‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’ Has Its World Premiere in Beverly Hills

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A sequel 40 years in the making, “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” had its world premiere on April 18, 2019 at the Laemmle Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills, California. Among those in attendance were its director Meir Zarchi who also wrote and directed the 1978 original, his son Terry Zarchi, Camille Keaton who returns as Jennifer Hills, and Jamie Bernadette who plays Jennifer’s daughter, Christy Hills. The sequel sees Jennifer and Christy getting abducted by the infinitely vengeful Becky (Maria Olsen) who looks to make Jennifer pay for what she did to her husband years ago. For those who have seen the original, you can expect blood, gore, acts of revenge which know no bounds, and the intensely painful separation of certain body parts which no one is ever quick to part with.

Following the screening, there was a Q&A with the cast and filmmakers who were also watching this sequel on the big screen for the very first time. It was an exciting evening for everyone as this sequel was actually finished back in 2015, and it is only now being released. When Keaton was asked what made her return to this iconic role, she made it clear how she wanted Zarchi to make a sequel for many years.

“I had been trying to get him to make a sequel to this movie for about 30, 35 years at least,” Keaton said. “One day I get a call, and lo and behold (Meir Zarchi told me) we’re gonna make a sequel. So I said, what? I was surprised and was happy we were going to do this, and it was great to work with him again.”

Jamie Bernadette was asked how she came to be cast in “Déjà vu,” and her response showed how thoughtful she is as a working actress.

“I saw the casting notice and I had seen the original 1978 film and thought it was brilliant,” Jamie said. “The casting notice said Christy Hills was a supermodel and gorgeous, and I thought no, I’m not going to submit. I’ll never get this. And then I sat and stared at that notice and said you know what, what the heck. So, I just pushed a button, and then I got asked for a tape. So I sent in a tape and I thought well, I won’t get a callback but we’ll just do this for kicks. Sent in a tape and I got called back in and I thought, you know what, if I meet Meir Zarchi, I’m happy. So, I walked into that callback room and Meir was sitting there with Terry (Zarchi), our producer. I did the scenes and I was in there for like 40 minutes. It was a long audition, and then Terry caught me on my way to the elevator and said can I take my picture with you because Terry told me later that he just knew before I spoke…”

“(It was) the eyes, the eyes,” Terry Zarchi said. “There was a look that she gives… She gave that look in the audition before she uttered a word. I said wow, that spoke so many words without her saying a word. I can’t wait to hear her, and then a second later three words came out of her. I really hoped Meir likes her enough to (cast her), because he has the ultimate decision on who is going to be cast, but I knew.”

Terry’s relationship with the “I Spit on Your Grave” movies began when he was just nine years old and back when the 1978 original was referred to as “Day of the Woman.”

“I had a hippie guy come up to me while I was on the set and asked me hey, do you want to be in the movie,” Terry said. “I was like no, I really don’t. I was a shy kid, and they talked me into it by saying that my father would offer me $10 if I did the film. I decided to do the film.”

Meir Zarchi himself eventually made it to the front of the audience, and he answered the question which was all on our minds before anyone could ask it.

“Somebody asked me why did it take 40 years to make this sequel,” said Meir. “So I said because I was waiting (he points to Jamie) for this girl. She wasn’t born yet.”

An audience member asked the cast what they did to prepare for their roles and of what they did to get into the psychotic mindset. Jamie was very open about the research she did.

“I spent months watching horrific videos about rape and murder, and I had a lot of nightmares during those months,” Jamie said. “I watched the original film over and over. It was a lot of research into gang rape and things like that, so it was a dark time. I also lost a lot of weight for the role because I am playing an anorexic model. Every day was emotional.”

This evening also allowed Meir to share a moment with Camille whom he married after the making of “I Spit on Your Grave.” Unfortunately, their union did not last long as they divorced in 1982 after three years of marriage. Still, they appeared to have a great respect for one another, and it should be noted how Camille flew all the way over from Florida just for this screening (“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said).

“Tell us, what do you think about seeing yourself on the big screen after 40 years for this time,” Meir asked Camille.

“I felt the same way I felt about it when I saw myself the first time,” Camille replied.

“That’s a lie, that’s a beautiful lie” Meir said. “You know we were married once. No wonder she divorced me. What did I do? What did I do wrong?”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” Camille replied.

Regardless, they both shared a kiss which had the audience applauding.

2018 had Jamie Lee Curtis resurrecting Laurie Strode to tremendous effect in “Halloween,” and now Camille Keaton gets to do the same with Jennifer Hills while at the same time passing on the torch of vengeful female to Jamie Bernadette. As for Meir Zarchi, he isn’t terribly concerned whether or not you like or hate “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu.” He does, however, want to make certain you were not bored while watching it. Suffice to say, the audience responded loudly that they were not.

