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.

Annihilation, Movie Review with some spoilers


Annihilation-Movie

Annihilation, a movie adaptation from the novel of the same name, is a confusing story.  The book is part of a trilogy and has no relation to the film except that both are fairly convoluted.

The movie has two storylines: a dying marriage that was based more on lust and youth than common interest and a comet that hits a lighthouse and forces mutations on everything around it.  The comet creates a “shimmer”, which may or may not be made of bubble mixture goop because that’s what it looks like and inside the shimmer a whole lot of mutations are goin’ on and scientists want to know why.

Lena (Natalie Portman) is having an affair so her husband decides to go into the shimmer because he’s self-destructive and Jimmy Fallon’s been kind of dull lately.  He’s gone for 12 months and returns ….. different.  The government, an organization run by a tranquilized Jennifer Jason Leigh, kinda wants Lena to go into the shimmer with her to investigate the entity further.  I write kinda because everyone in the film just meanders and moseys through their own story.

Lena and Jennifer don’t go in alone; they go into the bubble mixture goop with Jane the Virgin whose only special skill appears to be staring and whining, but to be fair she might be picking up on her malaise from being on a shitty CW show.  There’s also Explainer Woman who explains everything all….the….time and I mean Morgan Freeman voiceover levels of explaining.  There’s a lady who cuts herself (off camera) and whose special skill is to Explain Science with a voice that can only be described as sedated, interesting choice to prepare for every scene by eating a turkey sandwich and gravy.

They proceed to run into some weird predators and creepy deer; yep, creepy deer.  As they get closer to the origin of the comet impact, the mutations are more and more pronounced.  We are also treated to her husband via found video footage that the shimmer area is mutating him and his comrades that were all lost in the previous mission.  There does not appear to be a motive to the mutations or any form of a goal on the part of the invasive comet.  In many ways, the movie is a lot like the flora and fauna in the film; it is, it exists, and it will cost about 14.00 bucks to see it.

The movie did succeed in creating a mysterious vibe and playing up the unreliable narrator component.  It failed in pacing.  This movie is s l o w.  I mean it’s possible that I went back in time and re-watched it again.  I thought it was actually an hour longer than it was.  I have to really think as to whether I would recommend the film to a fellow human being.  If you go to see a Western because you like to watch people mosey, this is the film for you.

 

Here’s What Won At The Golden Globes!


Film Awards

Best Film (Drama) — Boyhood

Best Drama Actor — Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Best Drama Actress — Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Best Film (Comedy) — The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Comedy Actor — Michael Keaton in Birdman

Best Comedy Actress — Amy Adams in Big Eyes

Best Supporting Actor — J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress — Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Best Director — Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Screenplay — Birdman

Best Animated Feature — How To Train Your Dragon 2

Best Score — The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song — “Glory” from Selma

TV Awards

Best Drama Series — The Affair

Best Drama Actor — Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Best Drama Actress — Ruth Wilson in The Affair

Best Comedy Series — Transparent

Best Comedy Actor — Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent

Best Comedy Actress — Gina Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin

Best TV Movie/Limited Series — Fargo

Best TV Movie/Limited Series Actor — Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo

Best TV Movie/Limited Series Actress — Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman

Best TV Supporting Actor — Matt Bomer in The Normal Heart

Best TV Supporting Actress — Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey