Tag Archives: Benjamin Bratt

Coco (2017): An Amazing Pixar Epic That Explores Family and Love

     Pixar has done it again. “Coco” is easily the best film their studio has put out since “Inside Out” and is definitely in my  Top 5 films made by the studio. This is film full of beautiful creativity, action that matters, a powerful message and enthralling characters. For my non-spoiler thoughts, this is Pixar and it isn’t a sequel, go and see it. Hopefully “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” will have been taken out before you see it too, I’m doing that as a separate review but it was the worst part of the viewing experience.

The film was directed by Lee Unkrich, written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich and produced by Darla K. Anderson.

The story follows Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a young boy who wants to be a musician but whose family has abandoned music after their ancestor left his wife long ago and never returned to become a musician. From here he finds himself pulled into the Land of the Dead as he seeks his ancestors blessing in order to return to the Land of the Living before he a curse he brought about sets in on himself and his family.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Animation – This is easily one of the best looking Pixar film since “Inside Out.” Like “Inside Out” it is colorful and full of contrasts and our characters are each distinct both in look and the voices portraying them. This is also Pixar, so great animation isn’t too much of a surprise, it just really stood out in this film.

The Family and Their Dynamics – The main drama that drives the story is Miguel’s relationship to his family and the relationship between his last known living ancestors. The story starts out with Miguel wanting to be a musician and believing the famous celebrity who died named Ernesto de la Cruz is his ancestor because of the picture on his mantel and the fact that he was from his village. His family does all they can to keep from music (his grandmother even breaks his guitar), leading him to go the Land of the Dead where he seeks de la Cruz’s blessing (as his ancestor Imelda will not give it). The story unfolds from here as the ancestors try to get him back to send him home so they won’t be cursed and as the story unfolds we learn more about Imelda’s relationship to music and her missing husband as the family comes together over the course of the film.

The Land of the Dead – The Land of the Dead is wonderfully done. It is a mixture of eras and technology and they even have a travel system on Day of the Dead where your face is checked to see if someone has put your picture up in the Land of the Living. It is all creatively done and built on popularity (with Ernesto de la Cruz being the star). I wanted to see more of this place as we get to see the entrance and the city but also the underbelly where Hector lives where those who are forgotten live before they pass away forever.

Hector and Imelda – These two were my favorite characters and their drama is the core of the story as Hector went off to be a musician and was killed by Ernesto when he tried to return home. Because Imelda was living on her own supporting Coco she started her family’s obsession with shoes as that was how they built a livelihood. Their arc is coming together again and taking down de la Cruz as Imelda discovers her love of singing again and Hector becomes part of the family once more as they are both reunited with Coco a year later after she dies.

The Coco Scenes – Coco is an ancient old woman and Miguel’s Great Grandmother. For much of the film she doesn’t interact at all, except for calling out her father’s name. It is this way until the end when Miguel returns and plays her song, “Remember Me,” that Hector used to sing to her before he would travel and do concerts. We learn she held onto his songs and a portion of the photograph her mother had torn and through remembering Hector he is remembered and doesn’t die in the Land of the Dead, with Coco joining her parents a year later. It is powerful and I teared up when Miguel sings her the song that Hector always had.

Okay: Ernesto de la Cruz – Benjamin Bratt voices a great villain as Cruz is one who only cares about seizing the moment and holding onto his station in life. He killed Hector and nearly kills Miguel, all to keep his power. I wish he’d been more complex, but as a villain you think might be a good guy at first, he was fun, so not a con.

Entering the Land of the Dead – Miguel enters the Land of the Dead when he plays his father’s guitar. There isn’t a reason given minus the border between worlds being thin, so I wish we had been told more. It wasn’t bad but it just kind of happens and he becomes a ghost.

This is a film that might have you tearing up by the end, as it did me. Films like this are why Pixar is so loved and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’ll be buying this film when it comes out and it is easily one of my favorites of the year, even if it may not make the Top 5. The main story is solid, the emotional core is strong and the world is amazing. The only things they could have improved on were the villain and how Miguel entered the Land of the Dead.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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Blood In Blood Out (1993): Bonds of Blood, the Nature of Honor and Power and Agency

nBlood In Blood Out

         “Blood In Blood Out” is an amazing action film! It is a film with layers to it and has some great story arcs that it takes time (over 3 hours) to explore. This is a film that gives you time to get to know the groups, the ambitions and motivations of all the players as as well as fully exploring the different turning points leading to an ending that I honestly didn’t expect, but enjoyed.

      The film was directed by Taylor Hackford, who was also one of the producers. Written by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Jeremy Iacone and Floyd Mutrux based on the story by Ross Thomas and produced by Jerry Gershwin.

       The story is that of 3 brothers. Miklo who is half-white and half-Hispanic who leaves his abusive father in Las Vegas who hates him for being half-Hispanic, he meets up with his cousins Cruz who is an up and coming artist and Paco who is rising in a gang. When Miklo joins Paco in attacking a rival gang the retaliation leads to Cruz being mortally injured and Paco and Miklo getting into a car crash when running from the cops leading to Miklo going back to prison and Paco joining the marines. Years pass before they all meet up again, changed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing! Bill Conti did a great job on this soundtrack! It is a mixture of 90’s action music mixed with traditional Mexican music which leads to some great thematic moments.

Paco’s Story – Paco is the tough guy of the three folks who become adopted brothers. He doesn’t connect to them but when it comes to risking it all he stays with Miklo after the crash rather than leaving him to the cops which leads to him becoming a marine to get out of going to prison and later becoming a cop. From here his relationship to Miklo and Cruz goes downhill and Miklo rises in the ranks of La Onda and Cruz becomes a heroin addict and leaves the drugs out leading to the death of Cruz’s young brother. Paco is hard until the end but focuses on the need to look after the Chicano community even though many don’t trust him for being a cop and the history of violence of white cops towards Chicanos. His arc comes full circle when he is able to forgive and be friends with Cruz again and Cruz reminds him that he and Miklo will always be brothers even if they are on opposite sides of the law. Benjamin Bratt does a fantastic job.

