Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) – An Unmemorable Sequel

   “The Golden Circle” is a film that really should have been about the “Statesman” (The American Secret Service of this film) or just a day in the life of “The Kingsman.” It is in the film going big and trying to recreate the magic of the first film that ends up being the biggest reason it falls flat. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but the strongest moments are the character moments, not the action and this is an action heavy film on an apocalyptic scale, just like the first film…and the writing just isn’t up to par. Before I get into spoilers, if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably enjoy this one, I just hope that if a third film is made that they go small and give us a more character driven story than the we got this time around.

The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn who co-wrote it with Jane Goldman and produced the film with David Reid and Adam Bohling. The series is based off the comics called the “Kingsman” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

The story this time around involves the drug Kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) attacking all the Kingsman hideouts after one of the former members helps her hack them. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only ones left, as they follow the emergency protocol where they must team up with their American counterparts known as the Statesman to stop her and her plans.

SPOILERS ahead

First I want to get into what works about the film. The Statesman are a fascinating group and Bridges “Champ” is a lot of fun as the leader of the organization. Though, Bridges is good in everything he’s in, even when the films suck. The Statesman is based in a Kentucky Distillery and has a cowboy aesthetic to contrast with the gentlemen aesthetic. I really want a movie about them after seeing this, hell this could have been their movie and Merlin and Eggsy could have been agents sent over to help with the drug problem that drives the plot without the Kingsman being destroyed. Since the two of them are fantastic.

Merlin and Eggsy are easily once the best parts of the film. Mark Strong continues to give both warmth and the cold edge of an agent and Eggsy has embraced his role as an agent even as he still holds onto the life he had before with his friends from his past life. They don’t really have an arc in this, but seeing them as the only members of the Kingsman worked, though I wish their entire organization hadn’t been killed. For one Roxy was a great character who we will now never see in the field again.

Poppy is a villain who is a lot of fun and fits perfectly into this universe. She is a drug Kingpin who wants to legalize all drugs so that she’ll be recognized as the richest woman in the world. Her base is in South America and designed like a 50’s town, which fits her messed up mentality where she feeds people who betray her to her other minions. She also has robotic dogs that are really cool and fit into this universe really well. Her plan is to infect everyone with her drugs and give the antidote once heroin is legalized. It is a pretty great plan and she is a difficult enemy to beat.

Galahad’s arc surprisingly works. If you’ve seen the previews you know Colin Firth’s character Galahad is back and in this we learn that he was a scientist before he joined the Kingsman so his arc is reactivating his memories so he can help when the Kingsman and Statesman start losing to Poppy. It is always good to see this character and as much as I hate characters coming back, the fact that it took the entire film for him to come back, made it worth it narratively.

Now for what didn’t work. At one point Poppy captures Elton John and after that he is used as a joke and reference through the entire film. It is really annoying and grating and there was zero reason for it to be in the film. It was never funny and just distracted from the plot.

Over-dependence on action is a major problem too. I get this is a spy film but the first film managed to have a lot of great moments of reflection that we never get in this, even though Eggsy and Merlin’s friends are all dead. The movie was so focused on moving to the next action set piece that it hurt the story.

The love story with the Princess also didn’t work and there was no reason for it to exist, especially since it leads to a weird scene with Eggsy sleeping with one of the enemy’s girlfriends. The entire love story felt contrived and after that scene…it just felt awkward, unneeded and it distracted from what little of an arc Eggsy has in this film.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a film I’ll recommend if you like a good action film and enjoyed the first movie. It isn’t nearly as great as the first movie, but it is a solid sequel as we get to know Galahad’s backstory, there is a great villain and the Statesman are a fun organization. I wish it had been more focused though, this is a film that could have been great as a “Statesman” film or as a mission with the entire Kingsman team in action. Sadly this was a film that failed to measure up to its own ambitions. Once again, still worth your time if you are looking for a good action film or loved the first one.