I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray April 23, 2019.

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The First Trailer for ‘Star Wars: Episode IX,’ Arrived It Has

The first trailer for “Star Wars: Episode IX,” arrived it has. And with our first look at this eagerly anticipated conclusion to the latest “Star Wars” trilogy, it comes to us with the following title we were ever so eager to learn of: “The Rise of Skywalker.” This is an interesting title to be sure as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) left the realm of the living in “The Last Jedi,” but thanks to the Force, you can’t keep a good Jedi down.

Luke is not seen in this teaser trailer, but his voice is heard and his presence is felt throughout as he tells the Force sensitive Rey (Daisy Ridley, looking more intense than ever before) of how a thousand generations of Jedi have been passed on to her, but that this is a fight only she can take on. Still, he says how the Jedi will always be with her, and that no one is ever gone. Oh, the magic and possibilities science-fiction stories bring with them! Luke is right, no one is ever really gone, and it makes me believe a number of surprises are in store for us next Christmas.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” marks the return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair after reinvigorating the franchise to tremendous effect with “The Force Awakens,” and this trailer makes it look and feel like an Abrams film alright. It does what any good teaser trailer does which is wet our appetites, and we will all be dissecting it endlessly long before the next trailer comes along.

There are many sights I delighted in seeing such as Ridley’s infinitely committed portrayal of Rey, and the actress has long since been proven to be one of this franchise’s best additions. Another major delight was seeing the original Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee Williams, back in the pilot’s chair of the Millennium Falcon alongside Chewbacca as he rediscovers the joy he has in flying it just like he did when he escaped from the fiery corridors of the Death Star in “Return of the Jedi.” And judging from the way he handles the controls, it is clear Lando is not drinking a six-pack of Colt 45 while behind the wheel.

Adam Driver is back as Kylo Ren, and I was surprised to see a glimpse of him putting his mask back together. I wonder why he would bother doing so after smashing to pieces. We only get brief moments of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, but it is enough to put a smile on my face to see these two charismatic actors back as Finn and Poe Dameron. Even the late Carrie Fisher returns as Leia, albeit in footage taken from the previous two movies. As always, Fisher has the last laugh.

The title “The Rise of Skywalker” left me wondering what it means just as “The Last Jedi” did. How will Skywalker rise, and is the bloodline really at an end? Lucasfilm has been smart to keep us in the dark about this episode’s story, and the titles they have given these three films only peak our interest as they tell us only so much. As history has shown, there has always been one more Skywalker than we were originally led to believe. You remember what Yoda said to Obi-Wan Kenobi in “The Empire Strikes Back,” right?

“No, there is another…”

And plus, there is that laugh at the trailer’s end. Could it be Darth Sidious making a comeback?

Yes, I am super excited for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and I am doing my best to keep my expectations in check. Heaven forbid the hype overwhelms the final cut. At the very least, it looks to be much better than the disappointiment that was “Solo.” With Abrams back, we should be in for a fantastic voyage throughout a galaxy far, far away. It also marks John Williams’ last time composing a “Star Wars” film score, so it is a goodbye in more ways than one.

I know Christmas 2019 will be here before I know it, but I’m not sure I can wait that long.

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‘The Wind’ is a Menacing Horror Western Which Gets Under Your Skin

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Weather can be a formidable character in movies, especially those in the horror genre. We have “The Fog” (John Carpenter’s original, not the dreadful remake), “The Mist” (talk about an infinitely devastating climax), “The Wave” which proved to be the best disaster flick I have seen in a long time, and there’s even “The Day After Tomorrow” which dealt with climate change although in a highly unrealistic way.

Now we have “The Wind,” a horror western which takes us back to the untamed Western frontier of the 1800’s. The wind here has a supernatural force inhabiting it almost in the same way those ghosts inhabited “The Fog,” and you are left wondering how anyone can rise above such a common weather element especially when it is always around. In the process, we are sucked right into a horror movie which fearlessly turns a number of tropes on its head especially when it comes to female characters.

Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) is forced to fend for herself in the lonely wilderness when her husband, Isaac Macklin (Ashley Zukerman), is forced to leave her and travel into the nearest town with their friend Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee) for reasons which will quickly become clear. From there, she is stuck in the loneliest of places and in a house which looks like something out of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” The old west Lizzy resides in is not the least bit glamourous, but we quickly realize she is resilient and strong even after she is chased back into her house by a pair of ravenous coyotes.

The wind of the movie’s title first presents itself as a natural element, but it quickly becomes very ominous as it has hands reaching out at its victims who have little hope of escape. But after a while, one begins to wonder if Lizzy is really being attacked by a supernatural force, or if she is instead descending deeper and deeper into madness. Either way, you are in for an unsettling ride which won’t let you go.

The first thing I should single out is Caitlin Gerard’s performance. Right from the start, she holds our attention as she makes Lizzy into a formidable character who doesn’t necessarily need a man to see her through dangers of any kind. Furthermore, she has many scenes in which she doesn’t utter a word of dialogue and has to get things across with her face and body. It’s a lot to ask of an actor to communicate with just their face as they could easily fall into the trap of emoting to where they overdo it and turn in a performance which is inescapably laughable. Gerard, however, never falls into this trap as she almost succeeds in turning this movie into a one-woman show. Throughout, she succeeds in conveying so much while saying so little, and she completely sucked me into Lizzy’s horrifying predicament which could have easily done in a weaker character.

Co-starring alongside Gerard is Julia Goldani Telles who plays Emma Harper, Isaac’s pregnant wife who befriends Lizzy. Emma is pleasant at first, but she soon complains of how something is out to get her, and she becomes possessed by a force which does everything except turn her head 360 degrees. Telles also could have fallen into the same trap, but she makes Emma’s possession fierce and believable to where her transition from sane to insane is all the more terrifying.

From a distance, “The Wind” looks like a movie which will employ the usual variety of horror tropes such as the last woman standing, heroic and moronic male characters and a murderous villain looking for a long-running franchise which will eventually see a reboot. However, this horror western feels unique to many of its ilk, and it is great to see such strong female characters inhabiting it. Honestly, it feels like it has been a long time since I have seen a horror movie with female characters like these as they easily dominate the male characters without any doubt.

Director Emma Tammi makes her narrative feature debut here after having made several documentaries including “Fair Chase.” It is a very assured debut as she balances out all the cinematic elements in equal fashion. In addition to getting excellent performances from the cast, there is also beautiful cinematography from Lyn Moncrief and a terrific film score composed by Ben Lovett which sounds like something out of my childhood nightmares. The fact Tammi had only 30 days to film “The Wind” makes her work here all the more impressive.

If “The Wind” does run into any problems, it is in regards to its non-linear story which gives the movie a lot of power, but also generates some confusion. The screenplay by Teresa Sutherland is strong, but the more it shifts from one place in time to another, the more I lost track of where the characters were in the story. Granted, a lot of my confusion was rectified before the movie’s climax, but being thrown off like that did take away from my viewing experience.

I also have to say that the ending was a bit of a letdown. As much as I enjoy ambiguous conclusions, this was one I wanted spelled out for me. I usually hate it when filmmakers try to spell things out for audiences, but this time it would have helped as “The Wind” felt somewhat incomplete when the screen went to black.

Regardless, I very much taken in by “The Wind” and found it to be a highly unnerving horror film. It’s coming in under the radar and is easily being smothered by bigger movies, but I hope fans of the genre will give it a look. In the meantime, I will be waiting for the next weather disaster movie, “The Smog.” That one will be worth it just to hear its characters have the following exchange:

“You don’t understand! The smog is here and it’s trying to kill us!”

“Ahh, I see you are new to Los Angeles…”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Caitlin Gerard and Emma Tammi on ‘The Wind’

There’s a movie coming out this weekend which is coming in under the radar which is worth your time. Once you have gotten through “Shazam” and the “Pet Sematary” remake, be sure to check out “The Wind,” a horror western which turns many of the clichés of scary movies on their heads. It also features some of the strongest female characters you could hope to see in a horror film in this day and age, and they are not your typical last girls or scream queens.

We are introduced to Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), a plains-woman living in the untamed western frontier of the 1800’s who is forced to fend for herself when her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), leaves her alone to the needs of a close friend. From there, we watch Lizzy dealing with the elements which include a pair of fierce coyotes and a sheep that won’t stay dead. But when the wind of the movie’s title comes around, she is driven to near madness as forces beyond her control mess with her head, and she is forced to hold on to what is left of her sanity to live another day above ground.

I had the great opportunity to talk with “The Wind’s” director Emma Tammi and actress Caitlin Gerard recently. Tammi is known for her documentaries “Election Day” and “Fair Chase,” and “The Wind” marks her directorial debut of a narrative feature. Gerard portrayed Imogen Rainier in “Insidious: The Last Key,” and she is known for her work on the television series “When We Rise” and “American Crime.”

I want to thank Gerard and Tammi for taking the time to talk with me about “The Wind,” and I would also like to thank Rama Tampubolon of Rama’s Screen for being my cameraman on this interview. His help and tripod were very much appreciated.

Please check out the interview above, and be sure to check out “The Wind” when it arrives in theaters and VOD on April 5, 2019.

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Gaspar Noe’s ‘Climax’ is a Hypnotic Descent Into Hell

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I will never forget when I first watched Terry Gilliam’s cinematic adaptation of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” Seeing the main characters played by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro descend into a drug-fueled inferno proved to be one of the most insane and chaotic cinematic experiences I’ve ever had to where I felt like a hammer was constantly bashing at my head. I was in college at the time, and I described it to my friends as being one long acid-trip nightmare. One friend, her name Wendy, looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, like you would know!” This led to another person, Matthew, across the table laughing and responding, “Hey Wendy, he’s right.”

Seriously, you don’t need to have any experience with drugs of any kind to call “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” an acid-trip nightmare, and the same goes for “Climax,” the latest cinematic opus from Gaspar Noe. Like the majority of his films, it proves to be exhilarating, hypnotic and gloriously out of control as we watch a group of dancers try to get a hold of their sanity after they discover the sangria they have been drinking has been spiked with LSD. Whether or not you have had any experience with this drug, you will agree the trip these characters go on is not the least bit pleasant.

“Climax” takes us back to the winter of 1996 and opens with a series of audition tapes featuring dancers who are being considered for a French dance troupe being created by Selva (Sofia Boutella) and DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile). Each dancer makes clear how intense their passion is for this particular artform and what they will do to make a career out of it. What’s interesting about this opening we are watching them on an old-style tube television which is surrounded by VHS tapes and books, all of which have influenced Noe’s filmmaking and personal beliefs. This includes such cinematic escapades like “Suspiria,” “Salo,” “Hara-Kiri” and “Possession,” and among the books are one by Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, famous for his ultra-negative views on life and humanity, “Junkie” by William S. Burroughs, “LSD Psychotherapy” by Stanislav Grof, and “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” (“We Children of Bahnhof Zoo”) by Christiane F. Seeing these materials around the TV set should make it clear that Noe is not about to play it safe for anybody.

Following this comes one of the most exhilarating dance sequences I have in a movie in a long time as we watch a five-minute-long scene in which characters perform with utter abandon as they contort their bodies in ways which amazed me to no end. As the camera swoops over the performers, we are sucked into their dance space to where I wanted to feel the passion they felt. Seeing this reminded me of when I first watched the music video to Madonna’s “Lucky Star” on MTV, back when they actually showed music videos, and of how I wanted to experience the same level of joy she was having.

Noe is up to his old tricks again as he starts “Climax” with the end credits first and then give us the opening credits about 45 minutes later. As for the title, it appears exactly where it should. It does take a while for things to get crazy as Noe takes his time introducing us to these dancers as they discuss the sexual conquests and/or the future they hope to have sooner rather than later. As this goes on, the techno music plays non-stop, and once you notice it slowing down all of a sudden, you know this shit is about to get real.

Once the characters begin to realize they are under the influence of a psychedelic substance they were not planning on ingesting before their performance, the movie becomes a slow descent into chaos, and I could not take my eyes off the screen for one second. Even as the events became more and more horrifically chaotic, I was sucked into the madness everyone was trapped in, and I had no idea of where the story was going. This kind of unpredictability is very rare in movies today.

It’s especially impressive to learn that “Climax” was shot in just 15 days and with a script only five pages long. Learning of this made me believe this film could have been an enormous mess were it in the hands of another filmmaker, but Noe gives this sheer chaos a structure even as the performers let themselves run wild with the material. Some will complain this movie has no real story or plot, but I am certain anyone who has taken LSD can assure us how most psychedelic trips do not come with a three-act structure.

Once again, Noe employs his and Harmony Korine’s favorite cinematographer, Benoît Debie, who gives us such striking and absorbing colors throughout. Whether the lighting is dark green or blindingly red, Debie captures the insane madness in all its visual beauty, and when the white of the snow appears it feels like such a relief. This makes me look forward to Korine’s upcoming movie “The Beach Bum” all the more as Debie is the cinematographer on it too.

Noe has gone on record in saying the production of “Climax” was the most peaceful he ever had as a director, and this is regardless of the movie’s content. Apparently, there were no arguments on set, and no drugs or alcohol were used by anyone during filming. The latter is worth pointing out as the cast does an excellent job of looking like they are being ravaged by a narcotic they didn’t plan on taking. They could have easily looked ridiculous to where the movie could have been laughable, but everyone looks to be on their game here.

