Film Review: Miss Bala (dir by Catherine Hardwicke)


About 75 minutes into the American remake of Miss Bala, Gloria (played by Gina Rodriguez) is inadvertently responsible for getting a totally innocent women killed by a Mexican drug cartel.

After I finished watching Miss Bala and I was trying to figure out why exactly this remake did not work for me, my mind kept returning to that scene.  It’s a very dramatic scene and yet, at the same time, it has almost no emotional impact.  Some of that’s because the woman only appears in one other scene before she gets executed and it’s obvious that the only reason the character was included in the film was so she could be killed.  The film itself doesn’t really seem to care about the innocent woman.  Instead, its focus remains on Gloria and how she feels about the violence.  While we get some scenes of Gloria looking distraught and, at one point, vomiting over a balcony, it still doesn’t seem as if Gloria is really that upset about the fact that the woman’s been executed.  Instead, she mostly seems to be annoyed by the fact that she had to witness it.  In the scene afterwards, you never really get the feeling that Gloria’s carrying around any sort of lingering guilt for the role that she played in the woman’s death.

However, I think that what really bothered me was that, in this film that took place almost entirely in Mexico, the executed woman was one of the few positively-portrayed Mexican characters and she was killed off as almost an afterthought.  The film was more concerned with how the American Gloria felt about the woman’s death than about the woman herself.

Miss Bala is a remake of a Mexican film.  The original Miss Bala came out in 2011 and it starred Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero, an aspiring beauty queen who finds herself caught in the middle of the never ending war between the DEA and the Mexican drug cartels.  The original Miss Bala was a violent and often lurid film but it was also an unusually powerful examination of what it’s like to be an innocent trapped in the middle of war.  Stephanie Sigman played Laura with the sad-eyed stoicism of someone who knew that she had little choice but to do whatever the cartel ordered her to do.  In the original Miss Bala, Laura stood-in for every innocent who had been victimized by either side of the War on Drugs.  The film ended up a note of cynical ambiguity, suggesting that survival had less to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

In the remake, Laura is transformed into Gloria, an American makeup artist from Los Angeles who comes to Tijuana to help her friend compete for the title of Miss Baja.  By changing the lead character’s nationality, the remake also changes the story’s focus.  It’s no longer the story of someone trying to survive living in a war zone.  Instead, it becomes just another film about an American getting into trouble while traveling abroad.  Interestingly enough, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the aspiring drug lord who kidnaps Gloria, is also an American who happens to live in Tijuana. I assume this was done so the film would have an excuse to have everyone speaking English but it still feels odd to watch a movie about the Mexican drug war in which we rarely hear anyone having a substantive conversation in Spanish.

Gina Rodriguez plays the role of Gloria with a sort of open-faced blandness that occasionally makes Miss Bala feel as if it’s an extended episode of Jane The Virgin.  While the remake tries to make Gloria into a more proactive character than the original’s Laura, Rodriguez never suggests that there’s much going on below the surface.  Far more impressive is Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Lino with a sexy and dangerous swagger.  Cordova bring so much charisma to the role that it’s not until the end credits role that you realize that nothing Lino did made much sense.

Director Catherine Hardwicke is responsible for one of my favorite film of all time (Thirteen).  She also directed the enjoyably melodramatic Red Riding Hood.  And, of course, she’ll always be known for directing the first Twilight.  With Miss Bala, though, Hardwicke seems to just going through the standard action film motions.  She never captures the original’s outrage about what the never ending drug war is doing to the people of Mexico.  Instead, for the most part, the remake of Miss Bala shrugs off any intentional subtext and instead focuses on building up to a sequel that will probably never come.

Skip the remake of Miss Bala.  The original is all you need.

Back to School #63: Thirteen (dir by Catherine Hardwicke)


Have you ever seen a film and thought to yourself, “Oh my God, that’s my life?”

That’s the way I always feel whenever I see the 2003 film Thirteen.  Thirteen is one of my favorite movies but I always get uncomfortable whenever I watch it because a lot of the film hits really close to home for me.  Thirteen tells the story of 13 year-old Tracy (played, in an amazing performance, by Evan Rachel Wood) who, after befriending Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the script along with director Catherine Hardwicke), goes wild.  Soon, Tracy is shoplifting, self-harming, experimenting with drugs and sex, and striking out at her mother, Melanie (Oscar nominee Holly Hunter).