Miklo’s Story – Miklo’s story is the most compelling as we meet the greatest array of characters and see how selfishness and greed can lead to their never being peace or solidarity between the powerless. He is a man who never had power, abused by his father for being half-hispanic, manipulated by corrupt police and later used by Popeye and the corrupt members of La Onda too…it is only when he takes control and becomes a leader in La Onda that he finds the dignity and self respect he never had growing up. He loses family when his leg is shot off by Paco but he forgives him as in the end he does see brotherhood as more than blood even if he can’t see what the drug war is doing to his community and La Onda’s role in it. Damian Chapa is great and it is really cool that his story ends with him being the leader of La Onda after the Aryan Nation gang kills the past leader Montana and Miklo uses the time to bring solidarity to Londa and taking out the Black and White Gangs to take control of the drug trade outside of the prison.

La Onda – La Onda is fascinating as their is a council of 7 that falls apart when one of the 7 works with the Aryan Nation since he wants quick money and power and he’s addicted to what they are selling. This eventually leads to Montana seeking a peace conference with the Black Guerrilla Army (B.G.A.) but the Aryan  Vanguard uses Popeye’s actions outside of the prison to have one of the B.G.A.’s assassinate Montana. Montana’s death leads to the rise of La Onda and the death of peace as B.G.A. and A.V. getting killed off before the members of La Onda are separated which leads to them recruiting nationwide.

Montana – Montana is the calm leader and wants peace. He doesn’t see race but he sees power and how the white cops and gangs hold the most power so only those who don’t see it or don’t have power banding together can they have peace. He is also writing about the Chicano experience in the Prison Industrial Complex. He reminded me a lot Malcolm X with elements of Martin Luther King Jr. He was my favorite character in the film without a doubt. Enrique Castillo does a great job.

Cruz’s Story – Cruz’s story is finding himself and his people and growing beyond self hatred. After his brother dies from heroin he is isolated from his community until he gets clean and on the Day of the Dead makes up with his mother and father and when we see him he’s shaved his head and become a prophet figure reminding Paco of the fact that they are all family and that they are united by blood and love no matter how their paths may differ. It’s a really cool speech and it’s awesome seeing this character whole again helping his brothers strive towards healing when he was the one who was the most broken and powerless through most of the film, starting with Spider paralyzing him from the back down. Jesse Borrego had a lot of fun in the role and he is the glue between Paco and Miklo who are foils to one another in many ways as they switch roles within their community and within themselves.

Race in America – The movie is smart about race relations in the United States. This is especially shown in regards to African-Americans and Hispanics within the Prison Industrial Complex and lack of opportunities outside of the army in many cases leading to gangs as a form of agency. Best thing I can say is you should see it yourself. If you are poor you lose power and if you are power and are a people who have laws passed against you for the color of your skin it is even worse. Miklo is looked down upon for being half as well until he’s proven himself in La Onda and Paco also deals with that as being a cop in a mostly white force where the gangs are bigger in his community and Cruz is torn between that as well as it is retaliation against Paco’s gang that leads to him getting paralyzed and pulled in with drugs while he was always an outsider in the art community that mostly white because of the color of his skin. These are only some of the ways the complexity and story of race in the United States is expressed in the film.

Prison Industrial Complex – The Prison Industrial Complex is all about power and Miklo makes a good point that the State and those who work their profit from them being in the prison. Within the prison the only way to beat it is join together (what Montana was trying to do) or death of competitors (what Miklo does) in all of these the cycle of violence and status quo continues and nothing changes as those who own the prison stay on top and those who rise in the prison are still prisoners who are never given the chance to grow beyond what they were as even outside of prison people use them for being ex-cons so they can never have a real career.

Agency and Power – Agency and power are huge. Miklo’s story is fighting for his and what he sees as Chicano agency, just like Montana is trying the same thing by banding together against the Aryan Vanguard. Not many people have agency in this outside of the those who already have power (many of the white characters in the prison) and it is only by fighting back than any of the other characters get agency, including Paco who has to fight for himself to stay on the case for taking out La Onda and the drug trade. Those who were not born with power due to color of skin, circumstances or other have that much more to fight for in order to gain power due to their lack of agency. It is really well done.

Honor and Hate – There are a lot of twisted forms of honor in this as “Blood In Blood Out” is the philosophy of La Onda and it is self-destructive as their never room for healing, growth or compromise which is why when Montana as the leader tries to do something different the very philosophy of the gang is what leads to his end. Cruz is also first to get over his self hatred at being paralyzed and his time with drugs and he is able to help Paco begin healing past his regret for the car crash and his relationship and actions towards Miklo and Cruz. Hate is shown as something to grow past as it is the hate between the gangs that leads to nothing but death and the death of the relationship between Paco and Miklo.

Okay: Cinematography – It’s very 90’s where nothing is really shot in a unique way. You have close-ups and quick action shots with the only memorable cinematic scene being the killings in the prison interspersed with a Day of the Dead celebration.

   This was a powerful action film and one of the best I have watched. The only thing to keep in mind is that it is long as it establishes characters and communities and how the characters fit into those communities. The character arcs are stunning and no character is unchanged after the film. The themes of agency and power are also extremely well done and I found myself caring about all 3 of the main character and their struggles and choices they had to make as they sought healing and dignity in a world that denied them it. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10