smiling, I was practically vibrating with anticipation for a sequel because I honestly didn’t want to leave the world of San Angel. There’s a lot to be said for the cultural landscape of animation when you find yourself crying out, “Yes! More of THAT!” because The Book of Life shows us just how much we’re missing out on, how many stories have gone untold. It took Gutierrez fifteen years to get the film made, and those years worth of passion and love for his home country shows in the vibrant, kinetic, and joyous story that is unrelenting in its dedication to throwing the windows wide open on what it means to be Mexican. The Book of Life is Gutierrez’s – and by extension producer Guillermo Del Toro’s – love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture via the celebration of one of the country’s most revered holidays.

Celebrated from October 31st – November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the embodiment of Mexican culture as families gather in remembrance of their deceased loved ones by building altars and leaving offerings around their graves. But it’s not a somber affair by any means. Music, food, and colorful decorations ensure that death is not something to be feared but is a natural part of life. And it’s through the rituals of the holiday that Mexicans strengthen familial bonds and remain spiritually connected, keeping the memories of those they’ve lost alive. The Book of Life honors those themes while crafting a beautiful fairy tale that will most definitely cast a long shadow over subsequent animated films.

Reading the BookWhen a group of rowdy children show up at a museum, they’re greeted by the unfazed Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who, in celebration of the Day of the Dead, shows them the Book of Life, which contains all the great stories of Mexico. She relates one in particular, using a set of carved dolls to tell the story of Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin. In the town of San Angel, the three children are playing among the gravestones during Dia de los Muertos when La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager about which of the two boys Maria will marry. If Xibalba wins and Joaquin marries Maria, he gets to rule the Land of the Remembered, but if La Muerte wins and Manolo marries Maria, then Xibalba will have to leave the humans alone.

Unbeknownst to La Muerte, Xibalba gifts a young Joaquin with a medallion that will make him invulnerable, which he realizes soon after when Maria frees a bunch of pigs from being slaughtered and he effortlessly defends her and the town from an angry boar. Manolo is no slouch either, revealing his gift as a matador to stop the beast and save the little pig Maria sought to free. Angered at his daughter’s feisty and unladylike sensibilities, General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui) sends Maria to Spain to be educated. Before she leaves, Maria gets a final goodbye with her friends, gifting Manolo a new guitar inscribed with the phrase, “Always play from your heart.” Manolo gifts her the little pig, Chewie (also Carlos Alazraqui), and promises to wait for her. Joaquin, lacking a present, vows to always fight for her as the train speeds away.

Years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) has been trained by his father, Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo) to be a bullfighter like his ancestors before him, including his grandmother, though his true desire is playing guitar with his mariachi friends. Joaquin (Channing Tatum), thanks to the medallion, has become a great soldier and hero like his father before him, returning to San Angel the same day as Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns from Spain. The two men both vy for her love and her hand in marriage, but when Xibalba believes he’s losing the bet he makes sure Manolo isn’t even a contender. From there it’s a race for Manolo to return to the Concept Artliving world to be with Maria again and save the town from the dreaded bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro) who’s out to get his medallion back.

The story itself is actually quite simple. While there’s a lot of window dressing with gods, realms, and world-shattering consequences, it really boils down to being true to yourself – a common premise in family films. But through the lens of The Book of Life being true to yourself, standing up for what you think is right and what you believe in – whether it’s defending your town from banditos or choosing the guitar over the sword – is what solidifies how we are remembered. Both Joaquin and Manolo live in the shadows of their family legacies and in trying to live up to those standards they ultimately set the stage for the chaos that follows. Maria, in contrast, is very aware of who she is and it’s her encouragement and love that leads the two friends down their desired paths. She too has a legacy to uphold and she proves herself to be every bit the leader the Posadas desire. Not only is this a hero’s journey, it’s the journey of an entire community.