Final Score: 8 / 10

 

Logan Lucky (2017): A Critique and Celebration of the Southern Culture Through an Amazing Heist

   “Logan Lucky” is a great film. This is a film that will probably make my Top 5 at the end of the year and gives us some amazing performances, as well as having a great larger point as it critique and celebrates southern working class culture through the lense of West Virginia and a NASCAR Heist. The only real downside to this film that I  can think of is the lead up to the heist has a few scenes that drag and I felt the Robin Hood message should have been so much bigger than the two families who are a part of it. Given how much this film critiques Southern Culture (even as it is celebrating it) it doesn’t really address the elephant in the room. The elephant I’ll address further down in the review.

The film was directed Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt and produced by Channing Tatum, Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson and Reid Carolin.

The story involves Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) planning a heist after he is laid off from his construction job due to a limp he received during his football days. This leads him to teaming up with his Iraqi War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) as he plans to steal from the NASCAR speedway so he can still have a future with his young daughter, who is moving away.

The Pros: Rules of the Heist – The planning of the heist is meticulous, as we see that Jimmy has the 10 rules of robbing a bank (which 3 times has be sure your on board, expect the unexpected). This is wonderful as we see the chaotic elements come in (bringing in more people on the job) and how they deal with it in different ways. I also bring this up because the action of the heist and payoff are tied to these rules and each outcome or part of the plan brings in new elements that raise the tension. Also Joe Bang is key to it all and Daniel Craig is amazing as this threatening, yet charming crook.

The Working Class Struggle – One of the major themes of the film is the working class struggle. Clyde is an injured Iraqi war vet who runs a bar and gets harassed by patrons because of his injury, Jimmy loses his job because of an injury during the time he was a football player (when it had never been an issue before), their sister Mellie is always being harassed by Jimmy’s ex-wife’s husband and the Bangs live on the outskirts of society. They are smart but are nearly invisible to those around them.

Big Business and Corruption – We see a lot of examples of big business and corruption in the South. From Jimmy’s boss letting him go for cost cutting reasons, from the NASCAR owner who harasses Clyde for having one arm and how the FBI isn’t able to do their investigation all that well because the race course wants to hide the fact they don’t know how much money is going out of the track, showing that all the unchecked money has them probably making far more than their ledgers show (part of what the heist is working around). We also see it in the prison and how the Warden uses his guards to abuse the prisoners and his focus on making everything seem fine to the outside, even as an emergency could be occurring.

The Cons: The Unaddressed Racism and Payoff – This film takes place in West Virginia and so much of the class difference is tied to race, this is true everywhere in the United States but especially in the South were laws were passed to keep African-Americans from opportunity. Jim Crow wasn’t that long ago and it can still be felt today. Hell we had Nazis and Confederate flags in Charlottesville not to long ago. The KKK and Neo-Nazis and those who may sympathize with their ideology due to privilege or class have always been around and been the ones keeping what Jim Crow did in place even after. Racism doesn’t just go away when a new law is passed. Given the Robin Hood nature of the film and that it is correcting wrongs through the heist this could have been handled better minus the only African-American character being unnamed and getting no character development beyond helping cause a riot in the prison to help with the heist.

This is a film that has great character development and payoff. I’m not going to spoil anything, because you should really see this film. A lot of characters who are horrible and corrupt find themselves with less, while our strapping heroes have payoff in their character arcs and what they want in their lives and also among one another. There is comradely that we did not see at the beginning of the film. This is a film where our heroes start out as isolated players and by the end are cohesive team that the antagonists always underestimate because of their working class backgrounds. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough given that my only critique is that working class should have meant more than white (especially in the South) and that even though we get a good bit of class justice, outside of a single scene with a character from the prison, there is no racial justice to be found in a setting that once had slavery and Jim Crow.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. So close to being the perfect film. Still one of my favorite films of the year though.

Hail, Caesar! (2016): A Satire and Celebration of Hollywood’s Past

Hail-Caesar-poster_1200_1752_81_s

     The Coen Brothers continue to make gold. This film is a really good satire that isn’t as great as some of their older films, but still would easily make my Top 10 Films of the Year (whether it’d make Top 5 remains to be seen). This is a film that captures the Coen Brothers’ humor, western feel and detachment that makes up so many of their films. It also does a great job illustrating the craft of making a film and all the art and messyness that goes into it as it explores it through the lens of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” during the 1950s.