The cast is made of both professional and non-professional actors, and the one who stands out the most is Sofia Boutella. The French-Algerian actress has long since made a name for herself with such memorable performances in “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Atomic Blonde,” and watching her here is mesmerizing as she takes her character of Selva from a place of sanity to the polar opposite of it. She could have easily fallen into the trap of emoting here, but she never does as she makes Selva’s helpless predicament all the more frightening as this trip she is forced to take offers no easy escape for her or anyone else.

“Climax” may not reach the nightmarish heights of “Requiem for a Dream,” but it stands out as one of Noe’s strongest efforts. It doesn’t reach of what I feel is his masterpiece, “Enter the Void,” but it is stronger than his last movie, “Love 3D” which many were quick to dismiss as just another porno flick (I disagree). I for one am glad such daring filmmakers are still working in a time where superhero movies continue to dominate everything in the cinematic landscape. We need at least one filmmaker to break the rules, and Noe is no doubt one of them.

Again, I don’t think you need any experience with psychedelic substances to realize “Climax” is one long acid-trip nightmare. While the late Steve Jobs found an amazing level of creativity after experimenting with LSD, I don’t think the characters here will be anywhere as lucky, assuming they survive.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The First Trailer for ‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’ Has Been Unleashed

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As much as I despise the controversial 1978 exploitation classic “I Spit on Your Grave,” I cannot help but be intrigued by its upcoming sequel. 40 years after Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) was brutally assaulted, left for dead and eventually reaped bloody revenge on her assailants, she rises again for another “Day of the Woman” in the eagerly anticipated sequel “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu.” Keaton returns to her iconic role along with Meir Zarchi who also wrote and directed the original, and one has to wonder how much more brutality Jennifer can possibly endure even after suffering unimaginable horrors decades before.

The trailer starts off with images from “I Spit on Your Grave” which last long enough to remind us how brutal and uncomfortable the first film was, and the moment where Jennifer has one of her attackers relaxing comfortably in the bathtub as she gently lifts up a knife she has hidden away still has men crossing their legs automatically. Whatever your thoughts were on the original, its lasting impact in the realm of revenge and exploitation films cannot be denied. It inspired a remake which was followed up by several sequels, but this follow up ignores them and focuses on the aftermath of what came before.

40 years later, we see Jennifer having a nice lunch with her daughter, Christy (Jamie Bernadette), but while walking back to their cars, they are greeted by a rabid fan gets Jennifer’s attention and asks her to sign a copy of her book. That this guy has a face which makes him look like a disciple of Charles Manson, and this is the first sign of things about to go very bad. Also, he is coming up to these ladies in a white van which, aside from the passenger and driver side, has no windows to see what’s in the back. This makes it all the easier for the fan and his driver to abduct Jennifer and Christy and throw them inside while no one else is looking.

From there, we know history will repeat itself in an intensely bloody fashion as Jennifer and Christy are greeted by an especially deranged matriarch named Becky (Maria Olsen), wife of the man Jennifer castrated in the bathtub. Becky promises both Jennifer and Christy a slow ride to hell as she seeks to avenge the men Jennifer killed, but neither of them are about to go quietly into that gentle night. This is especially the case with Christy who, at one point in the trailer, says she has her mother’s genes but none of her forgiveness.

Okay, this does not look like a great movie to say the least, but I am interested in checking it out in part to see if Zarchi’s filmmaking skills have improved in the slightest since 1978. Furthermore, even if you hated the original, you had to admire Keaton’s bravery as her character endured an infinitely appalling attack I would never wish on my worst enemy, and this sequel would not be worth the effort had she not agreed to reprise her role here.

Aside from Keaton, there are two actresses who stand out prominently in this trailer. One is Maria Olsen who looks to give a scenery-chewing performance as the embittered widow aiming to give Jennifer a taste of her own gory medicine. Granted, some of her acting looks like it just might be featured on the “Exquisite Acting” segment of Hollywood Babble-On, but she may very well give this sequel the hateful antagonist it deserves.

The other is Jamie Bernadette who plays Christy Hills. We see Christy wreaking bloody havoc on her captors to where she has bloodstains on her face much like her mother had years before. Bernadette has previously appeared in such movies as “Mortdecai” opposite Johnny Depp, and “The Darkness” which starred Kevin Bacon. If she hasn’t snuck into your consciousness yet, she will after this sequel is unleashed.

As for the male characters, they look to have the same luck as those crew members of the Starship Enterprise who are forced to wear red shirts on the average episode of “Star Trek.”

Again, this is unlikely to be a great cinematic experience, and the trailer cannot hide the signs of the limited budget the filmmakers had to work with. Filming on this sequel was completed back in 2015, and it is only now getting a release. Still, in a time where alternate timelines are more popular than ever, whether its J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” or the latest “Halloween” movie we’re talking about, this direct sequel to “I Spit on Your Grave” is something horror and exploitation movie fans cannot ignore.

“I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray April 23, 2019. If Roger Ebert were still alive, I have no doubt he would be thrilled at how this sequel is not being shown on the silver screen (or at least, not yet).

Check out the trailer below.

Exclusive Interview with ‘Apollo 11’ Director Todd Douglas Miller

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For many of us, the events of the Apollo 11 have long since been relegated to the annals of history. Back in July 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were propelled into outer space to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 national goal of landing a man on the Moon and then returning him safely back to Earth before the end of the decade. Those who were alive back then cannot and will not forget this incredible event, but many who were born after it occurred observe it as a mere footnote in history which has long since passed them by.

This historic event was revisited recently in Damien Chazelle’s film “First Man,” but now we have the documentary “Apollo 11” which takes audiences right back to 1969 when the mission took place. Described as a “cinematic event 50 years in the making,” it has been crafted from a newly discovered treasure trove of 65mm footage and 11,000 hours on uncatalogued audio recordings. The end result is a motion picture which makes you feel as though you are watching America’s first flight to the Moon as if it just happened yesterday, and it is a movie which demands to be seen on the biggest screen near you.

“Apollo 11” was directed by Todd Douglas Miller whose previous films include “Dinosaur 13” which observed the discovery of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found, and “Gahanna Bill” which chronicles the life of Bill Withrow; a middle-aged, mentally handicapped man. I spoke with Miller about the making of “Apollo 11,” and he discussed why no narration or interviews were included in the documentary, the process of restoring much of the footage, and of how the discovered audio proved to be as informative as the visuals on display.

Ben Kenber: I love how the documentary opens with the image of the rocket and the capsule being slowly moved out to the launching area. It’s a fascinating way to start as we are reminded of the immense size of the rocket and also, more importantly, what humanity is capable of creating. What made you start the documentary with this image?

Todd Douglas Miller: One of the first images that we saw when we were doing some test scanning of the original film reel was the rocket being taken out on the crawler to pad 39A. It was actually upside down because the reel was wound backwards. So, we are looking at it and the way it comes off the scanner you only see an image every three or four seconds. And then we go, wait a minute, we know this is large-format but this is actually taken from a helicopter too, so we immediately put it up on the big screen in the theater and our jaws were just on the floor. I knew that I wanted to start this film to put the audience right in the moment, and I just felt like what better moment to see this giant 300+ feet tall Saturn V rocket and this amazing machine which was created to move it. It was really a no-brainer to start the movie there.

BK: I agree. Also, the resolution of the images you have to work with here is just breathtaking.

TDM: Yeah. Originally, we had set out to just rescan all the 16 and the 35mm film which we ultimately did. But when we dealt with those materials, some of them had been used over the decades, a shot here in a shot there, so there was a fair amount of clean and prep before we actually scanned them. With the 65mm, it was just so pristine, we really treated it with kid gloves in the color correction and the conform of it. It was just something that the technicians who were working with it on the scanners, they had just never seen anything like that: the condition and the way it moves through the machinery. Important to note too, the scanner that was developed for this was a prototype scanner. There is only one in existence created for just this project, but it actually moved the film through a series of air pressures. There was never anything physically touching the film itself. It’s a real testament to the guys who developed the technology created to handle it.

BK: In addition to all the footage which was discovered, there was a wealth of audio recordings recovered as well. Which give you more information and more help in making this documentary, the video or the audio?

TDM: That’s a great question. I would say if I had to pick because I am a visual guy, seeing the large-format film obviously informs some of the edit decisions as far as the eye candy shots go. But certainly, from a story perspective and how I want the shape the narrative of the mission, there was no better resource then the audio. We knew about all the air to ground audio and all the onboard audio that existed. When Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were in the command module while they were on, let’s say, the dark side of the moon and they weren’t in communication with the earth, they flipped on a recorder so we have recordings that were taken on board, and there were also on-board recordings from the lunar landing and some other key moments during the mission. But we didn’t know of and what landed in our lap was 18,000 hours of Mission Control audio that was recorded at Mission Control on 30 tracks of audio in the front room, an additional 30 tracks of audio in the back room, and 11,000 hours of the 18,000 hours was statistically Apollo 11. It was a real mishmash. It has been digitized by a team down at the University of Texas in Dallas. It was going through NASA exports control. We got it fairly early so we could rifle through it and kind of help with the effort to transcribe everything and see if there was anything questionable in there or anything we can utilize in the film. It turned out it became our main resource for shaping the structure of this story that we wanted to focus on this because there were things in there that had never been heard before, or there were lines in there that might have not ended up on the air to ground transmissions that were cleaner than this 30-track audio recording.