The simplicity of the story allows for the film to revel in the culture of Mexico, using the bright colors, energetic music, and stunning art to build the worlds of the living and the dead. Jorge Gutierrez has been quoted saying that he wanted the film to look as beautiful as the art book for an animated film looks and my God did Reel FX Creative Studios deliver. The settings are grand and gorgeous and the designs of the characters are distinct and wonderfully original. Because Mary Beth is using carved figures to tell the story, the people of San Angel look like wooden figures, which shows in the angular build of the characters and the static movement of hair and clothes. The designs, however, don’t limit the characters or the settings. In fact, the choice to tell the story through doll-like figures allows for more detail. The many medals on Joaquin’s uniform, the intricate carvings in Manolo’s guitar, as well as La Muerte’s catrina visage and Xibalba’s Aztecan armor all invite closer scrutiny. You should want to press your face to the screen in order to take it all in.

La Muerte and XibalbaThe cast alone should be reason enough to see the film. Other reviews I’ve read have claimed Channing Tatum’s performance stands out the most and I’m inclined to agree. It isn’t hard to see where the story is going and who Maria will end up with, but Tatum’s Joaquin never lacks personality despite being the overconfident jock to Manolo’s sensitive musician. There’s a surprising amount of depth to his character and Tatum does a wonderful job of capturing Joaquin’s arrogance as well as his deep love and affection for Maria and Manolo. Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana aren’t slackers by any means. Luna’s Manolo is charming, mischievous, and lovable. There’s a believable earnestness and sincerity about the character that is entirely Luna’s making. And Saldana’s Maria is more than just the pretty love interest. She’s a capable woman with a mind of her own and she isn’t afraid to speak out when she’s offended. But she also knows how to have fun, sporting a laugh that’s delightfully infectious. However, I’d have to say that Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman steal the movie for me as La Muerte and Xibalba. The characters and their actors have great chemistry, bickering like an old married couple (which they are) that just happen to be otherworldly gods. Both possess fiery tempers, literally, but both are just as easily soothing and calming. I mean, it’s Ron Perlman. C’mon! Filling out the cast are fantastic actors like Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, Danny Trejo, Grey DeLisle, Miguel Sandoval, Placido Domingo, and Ice Cube as The Candle Maker.

Like the designs and the brilliant color palette, the music in The Book of Life is just as important in telling the story and shows how specific cultural influences can affect songs and their meaning. The soundtrack to The Book of Life is mostly pop songs, sung by the actors, ranging from Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”. It’s an eclectic mix of songs with two originals written by Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla. At first I was a bit put off by the jukebox musical unfolding and, to be honest, I’m still not certain Radiohead’s “Creep” was the most appropriate song for a film like this, but I give a huge amount of credit to Santaolalla for the movie’s score and the fusion of Latin American music and pop songs. Though the audience seeing the film may not be of Hispanic, Latin American, or Mexican descent, music is a shared language and many of us remember these songs, which gives audiences a THE BOOK OF LIFEcommon ground through which to relate to the story and the characters. There are also little pieces of music that show Santaolalla’s cleverness, like the nuns singing “Adios, Maria” in the style of “Ave Maria” or the use of Kinky’s “Más” whenever Joaquin goes into super soldier mode. It’s a soundtrack and score that has a distinct identity, something that other animated films tend to lack.

Hopefully The Book of Life will become a classic of the holiday season because it deserves the attention of children, parents, and really any fan of animation. It’s a cultural celebration of life and death, bringing families and friends together to remember the ones we love and giving us all permission to “play from the heart.”

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Justice-League-movie

Okay, looks like Warner Bros. and DC Comics finally decided to show their hand. While many a DC fan has had to put on a brave face and confidently reassure others that the DC Cinematic Universe will eventually catch up to Marvel, even with the 8-year head start, there’s often a bit of hesitation. DC’s Cinematic foundation started on shaky ground among fans with the divisive Man of Steel and the ever-growing cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still has us scratching our heads over the nature of all the reported cameos. Instead of building their world, Warner Bros. and DC looked like they were trying their damnedest to throw every hero in the DC Universe into one film, reversing Marvel’s formula of solo movies leading to a team up film. It also didn’t help that WB pushed back the release of Dawn of Justice to May of 2016 only to push it up to March in order to avoid direct box office conflict with Captain America 3. And even though WB/DC claimed to have nine movies lined up through 2020, Marvel still trumped them with films scheduled for release through 2028.