As played by Hunter, Melanie is probably one of the best moms to ever show up in a contemporary film.  I’m tempted to say that Hunter’s performance here is the American equivalent to Sophia Loren’s work in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women.  Melanie is not portrayed as being perfect.  Instead, she’s a recovering alcoholic who is dating a former drug addict (played by Jeremy Sisto) and she doesn’t always say the right thing and sometimes she does wish that she could just be selfish and not have to deal with her rebellious daughter.  When Evie, claiming that she’s being abused at her own home, literally moves in with Tracy, Melanie instinctively knows that Evie is a bad influence but she can’t bring herself to turn her away.  And yet, for all the mistakes that she makes, Melanie is still a good mom.  She loves her daughter and finally proves that she’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness to try to save Tracy.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 2003, but it should have gone to Holly Hunter.

Thirteen was the directorial debut of one of my favorite director, Catherine Hardwicke.  Hardwicke doesn’t get the critical respect that she deserves, largely because she directed the first Twilight.  (Twilight, however, is not a badly directed film.  The trouble is with the source material, not Hardwicke’s direction.)  With Thirteen, Hardwicke approaches the film with a matter-of-fact directness that keep the movie grounded and prevents it from going over-the-top with its nonstop parade of delinquent behavior.

Thirteen

It’s a difficult film for me to watch because, when I was thirteen, I basically was Tracy.  I was angry at my Dad for leaving us and a part of me blamed my mom but an even bigger part of me blamed myself.  Like Tracy, I felt as if I had been abandoned and I felt as if control of my life was out of my hands.  I resented the life that I imagined I would never get to live and so, I went out of my way to make sure that everyone knew that I didn’t need them but they certainly needed me.  I struck out in whatever way I could and, looking back at it now, I know that, basically from the ages of 13 to 17, I caused a lot of unneccessary pain to the people who loved me.

Thirteen captures all of that perfectly and, therefore, it’s not easy for me to watch.  But, at the same time, I’m always glad after I do watch it because I know that I turned out okay and that gives me hope that, despite the film’s ambiguous ending, Tracy will turn out okay as well.

Thirteen2003Poster

Poll: Who Should Direct Catching Fire?


With the recent announcement that Gary Ross will not be directing Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, there’s been a lot of online speculation has started as to who will take his place.  Since I was bored at work, I spent an hour or two reading some of that speculation.  Needless to say, a lot of names are being tossed around and some are a lot more plausible than others.  However, a few names seem to be mentioned more often than others.

Speaking for myself, I don’t think that the loss of Gary Ross is going to really hurt the sequel, financially or artistically. 

Financially, people are going to see the sequel regardless of who directs it and, quite frankly, I doubt many people went to the Hunger Games because they just couldn’t wait to see Gary Ross’s follow-up to Seabiscuit

From an artistic point of view, the main reason that I loved the Hunger Games was because, after years of seeing blockbuster movies where being female was essentially the same as being helpless and insipid, it was so refreshing to see a film about a strong, independent young woman who is concerned about something more than just keeping her boyfriend happy.  In short, I loved The Hunger Games because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  In short, Gary Ross was about as important to The Hunger Games franchise  as Chris Columbus was to the Harry Potter films.

As for who the new director is going to be, here’s some of the more interesting names that I’ve seen mentioned:

Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors of all time and he’s certainly showed that he can create entertaining films that both challenge conventional and force you to think.  As well, directing the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics and, if that’s not good training for the Hunger Games then what is?

J.J. Abrams is a far more conventional director than Danny Boyle but he’s also proven that he can make blockbuster films that don’t necessarily insult one’s intelligence.  Add to that, he created Alias and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

As the only woman to ever win best director, Kathryn Bigelow is an obvious choice for a franchise that is ultimately all about empowerment.  Plus, she’s proven she can handle action films and I think it would be a neat if, under her direction, Catching Fire made more money than Avatar.