BK: This documentary has no narration, but it really doesn’t need it because you can tell everything that is going on. Was it always your intention to not include any narration in this documentary, or was it something which came up during the editing process?

TDM: Yeah. One thing that you discover when you listen to all the mission audio, NASA broadcast what is basically the flight directors’ loop. So, if you hear any of the four flight directors (Gene Krantz, Clifford E. Charlesworth, Gerald D. Griffin and Glynn Lunney) talking with the other guys and also the flight capsule communicator in direct communication with the capsule, that gets broadcast.  But a lot of times it’s just a lot of technical jargon and numbers. They are inputting data into their local computer, the command module and the lunar module. So, what’s great for the average viewer or for a filmmaker was there was also four public affairs officers stationed in Mission Control that were of functioning as narration for the general audience that was listening via TV or the radio and would kind of dumb it down for people like me. You could get kind of a blow-by-blow, it’s almost like watching a live sportscast, of exactly what’s going on. From a filmmaking perspective it was really great that they so happened to have the voices of airline pilots. They were just this really calming influence and it certainly translated very well into utilizing them in the guise of the film.

BK: I was also really fascinated with how fast the spacecraft goes. It’s frightening when you realize what the velocity is. The scene where the astronauts land on the moon is almost terrifying because they are descending so fast and I found myself wanting to yell at the screen, hit the brakes!

TDM: (Laughs) Yeah, it was really fun to deal with all that telemetry and hours and hours spent with the consultants trying to figure out different angles and the velocities and approximate altitudes for different things. It really puts in perspective the technical accomplishments in this year expertise that these astronauts had to fly these machines and land them safely. It’s really incredible.

BK: “Apollo 11” deals with some very iconic moments, and yet it all feels like we are watching this event for the first time.

TDM: Thanks for saying that. That was definitely the intent. We joked that from the beginning we wanted this to feel like “Dunkirk” in space. It’s an analogy in that if you think about just being dropped into a situation, even though you know how it ends, that it’s definitely going to take you for a ride just by the sheer imagery involved. Some of the imagery that was captured, whether it was Buzz Aldrin operating the 16mm camera during the landing or Michael Collins during the lunar liftoff when the lunar module was coming off the surface of the moon towards the command module to dock, those two scenes we wanted them to be unbroken shots because they are two of the most iconic things ever captured on celluloid as far as I’m concerned. I think that too often it gets kind of missed on people how special that imagery really is when you just see it in bits and pieces or sped up, or it has too much flash to it. To see it as it was, it had an emotional impact on me for sure.

BK: The film score by Matt Morton helps to heighten the more dangerous aspects of the mission. Every once in a while, we are reminded of how dangerous space travel can be just as were while watching Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity.” What was it like working with Matt on the score?

TDM: Well I have known Matt since we were kids, and he’s my oldest collaborator. Typically, the way we work is we do post scores so I’ll temp in music to a team and then give it to him, and we talked about it and then he goes off and does his magic. With this, he told me very early on even when we were in the research phase of the film that he wanted to do a period score with modern composition and I said, what does that mean? (Laughs) He said I actually want to go out and only use instruments that were made pre-1969, one of which is a Moog synthesizer. Moog at the time was reissuing their 1968 synthesizer. They only made 25 of them and he got, I don’t know, number 13 or 14. I was scared at first but I didn’t tell them. I trust him but he didn’t know how to play one, and it’s a monster thing. It takes up an entire wall. It’s huge. He would go off and give me these hours and hours of these Moog compositions, so we ended up pre-scoring most of the film that way and it was just an absolutely wonderful way to work. It is one in which we, moving forward, want to do more of. It’s really just a testament to Matt and his skills as a composer and his versatility too. I’m just lucky that I get to work with him. I think his skill set as a composer is really in the spotlight and this one, and I’m just really proud of the work he did.

BK: “Apollo 11” is dedicated to Al and Theo. Can you tell me about those two people?