    The film was written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen with the other producers being Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story involves Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the head of Production at Capitol Pictures and the drama of the life he lives as his star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) of “Hail, Caesar” is kidnapped, the pregnancy of one of his star actresses DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and two rival gossip column sisters Thora and Thessely (Tilda Swinton) which puts the choice Lockheed Martin is offering him as an out into perspective as he must make a choice to take the offer or stay with Capitol.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as old style ways of filming are captured…whether it is the epic open shots of the Roman Epic “Hail, Caesar” or the small black and white of the comedy western Doyle is in, or the stark, sterile large rooms of a Laurence production. Roger Deakins truly does a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing too. Just like with the cinematography all the different styles of 1950’s films are captured. From the epic trumpets of “Hail, Caesar” or the more action adventure of Doyle’s western. Carter Burwell did a great job once again.

The Writing – The Coen Brothers are great writers and though there is a narrator we never see narrating the life of Mannix, it never interferes with the story going on. We are shown and not told most of what happens and that is part of what makes the brothers so great at what they do, as the script is usually the strongest part of their films.

The Characters – The Characters are easily the strongest part of the film. This film was really well cast and each of the side characters has their moment to shine at different points.

Laurence Laurentz – Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as an uptight director doing Victorian style films who has to use Doyle, a cowboy with a very strong accent as the star of his show. Over the course of his scenes you see him slowly lose control of his calm nature and finally explode at Mannix before keeping Doyle to only two lines to make the film work. He really is a fun character.

Thora and Thessely – These two (both played by Swinton) are a lot of fun as they reveal the underbelly of everything and the drama. They have a relationship with Mannix too in that he does throw them bones to keep scandals from getting out of hand. I wish we could have seen what got them into the circuit as they are both extremely driven.

Baird Whitlock – George Clooney plays the naive star who gets kidnapped by a communist cell of writers and comes around to their way of thinking. He’s an example of the pseudo-intellectual (like many cell) except he’s largely an idiot and you get the idea he’s doing what he’s doing for the attention as him going on benders and getting into trouble is a huge part of his character. He gets his act back together though after Doyle rescues him and Mannix knocks some sense to him as we see that all he really wants is to be a star (and the attention that comes with it).

Hobie Doyle – Alden plays Doyle who was a rodeo guy who was picked up by Mannix and when he got the chance to sing became the star of westerns. He’s a kind and naive guy like Baird but also serious about his work. He doesn’t make it out of being in the westerns and he likes it that way as it gives him a chance to celebrate the western background he comes from. He’s the hero of the picture besides Mannix as he is the one who finds Whitlock and brings him back to the studio.

Joseph Silverman – Jonah Hill is awesome as the no-nonsence fixer who is a legal person so that Moran can get legal control over her child. They end up falling in love though as she’s tough and he fits what she wants in a man as they get married and leave the child behind and send it into foster care.

DeeAnna Moran – Johansson is awesome in this role and I wish we’d spent more time with her. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself and is a huge diva but in the end finds love with the most un-person person, showing that there is more to her too, though she is still extremely selfish and the character we’ve known all along as she has her child go into foster care rather than raising it. I wish we could have got more of her backstory. She steals every scene she’s in.

Eddie Mannix – Josh Brolin plays are main guy who is a rough manager facing a choice of stability with Lockheed or the chaos of the studios and making pictures. In the end he stays as he loves the challenge of it and feels he is main for it as he is made to be the Christ Figure as he is born in light (Film) and will live forever because of it. He is a smooth operator and is able to fix everything, which in the end we learn is why he likes to do it so much. It’s difficult but he’s good at it.

The Satire of Hollywood – The satire is in layers, whether it is the sisters focusing on stupid actor pairings and hookups, the communist cell intellectuals are aren’t changing anything and just hanging out in a vacationesque home and how every film we see captures the hammyness of those early productions where everything was big and overdramatic.

