The Book of Life: Good Family Fare

by Zulma Orta

The_Book_of_Life_(2014_film)_posterThe animated feature, The Book of Life is a magnificent film directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and written by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and Douglas Langdale.  This movie is one of my all-time favorites, revolving around romance, friendship, tradition, death, and life.  Its powerful messages will not only reach the hearts of viewer’s but the film introduces kids to a vibrant world of color.

The friendship that Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin (the protagonists) share is truly a bond that cannot be broken, although it’s obvious that both Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) and Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) are interested in Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) as a woman and not just as a friend.  The mantra of the trio is, “No retreat, no surrender”.   The fact that this film shows children how pure and innocent love is is incredible.  Particularly since love is something that is often confused for lust.  The internal and external struggles that each character face here are some that adults are faced with on a daily basis.  Maria is stuck in between doing what is right for her Pueblo of San Angel or doing what her heart desires the most, which is to love Manolo endlessly.  Manolo is stuck between Bull fighting and honoring his family name or fulfilling his passion of singing, while Joaquin is stuck between being a strong male figure and becoming who he truly is.  These are everyday struggles that people face; the decision between what is “right” and what we emotionally feel.  We often sacrifice our own well being for the good of others.  This movie gives the audience a chance to identify themselves with characters who do the same.

the-book-of-life-official-trailer-2Maria is a strong lead female role.  Although this is a kid’s movie it shows how empowering and strong women can be.  Maria is sassy and defeats the odds facing a Latina woman.  She wants to have power over her own life and do something more with her life than attend to a family household.  Additionally, I felt that it was very smart of the writers to show a more sensitive side on the male stand point as well.  Both Joaquin and Manolo are sensitive and want to be comprehended.  They act like “tough guys”, but at the end they let the viewer know that it is okay to be weak in some sense.  I believe this is more than realistic and it happens every day.  Society has made us believe that women should be women and men should be men.  Yet, this movie defies that message by letting the younger generation know that it’s okay to be different; it’s okay to be yourself.  Again tradition is very much present in this film.  From the vibrant colors that scream Mexico, to the traditional clothes, music, food, and holidays.  This movie is able to personify Mexico in such a beautiful and successful way.  I could tell that they studied the geographical regions in Mexico and that is something that I truly appreciate, as well as the music that they use throughout the film.  It is not fully Mexican but it does have that Mexican flare. 

book_of_lifeIt’s important to note that one of the central themes of the film is death.  Death is a topic that is usually seen as something tragic.  Children are usually introduced to death in films like “The Fox and the Hound” or even in “The Lion King”, but I feel that this film incorporates the portrayal of death in such a subtle and beautiful way.  They made sure that it is seen as a passage on to a better life where there is celebration and you can be reunited with the loved ones that have already passed.  I think that is such an important concept that children should not be immune too.  This film, of course doesn’t leave out the truths about death.  Yes, it hurts and of course you will miss your loved one.  But, you must enjoy your life to the fullest because you never know when your last day will be.

150625-book-of-life-01-1920Saying that, life is also a major part of this film.  The concept of life is probably by far my favorite topic in this movie.  They portray Manolo as someone who was writing his own story, showing kids that they have control over their future and their own goals.  It is just a beautiful message of encouragement and it proves that not everything is set in stone.  Drawing back to the internal struggles that each character had, Manolo is scared of killing a bull.  But, the truth is he isn’t scared of defeating the bull.  He is scared of letting his family down.  Yet, he is a courageous character who refuses to let his family’s pressure get in the way of what he believes to be right.  The beautiful message is that sometimes we have to let go of our own fears in order to be able to create our own path.  Joaquin is a character that is ambiguous.  In the language of a kid he is a meathead.  He only cares about his own achievements and his looks.  But, really he’s afraid of admitting that he isn’t like his father and he will never be a “Grand General.”  I identified myself very much with him in this sense.  We’re always looking to fill someone else’s shoes, and we forget that we have to fill our own shoes.  I feel like this is telling children that they can be whomever they wish to be.

manolo-and-joaqiun-brotherhood1This movie isn’t all about beauty and inspiration.  The writers are able to incorporate some of the downfalls we deal with in life, such as the people who don’t want us to succeed.  In this movie it is Chacal, a villain who terrorizes villages.  Chacal wants all or nothing and he honestly doesn’t care about who he hurts in the process.  I feel like we all deal with someone like this in our everyday life.  As much as we try to avoid them they are never content.  They try to distract us in any way they can.  This is where the characters unite as a unit and defeat the negativity,  showing kids how to be comrades.  More than anything it teaches them values and reinforces kindness.  Sometimes we have to fight for ourselves even if that means deferring to greater forces.  I don’t think violence is the answer, but I do believe that we have the right to fight for what we believe.  This movie is a great example of people who want the same thing fighting for it together.  Not only do the characters put aside their own differences, but they realize the truths they’ve been trying to avoid.  Sometimes you cannot do everything on your own.  Sometimes you need to turn to the people who love and care for you.  I believe that this movie emphasizes friendship, love, triumph, but most importantly that it is completely okay to be yourself.  You should never acquiesce to others.  It is okay to put yourself first.  