Sofia Coppola, who should have won an Oscar for Lost in Translation,  would bring a definitely lyrical quality to Catching Fire and, if nothing else. her version would be amazing to look at.  Add to that, Sofia Coppola deserves to have at least one blockbuster on her resume.  (Yes, I know a lot of you people hated Somewhere but you know what?  You’re wrong and I’m right.)

Alfonso Cuaron has proven, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan, that he can step into a franchise without sacrificing his own individual vision.  Children of Men shows that he can create a realistic dystopian future.

Debra Granik is best-known for directing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.  If not for Granik, Katniss Everdeen could have very easily ended up being played by Kristen Stewart.

Catherine Hardwicke is, of course, best known for directing the first Twilight film and a lot of people will never forgive her for that.  And you know what?  That’s really not fair to Hardwicke. Say what you will about Twilight, the film was actually pretty well-directed and Red Riding Hood is one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of 2011.  (No, really…)   Finally, Hardwicke directed Thirteen, one of the best films ever made.  Hardwicke’s Catching Fire probably wouldn’t be critically acclaimed but it would be a lot of fun.

Patty Jenkins is one of the more surprising names that I saw mentioned on several sites.  Jenkins is best known for directing the ultra-depressing Monster  as well as the atmospheric pilot for AMC’s The Killing. Apparently she was also, for a while, signed up to direct Thor 2, which would suggest that she can handle blockbuster action.  Of course, she was also fired from Thor 2.

Mike Newell directed the best of the Harry Potter films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and has shown that he can handle action and spectacle.  He’s also directed Mona Lisa Smile, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Sam Raimi would turn Catching Fire into a thrill ride.  While you would lose a lot of the story’s subtext, the film would certainly not be boring.  Add to that, Raimi directing would increase the chances of a Bruce Campbell cameo.

To be honest, I haven’t seen anyone mention the name of Mark Romanek so I’m going to mention him because I think he’s great and that Never Let Me Go was one of the best films of 2010.  Add to that, he actually played an important role in my life in that I can still remember being 12 years old, seeing his video for Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and going, “That’s what I’m going to do once I get to high school…”

Julie Taymor is best known as a theatrical director but her films have all been distinguished by a strong, individualistic vision.  More people need to see her film version of The Tempest.

Susanna White, though not well-known, was a contender to direct The Hunger Games before the job went to Gary Ross.  White got her start working with the BBC before coming over to America to direct episodes of Generation Kill and Boardwalk Empire for HBO.  She was also a contender to director another film based on YA literature, The Host.

With Hanna, Joe Wright gave us the best film of 2011 (regardless of what the Academy thinks) and he’s proven that he knows how to mix empowerment and action.

There are other names in contention, of course.  I’ve seen everyone from Stephen Soderbergh (bleh, to be honest) to Rob Zombie mentioned.  Arleigh suggested both James Cameron and David Fincher but I think he was mostly doing that to annoy me.  Someone on twitter (may have been me) mentioned Tyler Perry and then laughed and laughed.  However, the 14 names above are the ones that I find to be the most interesting and/or plausible.

So, who do you think would be a the best director for Catching Fire?

As for me and who I would like to so direct the film, I think that the director of Catching Fire should be a woman because Catching Fire is, ultimately, a story about empowerment.  I also think that characterization is far more important than action so I’m not as concerned about whether or not the director has a history of blowing things up onscreen.  Instead, what the franchise needs is a strong, female director with an eye for detail and a strong appreciation for what film is capable of accomplishing as an art form. 

For that reason, my vote goes to Sofia Coppola.

Film Review: Red Riding Hood (dir. by Catherine Hardwicke)


My problems with Red Riding Hood are more of a personal nature than anything else. I’m from a family that clashed old world values of women being blindly subserviant to the Man of the House vs. women being fiercely independent and only having a male in their lives to complement things. These elements were my luggage already brought to the table on seeing the film, but it shouldn’t damper one’s opinion on the film. If this review does this, it’s on me personally and not a reflection of the entire Shattered Lens.

Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Red Riding Hood takes the classic fairy tale and expands on it. While it does so, it doesn’t do it by much. What it has going for it is a nice visual style. Colors are vibrant and director Catherine Hardwicke really has an eye when it comes to forest landscapes (just as she did with Twilight). Mists cover the trees and capes billow in the wind, when it’s not concentrating on the town itself (which does look like a soundstage at times). In the end, however, it suffers from the same quasi teenage issues that Twilight had. I yawned a number of times. Granted, I understand that the movie may be targeted to a younger audience (and for them it may very well work), but even my audience groaned a little and they were target individuals.

Red Riding Hood is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village that lives in fear of The Wolf, who has been known to sneak in and attack or kill citizens. To appease the wolf, the townspeople keep animals tied outside. As a child, she forms a bond with a young boy named Peter. Time passes, and we find young Valerie bethrothed to Henry (Max Irons) by way of her mother’s plans (played by Virginia Madsen). Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) still has feelings for Valerie, and this all quickly becomes another Bella / Jacob / Edward triangle. It’s not at the start a story of Valerie choosing her own road, but having to hear from everyone around her that this guy should be the one she marries or that one is the right guy for her. To me, personally, the film in the beginning pushes as much of a pro-“I need a man to survive” stance as Battle:LA does a Pro-Marine one. Is this a terrible thing? Not if that’s where your mindset is, no. Every time I saw them mention anything along the lines of hand and feet worship some guy just because “that’s how it is”, I had to remind myself that it’s just the time period the story takes place in (though I’m sure the audience heard me groan at least once). Again, that’s just me.

In the midst of all this, on being asked to run away with Peter, Valerie is alerted to her sister’s death from the wolf. The townfolk make a point of going after the wolf, and decide to head out the cave where they believe the beast lives. They return with proof of a victory and plan to host a party for the deed. The town priest (Lukas Haas, who somehow seems to less here than he did in Inception) reaches out for help in form of Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon, arriving with armed guards warns the townsfolk of the evil of werewolves and that he will hunt it down. The next few nights will be Blood Moon nights, meaning that if the wolf bites anyone during that time, they’ll become werewolves as well. The townsfolk, not buying into this, decide to have a wild party with sexy dancing. This results in a visit from the Wolf, who confronts Valerie and telepathically asks her to come away with it, or the town will be razed. It all kind of escalates from there.

Oldman, for his credit, was fun here and slightly over to the top.  Oldman delivers his lines with flair, being far less subdued here than he was in The Book of Eli. For who better to hunt a wolf than Sirius Black himself, right?

And that’s part of the problem I found with Red Riding Hood. With the exception of Seyfried, the supporting cast is actually stronger than the main group of actors the story focuses on. Julie Christie plays Valerie’s grandmother, in a great turn, and as always Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Twilight) is supportive as Valerie’s father. He’s really one of the highlights of the film. As for Henry and Peter’s characters,  the most I could think of with them were the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. They’re eye candy for the girls, though I should note that none of the girls in my audience were excited as they were when I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon. There were lots of screaming for that one.

What does work is that the movie is reminiscient of The Beast Must Die. It is a mystery of who the wolf actually is, and both Valerie and the audience are given clues. That I actually enjoyed, and the third act of the film wasn’t too bad. The action is quick and to the point, but again, it all kind of feels like I could have seen this as a series on the CW. There wasn’t as much of a worry about who would fall at the hands of the wolf or what dangers would face Valerie so much as they actually looked cool when it occurred. Easily a Netflix pick.

Red Riding Hood Trailer


I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One earlier today and, before the film started, I saw the trailer for the upcoming Red Riding Hood.  The trailer itself gives off a definite Twilight vibe, which isn’t surprising since both films were directed by Catherine Hardwicke and, regardless of what we may think of them, the Twilight films have made a lot of money.  So, it makes sense that the trailer would be designed to bring in as many Twilight fans as possible…

Still, I’m looking forward (though admittedly, with a certain amount of caution) to Red Riding Hood.  Why?  Well, first off, Gary Oldman’s in it and Gary Oldman would have made Twilight a lot better as well.  Plus, both of the leads are pretty to look at.  (And, it should be noted, if Amanda Seyfried could give a good performance in a terrible film like Chloe than she can probably give a good performance in anything.)  And finally — Catherine Hardwicke made her debut with Thirteen back in 2003 and I love that film so much that I can even forgive her for a hundred Twilights.

Anyway, here’s the trailer.