The Celebration of Hollywood – The very things that are being satired are celebrated too as the humanity of characters is shown. “Hail, Caesar” is a film I would watch as it has heart to it and the overdramaticness fits the film, same with the westerns that are played largely for comedy but find something more sometimes. In each thing being satired there is a celebration of the arts and film and this is shown the most when Mannix chooses Capitol Pictures of Lockheed (Where the guy kept insulting films as useless and a dying industry), making this one of the biggest love letters to the art of cinema and Hollywood’s past and present.

The Cons: Pacing – At times it goes really slow and this really hurts the overall quality of the production and keeps it from rising higher.

The Communist Cell – I felt that these guys weren’t explored as well as they could have been. They were a group of intellectuals who never got beyond that and that was a shame given that they kidnapped a person because of their beliefs.

More Character Exploration – If the script had been tighter we could have explored more of these characters more. In my opinion Manix is one of the weaker characters of the story and because the focus is on him we lose sight of the fascinating characters like Moran or the Sisters who had a lot more potential to be explored within the confines of the script.

   This was a solidly great film and well worth checking out. It isn’t the greatest of the Coen Brothers films but it doesn’t need to be. Within the confines of the story it explores all the themes and characters it means to and it presents it beautifully through the soundtrack and cinematography. This is a film well worth your time and I’m glad that this was the film that kicks off my film reviews for the films of 2016.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

The Hateful Eight (2015): An Exploration of Hate

The Hateful Eight

      “The Hateful Eight” is a really good film. Not one of Tarantino’s best films but still his quality that he brings to all of his work. In this we see him explore some of the tropes of Westerns, History and the Civil War and from the depths of hate that characters can be driven too when they are desperate or so broken down by the world around them. It’s powerfully done and he does a great job presenting it all. I’ll get into more detail later in the review.

     The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh and Stacey Sher.

      The film involves eight strangers seeking refuge in a blizzard as secrets unfold as all is not as it appears to be. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) the bounty hunter is bringing in Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hung in Red Rock but picks up bounty Hunter Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins) who are also on their way to Red Rock where they meet the others at Minnie’s Haberdashery where the events unfold.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. Robert Richardson did a great job and gives us scenes that capture the destitution of the of where this all takes place and the cost of war on a population that is recovering (this is post Civil War) and how far there is still to go in regards to being free even though slavery is done.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack fits everything so well and captures the nihilism of our characters and also the fun nature that Tarantino brings to all his work. Ennio Morricone was the right person for this film and the music is good at pulling you in and keeping you present with whatever events are transpiring.

The Dialogue – Tarantino’s dialogue is always snappy and the actors use it very well. It feels natural for all of who they are and Tarantino continues to show why this is his forte.

 Story Structure – Tarantino’s novel like format comes again and is one of the things I really liked about the film. There are pauses and at one point Tarantino is the narrator explaining what happens after a chapter. The story takes place over 5 chapters with Chapter 4 setting up Chapter 3 with a flashback setting up the events. It’s really well done and I’m glad Tarantino has this unique style.

The Situation – The idea of 8 people trapped in a blizzard with one of them holding a lie is quite compelling. How it all unfolds is really cool too as all of them are hateful and despicable people each in their own way and it lends stakes to all that unfolds.

John Ruth – Kurt Russell’s John Ruth is one of the few characters who was the closest thing to a hero. He’s the guy taking out the worst of the worst and hanging them. He’s obsessed and is prickly to everyone. He has a respect for Warren but that takes along time and by the end we see that he was right to put his trust into him. He’s all about his job and when he dies you somewhat feel it since Kurt Russell does a good job playing the bitter bounty hunter.

Major Warren – This guy is brutal but you also get why as he is a freed man whose only protection from racism against the Union and Confederacy is a forged letter from Abraham Lincoln. He’s a bounty hunter so already he’s at the bottom of the food chain but Ruth has a respect for him and that never completely goes away. Warren is the closest thing to a protagonist even though he is still villainous as he does a pretty horrendous things to one of hte monster character’s children. There are no good characters in this film and Samuel L. Jackson represents this really well.