maxresdefaultI believe the film also speaks to parents.  It lets them learn that they cannot push their children to be someone who they might not want to be.  They have to let them explore and come to be who they want to be.  Maria’s dad doesn’t realize this at the beginning.  He wants to mold his daughter into a modest young lady because he is afraid of what people would say about him.  Later he comes to realize that “she is the son he never had.”  He realizes that he loves her regardless of who she is or what she is.  Maria likewise is going to love him in return the same way.  He just needed to learn to accept her.  I feel like a lot of us need to learn to accept things instead of forcing them.  Sometimes we truly only make it much worse than it really is.

book-of-life-movie-images_zpsdf83a781In conclusion, I believe this is a magical film for families all around the world.  It celebrates customs and empowers family.  The filmmakers did a good job in mixing up the stereotypical roles that we put upon women and men.  They managed to embody the true definition of friendship, and they were able to depict something so beautiful, which is acceptance.  Here we see families learning to accept and love those around them as well as themselves.  Becoming accepting of the hardships we are faced with and learning to embrace the life we are given is an important lesson.  I give this movie a ten out of ten.  There are many other messages that speak volumes about multiple issues as well.  I also believe the film embodies my Mexican traditions in a beautiful and subtle way.  And lastly it taught me “No retreat, No surrender.”  Life is beautiful and we should always keep fighting. 

The Hateful 8: A Must See With A Pretty Gimmick

by Erik Harty

hateful-eight-750x410The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film.  With his announcement that he will only be making ten films, each new project has become even more enticing.  This film carries with it a lot of anticipation, and for the most part, it does not disappoint.  Shot on 65mm film stock and, where possible, projected in “glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision,” it is truly a beautiful piece of filmmaking.  But is this film a game changer, or is it just a pretty gimmick?

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of The Hateful Eight at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), which was followed by a Q&A session between Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan.  Leading up to the screening, there was some debate about whether or not the film would be shown in its “true” 70mm version.  Fortunately, I got to see it in its full, 70mm Ultra Panavision Roadshow glory.


Before we even get started, it is important to understand the difference between 35mm and 65mm film.  While there are all sorts of lens differences, depth of field issues, and more that could be discussed, the fundamental difference is the size of the frame. 65mm is almost twice as big as 35mm.  That means that each frame contains more information, literally (as in how much is physically present in the image), but also in terms of the overall resolution of the image.  The detail present in 65mm film could only be matched digitally with a camera capable of capturing 8K images.  That’s huge.  What do you do with that much detail and that massive of a frame?  Well for one, you can begin rethinking your editing process.


Beyond the magnificence of 70mm Ultra Panavision, the thing that really stuck out to me about The Hateful Eight was its editing.  Now, editing is one of the those things that is usually done best if it’s not noticed at all, and I think that is true with this film.  However, the analytical portion of my brain got the better of me this time, so I was specifically looking for cuts during some parts of the movie, meaning the average Joe may not have noticed what I’m going to talk about at all.

The maKurtRussellSamuelLJacksonHatefulEightin thing that stuck out to me about the editing was the pacing.  I’ve only seen two other Tarantino films, but based on my experience with those and the input of people who have seen all of his films, The Hateful Eight has a different pacing style altogether.  Believe it or not, the first half of the film actually moved kind of slow, which is something I’ve never heard said about a Tarantino film.  I think the main reason for the change of pace was actually the larger frame size.  The amount of detail in each shot requires more time to fully absorb, therefore the shot remains on screen for a longer period of time.  You could argue that the pacing is too slow as a result, but I actually enjoyed it.

Another interesting thing to take a look at is the pacing in the second half of the film because it’s much faster, but there’s no swapping between different frame sizes.  Unlike say, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, if you’re watching part of the movie in 70mm, you’re watching all of it in 70mm.  A good chunk of the first half of the movie is dominated by carriage travel, so there’s not a whole lot else going on.  The second half of the film, which takes place in a relatively small cabin, is where the action ramps up.  However, the increase in pace and activity doesn’t entirely correlate with an increase in the speed and total number of cuts.  One of the advantages of having such a massive frame is that you can see more with it.  Tarantino used this advantage to full effect by using fewer cuts to show the same amount of information.  Since the plot of this film is essentially “one of these things is not like the other,” it’s up to the audience to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying.  The only way the audience can do that is by observing each of the characters and how they behave.