Yesterday, however, WB/DC, after sporadic announcements about their films including the casting of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Black Adam for the upcoming Shazam movie, finally gave us a map of their cinematic universe through 2020.

 

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Obviously most of these films aren’t surprising. We’ve known about Justice League and Shazam for a while and Suicide Squad was only recently announced. The most surprising part of this lineup is the splitting up of Justice League into two films, something we’ve only seen with the final movies of book adaptation series, and their placement in the order; part one will follow the Wonder Woman solo movie with part two released two years later after solo movies for the Flash, Aquaman, and Shazam. It’s an odd thing to do when one would logically assume the two films would be one continuous story. Breaking them up with three solo films, presumably origin stories, in the middle seems like a bit of a gamble. Of course, the two Justice League movies could technically be standalone movies with the second part acting as an extension of the finished story from part one with the films sandwiched between adding to the build up. Or they could be a bunch of solo origin stories with no connection to the Justice League narrative. Either scenario is likely until plot details are confirmed – the Schrödinger’s cat of fan speculation, if you will.

Oh, and before I forget…

Ahem!1280-wonder-woman-610x343

OHMYGODWE’REGETTINGAWONDERWOMANSOLOMOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, Sam, calm down. Deep breaths. In and out. There we go. Now…continue.

So, yeah, we’re actually going to get a Wonder Woman solo film before Justice League! The assumption is it will be some sort of origin story since producer Charles Roven recently let slip that her backstory would be more in line with the New 52 comics where Diana learns she’s a demigod, the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. The solo movie could potentially piggyback off of Diana/Wonder Woman’s cameo (however large the role is) in Batman v Superman, telling her origin in its entirety for the cinematic universe. Or the film could go with what seems to be the most popular narrative structure of WB/DC, non-linear storytelling with more flashbacks than you can shake a stick at. One can only hope that the creative team selected for the project has something better up their sleeve. And, sorry Marvel, but looks like DC’s beating you to the female superhero solo movie. Better get cracking on a Black Widow or a Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel movie STAT.

ezra-flashThe announcement also confirmed the casting of Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash. Momoa’s rumored attachment to playing Aquaman has been around for so long I think we’re all breathing easier now that the cat’s finally out of the bag. The casting of Miller as Barry Allen is definitely an interesting one. While Grant Gustin embodies aspects of the Silver Age Barry, in personality and looks, on television, Miller’s casting appears to be more on point with Zack Snyder’s atypical casting decisions. With the myriad casting rumors going around about every other character, Flash seemed to be one of the furthest from our minds. Though now that Miller is confirmed for the role, I’m genuinely interested to see what he brings to Barry on the big screen.

Momoa’s casting is easily the most inspired choice and yet he’s the most radical departure from his comic book counterpart. Arthur Curry, in the comics, has been Whitey McBlonderson since his inception, but putting Momoa, a man of Pacific Islander heritage, in the role feels almost like a “well duh!” moment of realization. Not only does it further diversify the cast, but it shows that the casting director, Snyder, and hopefully some of the producers are thinking more about what works for the character rather than strictly adhering to the comics. Perhaps Momoa’s casting could affect the comics should he prove likeable enough to audiences. Jason Momoa Aquaman

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pumped for the future of comic book movies. In my world, there isn’t a war between Marvel and DC movies. I get to watch all of them, so how could I possibly lose? Okay, there are ways I could lose, but right now I need to live in my delusions of a well crafted universe for the DC Comics characters I love. There are a few things worth noting, though. One, the list doesn’t include planned solo movies for Batman and Superman, which WB is totally gonna do because do I really need to explain it to you? Two, Guillermo Del Toro’s Justice League Dark and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Sandman movies are still in the wings for the time being. Whether WB plans to add them to the lineup or keep them in development hell remains to be seen.

Oh and apparently Green Lantern is getting rebooted. So…Hal Jordan again or can we just skip over to John Stewart?