Okay: The Characters – They are well acted but because they are all so despicable there aren’t any reasons to like any of them. We don’t get reasons for what they did and this brings the story down and puts it below “Reservoir Dogs” in many ways (though both films are similar).

   This is a movie that is worth checking out, and I do consider it a favorite film but not one of Tarantino’s best. What really brings it down is Domergue’s Gang is just kind of there. They don’t get the kind of development that the folks receive in “Reservoir Dogs” which is the most similar as a bunch of characters who hate each other are trapped in a room. What really makes it work are the characters of Ruth and Warren who are both so twisted but manage to be compelling as they are given reason for what they do, the same cannot be said for a lot the others. This is a shame since Tarantino is usually really great at giving extended motivation for what makes his characters make the choices they do.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Jupiter Ascending (2015): Convoluted, Pointless Action With an Annoying and Passive Protagonist

Jupiter Ascending

       This film was not very good. It would have been okay as a made for television movie but the Wachowski Siblings really missed the mark with this one, which is a shame as “Cloud Atlas” was so amazing. There are a lot of reasons this film didn’t work, but for me the biggest problem is Jupiter is an extremely passive protagonist, the majority of the film is her getting saved so there is no point to her being the title character as Caine is the one doing all the action and in the end driving the plot, Jupiter is nothing more than a Space McGuffin and it’s really annoying.

      The film was directed by the Wachowskis who also produced and wrote it, and the other producer was Grant Hill.

     The story involves Jupiter (Mila Kunis) who is the reincarnation of the Queen of the most powerful family in the Universe. From here the story unfolds as she realizes her power and works with Caine (Channing Tatum) to stop her mother’s children of House Abrasax from taking her title and destroying the Earth.

The Pros: The Special Effects – The Special Effects are pretty cool and there was clearly a lot of creativity put into the alien and ship design, it’s a shame that same passion wasn’t given to the writing or the actors. This is one of the few pros of the film, it does look good.

Stinger – Sean Bean plays a character who doesn’t die! He is who Caine goes to for help as Stinger had stood up for him when Caine had gone feral as they are both hybrids. Stinger is half-bee so it means he was able to fly at one point (that feels so weird to write). His character works to protect his daughter and he betrays Jupiter at one point to get the cure for her, though of course he joins the final battle to help Caine save the day.

The Cons: The Characters – Besides Stinger no one had motivations that felt real, they all felt overly convoluted and not fully fleshed out. I didn’t understand why Caine was all wound up and why he was working for one of the Abrasax family members and Jupiter was just passive and obsessed with a telescope because her dad had been, that is her single character trait. The Braxis are all selfish kids with Mommy issues and the good characters are just there to drive the plot. It’s sad how much potential was lost here with this world, since it’s an original Space Opera, I wanted to like it.

Passive McGuffin Jupiter – Jupiter is saved nearly 3 times in the first 20 minutes of the film, the rest of the film is Caine getting her out of more situations since she is the McGuffin of the plot as her blood can protect the Earth. She does nothing on her own and all choices are forced on her, I hated it. She is special because of her blood since she is the reincarnation of the Mother of Abrasax and the heir but she does nothing with that power, everyone else tries to use that power which made me wonder why we just didn’t get the film from their perspective. Mila Kunis’s acting doesn’t help as she sounds bored or helpless the entire time.

The Action – Sometimes the action looks like it’s from a Michael Bay film, the camera pans and in unfocused so it is hard to know fully what’s going on except Caine is fighting some baddie and Jupiter needs to be saved, again.

House Abrasax – So they make money harvesting people to prolong life is what they are all about and they use other aliens as labor but there is never any reason for the aliens to follow them, the only ones we see using the the Human Fountain of Youth are Humans so there isn’t really any point to the other aliens being around or for them to follow House Abrasax. Also the sibling rivalry felt contrived and Eddie Redmayne’s character was really bad, he could have hammed it up so much more but he was just tired and weird.

