Casa De Ma Padre by Matt Piedmont

Casa Di Ma Padre by Matt Piedmont

Plot summary: Casa De Ma Padre tells the story of Armando Álvarez (played by Will Ferrell), who must save his father’s ranch from a powerful drug lord.

I am not a fan of Will Ferrell’s comedy. The only two Will Ferrell performances that I liked were his parts in Stranger Than Fiction and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The only reason I took interest in Casa De Ma Padre was that the trailer had me on the floor when I first saw it on Apple Trailers. It’s my belief that you should never totally write somebody off. So I decided to check this one out.

So thoughts? It’s not as funny as it ought to be. I laughed a total of four times – the 2 major laughs was over the song number “Yo No Se” (Spanish for “I don’t know”) and a gag with an animal puppet. The film relies mostly on all the B-movie gags done in the faux trailers in Grindhouse to give you a B-movie feel – bad cuts, blaring continuity errors and entire reels missing. That B-movie gag has officially run its course.

There was something admirable about Will Ferrell learning Spanish just to be funny in a film. The language barrier forces more discipline in Ferrell’s comedic performance than the usual “Will Ferrell Random Comedy Theater”. Often times, it’s too easy when a comedian can stop committing to a moment and go into another bit right away to milk a laugh.

The story for the most part is relatively serious, which I did not expect for a Will Ferrell movie. The actors are all playing it straight but partly because we’re experiencing the story through its sometimes intentionally erroneous subtitles, it’s not being played straight enough for it be ironic. It’s like watching a big inside joke that you can’t laugh at because everybody else won’t let you in on the joke. Strangely, I found myself going along with the story instead of the jokes and sat through the rest of the film to see how the story would play out. Perhaps if the story was more comedic in its own structure, the gags would have been punctuated for a more comedic experience.

Casa De Ma Padre is not terrible, but it was a weird experience and I cannot fully recommend it on the basis that it’ll make you laugh. In the end, the whole essence of the film’s humor is unfortunately all in the trailer itself.

Here’s the trailer that floored me:

Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo

Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo

Miss Bala tells the story of Laura Guerrero (played by Stephanie Sigman), who dreams of becoming a beauty contest queen in a Mexico dominated by organized crime.

I am not familiar with what life is like in Mexico, so it was very interesting to follow Laura as she is taken through the inner world of the Mexican drug cartels. There are some very cruel moments of violence and I found myself scared for this girl the whole time. Not to sound distasteful, but I was really scared that she was going to be raped. Any time a gangster with a machine gun comes up to Laura, I was thinking, “He can totally do it right now. There’s nothing stopping him!” When she’s not being threatened sexually, it was the possibility of her being shot to death. There are a few long take sequences in the film where Laura dodging crossfire in gun battle that puts you in the moment. We see how the violence and the corruption eventually weighs down on this girl, eventually corrupts her dream and sucks the living soul out of her.

However, Miss Bala commits the sin of choosing its message over its protagonist in its third act. Laura becomes progressively passive and ends up being an inactive character who simply observes and obeys the orders she’s given by the gangsters. Stephanie Sigman is a competent lead actress and carries the film but her character has no motivation from that point onwards. It builds to an open ending that I thought was too “open” for its own good. The film wants to present Laura as an innocent victim caught in the middle of all this turmoil, but I still think the victim angle can still be clear with her actively trying to accomplish a goal. It’s as if director Gerardo Naranjo thought it would be too much and settled on his presenting his message but the audience definitely was hungry for that extra mile. I’m sure that wasn’t Naranjo’s goal. That said, Miss Bala still gripped me for the first two thirds.

It’s a nice piece of “issue-tainment” nonetheless.

Sidewalls by Gustavo Taretto

Sidewall (Medianeras) by Gustavo Taretto

Martín and Mariana are slightly damaged people who live in buildings just opposite one another. Martín, works as a web designer and is a phobic in recovery process. Little by little he manages to step out of the isolation of his one-room apartment and his virtual reality.  Mariana is an architect who just broke up after a long relationship. Her head is a mess, just like the apartment where she takes refuge. Martin and Mariana live in the same street, in opposite buildings, but they never met. They walk through the same places, but they do not notice each other. Both are afraid of the outside world. While they often don’t notice each other, separation might be the very thing that brings them together.

The film opens with a Manhattan-like montage showing the many buildings in Buenos Aires, a monologue from Martín (played by Javier Drolas) describes how architecture is the ultimate human expression and a mirror-accurate reflection of how we are – disorganized, contradictory, chaotic and disconnected. Martín states that his entire life is in his apartment: he works, sleeps, eats, has sex (with himself) and entertains himself there. He blames architects because they have designed the outlines of his life. Modernity has made our homes so comfortable that being outside and interacting with other people now seem daunting.