cdn.indiewire.psdopsThe problem is, making a good film with that kind of premise isn’t so simple.  It can be very easy to give away too much information, making the answer extremely obvious, or to give away too little information, making the “big reveal” either unbelievable or uninteresting because the audience didn’t have enough information to work with.  In my experience, stories like this tend to lean on the “too obvious” side because they want to make sure that everyone gets it.  However, The Hateful Eight does a great job of staying right in the middle, primarily because of, you guessed it, the frame size.  The big clues in this kind of a story generally happen somewhere away from the main action of the scene, which often necessitates cutting away from the action to a shot of that big clue.  Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to maintain any kind of subtlety in revealing clues this way.  It’s essentially saying to the audience, “Look over here! Look at this clue that we’re giving you!”  That’s where 65mm swoops in to save the day.  Many of the key clues in this film are revealed in the background, behind the main action of a scene, but are still visible because of the massive frame size.  This creates a subtle bread crumb trail for the audience to follow, but only if they’re paying attention.  For the most part, these details are not pointed out explicitly, which I found very refreshing.


I thoroughly enjoyed The Hateful Eight.  It’s definitely not just a pretty gimmick.  I highly recommend seeing this film in its true 70mm form, but it’s a great watch even if that’s not an option.  The overall pacing is a bit slower than other Tarantino films, but I don’t see that as a bad thing in this case.  If the gorgeous shots aren’t enough to entice you, then hopefully the mystery element will pique your curiosity.  This is not a film to miss.


The Los Angeles Film Festival is Back with Something for Everyone

by Carrie Specht

Once again the LA Staple Center campus is about to be bombarded with a taste of Hollywood. Home of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Regal Theatre at the corner of the campus at Olympic and Cherry streets in downtown will soon be over run by filmmakers, and movie fans of all types as they spend eleven days taking in all the LAFF has too offer. And this year the selection is impressively diverse.

Opening Thursday, June 14 the festival starts off with Woody Allen’s highly anticipated latest feature, To Rome with Love. The big name cast includes Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni and of course, Allen himself. It’s not quiet like the little independents the festival use to feature opening nights back in the day, but for all his star-studded casting, Allen still manages to hold his independent status if only on a technicality. Likewise, the closing night film on Sunday, June 24 is not exactly keeping in theme with independent filmmaking. After all, Magic Mike is about a bunch of male exotic dancers lead by Hollywood heart throbs Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. However, I’m sure both films will be big crowd pleasers that bring in audiences that might not otherwise attend such a festival. It’s certainly a great way to attract the uninitiated to a world beyond the usual megaplex.

But if you want a true taste of what the festival is all about then I urge to check out what’s showing in between the all the fanfare at the beginning and the end of the two week event. The Gala Screenings include a fanciful and original tale from Fox Searchlight featuring a six-year-old girl in the Delta (Beasts of the Southern Wind), a story of an African American woman adjusting her life in the face of drastic changes (Middle of Nowhere), and a Steve Carell comedy about the end of life as we know it (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). And the Narrative Competition has even more diversity to offer with four of the ten films coming from outside the United States, including entries from Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Of course, if you really want to talk independent filmmaking, be sure to check out the Documentary Competition selections. With subjects ranging from the responsibility of the HIV infected to Midwives, and from Punk Rock to Vampira, you’ll undoubtedly have plenty to provoke and intrigue you. And naturally the International Showcase has a vast array of countries represented, from Taiwan/Myanmar to Switzerland (go to for a complete schedule). Then there’s the Summer Showcase. To me this is just a fancy title for the American made (or financed) independent feature films. You know, the ones made outside of the traditional Hollywood production system. Heavily peppered with an unusual number of documentaries (almost half) there’s a wide range of subjects and genres to interest even the most die-hard Saturday matinee, popcorn-munching fanatic. Last year I stuck a pin in this section to help me decide between screenings and I was not disappointed. So, go ahead and be daring. Try something new at the movies. Of all the time to experiment, this is it.

Whatever you decide to see at this year’s festival don’t miss out on the enormously popular Community Screenings. Set at an outdoor venue (check site for details) these classic films are selected for their vast appeal to the young and old. These are for the most part films that appealed to parents of the younger generation when they themselves were the age of their offspring. These films include E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dirty Dancing (with a dance along), and what I consider the best of the bunch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. On a cool summer night in the heart of downtown LA, what could possibly be more memorable than sharing a cherished film of your youth with the ones you cherish? And it’s a wonderful way to introduce movie fans of any age to classic cinema, as well as the culture that’s available to them in the amazing city of Los Angeles.

I didn’t even touch on the films in The Beyond showcase, The Retro showcase or the Short Films, so be sure to use the links listed to check everything playing at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. If you try it once, I’m sure you’ll want to make it a part of your annual summer festivities. It’s that good.