Film Review: Miss Bala

Review originally published at Picktainment:

There is a scene late in the film where Laura (Stephanie Sigman) is crowned Miss Bala. It is her only goal and nothing will stand in her way. It is, perhaps, a way to get out of poverty and a bleak existence in a border town. But at this moment, she is crowned the winner and the look on her face tells a whole different kind of story. She has rehearsed her speech: “My name is Laura Guerrero and I am 23 years old. My dream is to represent the beautiful women of my state,” but the words won’t come. She looks out at the audience, hoping to be rescued from her ordeal at the hands of a kingpin named Lino (Noe Hernandez), who is responsible for rigging the pageant in her favor. Of course, there is no help for Laura. Her ultimate coronation at the hands of Lino is an empty triumph. She knows that everything that had any meaning in her life – her hopes and dreams, her father and her younger brother, her friends, and her freedom – have all but vanished.

There is little joy in director Gerardo Naranjo’s epic metaphor for a country on the brink of collapse at the hands of the drug cartels that infest the border towns between Mexico and the U.S. There is a lawlessness here that has quickly spread like an infection throughout the country and there doesn’t seem to be any glimmer of hope. This is the setting for Miss Bala, Naranjo’s visceral look at the drug war raging just a few miles from our border. It is the kind of film that angers an audience that is all too aware of the injustices that it brings – a war where, clearly, there are no winners. It is also a film that can spark action towards reform. Is there any hope? The film does not say.

What it does say, however, is explosive. It is an action thriller devoid of the usual Hollywood clichés of bigger-than-life heroes and improbable endings. Instead, we see the world through Laura, forced to withhold emotions as she is coerced to carry out the dirty deeds of her captor. For Lino, his attraction to Laura is less physical, as he is perhaps, attracted to her innocence and strong will to survive, for he knows that in his own line of work, a drug warlord’s life is unglamorous and finite. This isn’t a film about who is the good guy and who is the bad one – all of that is implied. The director holds a mirror to his own country asking, “What are you going to do about it?” References to drugs are merely implied and it is the product that drives these wars.

It is a tightly written script with a breakout performance for Sigman. It’s not necessarily a popcorn movie for everyone, but then again, it’s not trying to be.


Disney’s Beauty & the Beast 3D Review

Disney’s long held tradition of vaulting their classics and reissuing them for a new generation has reached a new level of technology. It used to be that it was just enough to keep it out of reach for a few years only to re-issue it to a batch of newbies who have never seen some of Disney’s classics. But with the type of savvy kids with far advanced command of technology these days, it will take more than just a re-release to get them into the theaters.

Disney is aware of this and for that reason Beauty and the Beast gets a massive theatrical re-release in eye-popping 3-D. It’s been twenty years since this seminal work of animation revolutionized the way kid films were made – not only with the artistic manner in which they were developed, but also in the content of the stories themselves. It’s easy to call this Disney classic a masterpiece.

For one thing, this film remains as enchanting as ever. Belle’s (voiced by Page O’Hara) quest to find “adventure in the great wide somewhere” fully aware that there is “more to this provincial life,” reaches epic scope on the big screen for the little ones who have never seen it in theatrical release. The romance that evolves with the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) is as timeless as is the movie itself. For that reason alone, it is worth the price of an evening out at the movies. Then there’s the music. It was Howard Ashman’s farewell in top form (he passed away of AIDS shortly before the film’s release). Fashioned like a Broadway musical, the music is memorable from its opening showstopper to its spectacular “Be Our Guest.” It helps that Broadway veterans Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts) lend their voices to a couple of the most memorable inanimate objects come to life—particularly the recognizable voice of Lansbury in the theme song, “Beauty and the Beast.” It comes as no surprise that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category.

Still, the 3D gimmick is a double-edged sword that both improves and takes away from the experience as a whole. In places, the additional dimension enhances the computer graphics that were so revolutionary when it first premiered in 1991. In others, it calls too much attention to the limitations of adapting it to 3D, particularly in the design of the characters. They were not meant to be seen in 3D. Sure, the portions of the film rendered by computer animation lend themselves to that technology, giving depth to the scene, but the remaining picture (which was still hand drawn) remains 2-dimensional.

Even with that flaw, Beauty and the Beast remains a gem in the Disney catalogue. It should be seen on the big screen for the first time and once again.

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