The characters are quirky but realistic. We are presented with their inner monologues along with animations visualizing their inner thoughts. It is never quirky for the sake of being quirky. Let’s just say if Zoe Deschanel suddenly manifested in this movie, she would have been quietly escorted out by Latino security guards. No seriously, Martín and Mariana’s quirks come from a real damaged place of hurt, heartbreak and a loss of faith in people. Something that felt really real for me was how Mariana likes to lean on a specific spot in her apartment -a wall besides the 5-step walkway up to her bedroom area. It does not look particularly comfortable or anything special, but she leans there and uses it like a place of safety. That hit me on a personal level.

Sidewalls provides a precise portrayal of isolation and loneliness and underneath asks some challenging questions. Why is all this interconnectivity setting us apart? How can someone feel alone on a subway full of people? Is love the answer? It might be the answer, but it’s goddamn hard to find amidst all this interconnectivity. Suffice to say, Martín and Mariana do get to meet potential lovers and it is interesting to see how they play out and how it affects the two protagonists. There are many whimsical moments and I smiled through most of the film. It gets a bit dark at times too. Mariana purchases a mannequin and interacts with it in all sorts of ways and I hoped that her condition wouldn’t worsen into anything darker. For that, I think actress Pilar López de Ayala has the meatier role. After this film, I think I have a new crush.

I liked what the film had to say about urban loneliness. I liked and cared for these characters and wanted to see them together. It’s a nice charming gem of a love story. I would have wanted to see more interaction between the two characters, but maybe that’s a good thing. It left me wanting more.

Colombiana by Olivier Megaton

Colombiana by Olivier Megaton

Colombiana by Olivier Megaton

Colombiana is another Luc Besson-produced action romp starring Zoe Saldana, directed by Olivier Megaton (the best director’s name ever).

The story: A young girl named Cataleya Restrepo’s (played by Zoe Saldana) parents are killed by mobsters in Colombia. She escapes to the United States and trains herself into an assassin with the help of her uncle Emilio (played by Cliff Curtis). Suffice to say, she exacts revenge on the Colombian mobsters.

There are ridiculous moments in the story that feign B-movie sensibilities but never goes extreme enough for it to register as funny to the audience. It throws the film off tonally. There’s a scene where a young Cataleya (played very nicely by young child actress Amandla Stenberg) pleads for her uncle Emilio to train her into an assassin. He agrees and registers her into an elementary school. She questions his actions, thinking he broken his promise. Uncle Emilio takes out a gun and unloads it into a car on the street until it crashes on the sidewalk. He turns to the young Cataleya and explains that to be an assassin, one must knows how the world works and the only way to learn that is in school. As he is saying this, the police are pulling into the street and interviewing bystanders about the accident. Cataleya and Uncle Emilio slowly walk away from the scene of the crime. Was I supposed to laugh at that? Or was that I supposed to be moved by Uncle Emilio’s mentorship on how to be an assassin? Shouldn’t assassins be discreet?

The editing is insanely frenetic, you end up getting a sum-up of the entire fight than experiencing the entire beats of an engagement. The action sequence that I really enjoyed was the one where Zoe Saldana makes a kill in a police station. She uses her slim frame to her advantage and that was a nice attempt to explain why an assassin might be that skinny. Even though that would be the only advantage when you stop to think about it.

Cataleya is a very determined but ultimately a very unlikable character. She is trying to avenge the death of her parents, but ends up doing something immoral in the third act that makes her come off more like a sociopath than a hero. The character lacked a moral code that was necessary for the audience to really engage with her. It was like if Batman threatened to kill a criminal’s parents in order to squeeze information out of him. What the movie supplants for character likability is that the film expects you to be  totally physically infatuated with Zoe Saldana. The film really hangs on that, which creates a very strong pornographic sensibility running beneath this film. There are many instances where Zoe Saldana is not wearing a brassiere and is “nipping” through her clothes and the cinematography is directed to gazing at her.

The love story between Zoe Saldana and Michael Vartan was unconvincing. She visits him in his artist studio apartment and they have sex. That’s the entire dynamic of their relationship. There’s a scene where he asks her to tell him something about herself and the film forces a deeper emotional connection that I did not buy. He tells a friend about her later in a cafe and can only describe her as “she has a great body, pretty face and I can’t stop thinking about her.” The film does not provide any humanity for Cataleya other than being very attractive and wanting revenge. The villains are not even developed either. Say what you will about Rambo 4, but the opening sequence in Burma where the soldiers bet on their prisoners walking across land mines made me hate them instantly. And that worked! This did not work, because I do not know the villains at all.

I am not the kind of guy that thinks a woman with a gun shooting people is equal to a strong woman. Having previously played  strong and much better written female characters (Uhura in Star Trek), Zoe Saldana really deserves something better. I liked the previous Luc Besson-produced action films such as Danny the Dog/Unleashed, Taken and yes, even From Paris with Love. They have done better than this in the past, so I can only say Colombiana was a bit of a miss.

On another note, I’m seriously considering legally changing my name to “Megaton”.