  If you are looking for good original Sci. Fi. films like I was, don’t look here. A movie needs more than special effects to carry it and if you are going to name your movie after the title character, have her actually do something besides being rescued every 10 minutes. Suffice to say, I was not impressed with this film and do not recommend it at all. This is a very great leap down from “Cloud Atlas” and I hope the Wachowskis don’t have this be their final film, or they will be ending their legacy on a very poor note.

Final Score: 3 / 10

The Book of Life (2014): An Exploration and Celebration of Family and Love

The Book of Life

         “The Book of Life” impressed me, and I wasn’t the only one. After the show the halfway empty theatre erupted into applause and for good reason. A lot of films just have a good time with fun characters and leave it that, but this one actually managed to have some pretty amazing points beyond just general points and messages. It truly got into the motivations of it’s characters and what defined them and critiqued and celebrated the culture that inspired it. I wish there were more children’s films like this. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

      This film follows both the Halloween theme (spirits and the dead) while also celebrating another culture and holiday in that it is inspired by the myths and legends around the Day of the Dead.

    “The Book of Life” was written by Jorge Gutierrez and Doug Langdale, directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Carina Schulze and Guillermo del Toro whose name is the first thing you see when the show begins. His vision is a large part of what made this film possible. Which is great since he’s one of my favorite directors.

       The premise of the film begins with troubled kids from detention taking a tour of the Mexican Cultural Museum where a mysterious lady who is their tour guide shows them the “Book of Life” and tells the stories of the characters after laying out the world where the afterlife has “The Remembered” in constant celebration ruled by their God La Muerta and “The Forgotten” who have been forgotten and are ruled by the God Xibalba. It begins on the Day of the Dead where three best friends have a wager put upon them by La Muerta and Xibalba on who will win the hand of Maria. Xibabla chooses the fighter and warrior Jaoquin to win her hand and La Muerta chooses Manolo, the muscian from a line of Bull Fighters. From here the story unfolds as family obligation is put on the characters, forcing Maria abroad to Spain for school, Jaoquin as a soldier for Maria’s father the General and Manolo as the Bull Fighter to win her hand. These are the main stories that unfold as the God’s act on the events around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world, especially when the tour lady starts the story is fantastic! Most of it takes place in the small town of San Angel, and when it isn’t there we travel between the Land of the Remembered and Forgotten. My only issue is I wish we had seen conflict in the other worlds but that might have been the point. The conflict is among the living and among the living we see drama between lovers, family and bandits. The colors are dark and stark so when there is color it is beautiful! Every scene is rich with detail that helps give us the worlds and minds of the characters.

La Muerta – She was my favorite character in this and the one who seems to have wisdom even if she quickly will give it up for a bet. This need to take risks and bet adds dimension to her as a God especially in her relationship to Xibalba as all she wants is honesty from him and true sorrow for the things he’s done. For this reason her making Manolo her champion makes sense since he speaks the most genuine and honestly and isn’t bound by social pressure the way Maria and Jaoquin often are by their father’s legacies. He has enough will from the beginning to break that, much like La Muerta with breaking the rules so that Day of the Dead can occur and families can reunite for a time. That is her doing and there is a reason she is loved. She also has a great character design with a flowing red dress, skeleton face and candles on her hat and dress. Kate del Castillo does a great job bringing gravitas to the part.

Xibalba – Ron Perlman plays a very crafty role, which is great to see. His character reminded me a lot of Hades from Disney’s “Hercules” except that he deep down did just want love. This drives his character to strive for power as he feels slighted and jealous at everything La Muerta does and hates that he is watching over a world that is dying with people forgotten, for he feels forgotten. This drives his recklessness and makes him compelling. He doesn’t want to be alone and left out and that makes him sympathetic even as he does some pretty bad things to the human pawns in the bets (poisoning Maria and tricking Manolo into giving up his heart). He also has a great design that looks like acid and tar, which at the beginning is what he’s described of being made of.

The Sanchez Family and Manolo – The Sanchez family is fascinating, we see the legacy of bull fighting and “Being a man” a huge part which Manolo turns on it’s head by being a musician. Much of the story is his father coming to terms with that choice and Manolo’s inability to kill. It brings great drama and it is this dichotomy between tradition and doing what’s right (not to kill) that leads Maria to falling in love with him. Manolo thinks outside of himself while his family is largely obsessed with legacy. His mother doesn’t agree with legacy and shows how complex their family is in the Land of the Remembered as they had ancestors who fought in the revolution and that at the core it is character and integrity that matters, which Manolo has. He discovers all this when he meets his mother and dead ancestors in the Land of the Remembered and his mother and grandfather help him reach La Muerta who has been forsaken to the Land of the Forgotten because of Manolo’s death by Xibalba’s snake. We see him change the family legacy as it comes to a head when Xibalba will grant him life if he can defeat all past bulls killed by the Sanchez family, which he does in an epic battle that ends in a song for forgiveness for what his family has done. In the end they all grow through Manolo’s actions.

Of Jaoquin’s Hyper Masculinity – Jaoquin is obsessed with fighting and being tough above all else and this is celebrated by the culture as seen by the Sanchez all being bull fighters. His father was a hero and when he saves the General who is the mayor of the town and Maria’s father he is taken under his wing. This shapes his tendencies in viewing people as serving him rather than the other way around that when Maria returns he can’t see past himself and only wants to talk about his medals. It takes his talisman that makes him invulnerable being taken and Manolo dying for him to rethink his priorities and to stop trying to be the hyper warrior his father was. He also stops assuming what Maria wants and in the process the competition ends between the friends as they both truly act from love. His arc is growing out of his hyper masculinity and finding tenderness and balance. Malono goes through this too but much faster as for him it’s the simple choice of not to kill the bull.

Maria – Maria is an interesting character. She functions as a plot device for the boys to get out of their families shadows and become their own people, but she also is her own person too. She’d marry Jaoquin if he’d stay to protect the town from the bandits but if that isn’t an issue and if Manolo loves her, she’d choose him. She’s educated and smart and she calls on the town to fight back against the bandit invasion. I kind of wish La Muerta had chosen her as her champion. Zoe Zaldana is wonderful in this role.

Relationship Healing – Xibalba realizes how selfish he was and in the end he rules together with La Muerta again, it’s implied as they change from their human disguises (museum guard was Xibalba, tour guide was La Muerta) and they kiss. Manolo and his father make peace, Manolo and Jaoquin make peace, Maria and her father are on the same page and the town fights off the bandits. The arcs get completed and it’s all the rich for it. “Write your own story.” As the Candle Maker (the 3rd Death God) reminds us at the end.

Okay/Cons: The Kids – The kids in detention are there giving commentary like the grandson in “The Princess Bride,” and like him they are pretty forgettable. I get that they are standins for us, but they aren’t really needed. The story is rich and I cared more about the final reveal of Xibalba and La Muerta than about them.

The Music – Most are mariachi inspired covers of popular songs…this film would have worked better with an original soundtrack given it is an original world without pop culture references besides the songs. The songs kind of took me out of it for that reason.

The Beginning – Things start out really slow, both with the kids in modern day (never really cared about them) and when our heroes are children. I get why it’s important as it establishes their motivations (Maria to prevent killing and her hatred of it, Manolo and his music and bull fighting dichotomy and Jaoquin haunted by his father’s martyr legacy). But it could have been done faster. The best parts of the early scenes are when La Muerta and Xibalba interact.

The Candle Maker – Ice Cube plays a God who is kind of like Robin William’s Genie and just as annoying. I couldn’t stand how annoying this guy could get which is a shame since the Candle Maker as the neutral party is an interesting concept. He isn’t bad and has some great wisdom, but in the end is merely a somewhat annoying plot device.

       This was a really good film. I don’t know if I’d call it great because the things that are okay are at many points cons through the film. The kids are super annoying at the beginning and the slow start makes it hard initially to get invested in the characters until we see them again when they are older and active agents in their own lives. We just didn’t get enough time with the Gods in the beginning and had too much time with characters who were children. Still a fantastic film that I’d recommend. If you like animated films that have their own style and a good message, this is your film.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10, really good and a favorite.