TDM: Al was Al Reinert, and he was a filmmaker. He made of film in the 80’s called “For All Mankind.” We became friends. I reached out to him when we did a short film which was really a primer for this film called “Last Steps” about Apollo 17. We just really hit it off, and he was working on a space themed film. We were doing some resource sharing and I was really looking forward to sharing this with him. Unfortunately, he passed away not too long ago before he could see the film. It’s one of the things I regret most, not showing him an early cut. Al was also the screenwriter on “Apollo 13,” and his films had at impact on me as a filmmaker. But I’m also lucky enough to call him a friend and develop a personal relationship with him towards the end of his life. Theo is Theo Kamecke, and he also passed away during the making of our film. Theo was the director of a film that’s become a cult classic among space fans called “Moonwalk One,” and a lot of the imagery that’s in our film “Apollo 11” was created for “Moonwalk One.” He was known as a really good editor too, and he actually worked on an Academy Award-winning short film called “To Be Alive!” which was produced by the Francis Thompson Company which ended up producing “Moonwalk One.” There was going to be a contingent of myself, National Archives and Maps and some of the team were going to show him some of things we discovered, and unfortunately he passed away a few weeks before this happened. So, we dedicated the film to those two filmmakers.

BK: You are known for another documentary you made previously called “Dinosaur 13.” I was curious, between that and “Apollo 11,” which was the tougher documentary to make?

TDM: That’s an interesting question. I think in terms of sheer scope, this was more difficult. We knew from the very beginning the immense responsibility we had. The fact we were transporting priceless materials up the I-95 corridor from (Washington) D.C. to New York led to a lot of sleepless and restless nights. We shot a lot on “Dinosaur 13,” but the narrative kind of set itself, and we were purely focused on just the film. With this, it wasn’t just the film. It was also the preservation and curation of all these materials that we were generating, and also the ones we were utilizing. We just felt a real pressure to get it right, so I would have to vote for this one.

BK: I imagine it’s a lot more challenging to get the details right something like this especially when you have this treasure trove of material which was left unseen for far too long.

TDM: Yeah, and I am so proud of all the work that everybody did on this, and I am proud of the work everybody did on “Dinosaur 13.” That was definitely a big project to pull that all together. We used a lot of archival material on that as well and filmed as much as we did. With “Apollo 11,” we didn’t shoot it ourselves. We had the responsibility to honor a lot of these filmmakers who are now deceased.

“Apollo 11” opens exclusively in IMAX on March 1st for one week only, and it will open in theaters everywhere on March 8th. If you can, see it in IMAX. It is an extraordinary cinematic experience.

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Introduces Us To a Hero Unafraid to Be ‘The One’

Alita Battle Angel movie poster

Alita: Battle Angel” is a movie which is at once familiar but unique. It’s another post-apocalyptic film in which Earth has been laid waste by war and where humans survive any way they can, with or without the limbs they were born with. Hovering over them is a city in the sky much like the one in “Elysium” where the wealthy survivors live in what looks like infinite luxury. Yes, there are many familiar science-fiction elements at work here, but this movie still feels unique in the way it looks and how it is told. Just when I thought it would be the same old genre film which I have seen far too many times, I was surprised at how invigorating it was as it introduces us to a heroic female character who is not afraid to back down from a fight.

This movie brings together filmmakers James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, and you can tell the pride and enthusiasm they had in bringing Yukito Kishiro’s manga series “Gunnm” to the big screen. With all the visual effects and 3D tools at their disposal, and this is the first 3D movie I have looked forward to watching in ages, they have created an imperfect but highly entertaining cyberpunk adventure which mixes live action and computer-generated imagery to brilliant effect just like in “Avatar.”

The year is 2563, and the Earth has been devastated by a war known as “The Fall.” As the movie begins, we see renowned scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) sifting through a junkyard in Iron City when he comes across a disembodied female cyborg. Her body is part of the trash thrown down from the wealthy sky city of Zalem, but what its residents didn’t take into account is this cyborg still has a fully intact human brain. Dyson ends up taking her back to his office and rebuilds her, and the next morning she wakes up with a new set of artificial limbs and a pair of eyes which look like something out of a Margaret Keane painting. From there, she goes on a journey of endless discovery which will show her enjoying the simple things and eventually embracing her true identity.

Just like with “Avatar,” it is hard to distinguish what is real and what is CGI in “Alita: Battle Angel” as both worlds mix into one another in a wonderfully creative way. This movie also utilizes 3D in a way which reminds us how the extra dimension can make us feel like part of the action instead of just letting us sit back in our comfy seats. Hollywood really burned us out on 3D as it became nothing more than a gimmick and another way to take an extra dollar or two out of our pockets. But in the hands of Rodriguez and Cameron, filmmakers who have successfully mastered the extra dimension (the jury will excuse “Spy Kids 3-D”), it is a reminder of what an effective tool it can be when placed in the right hands.

Speaking of Rodriguez, this is easily the best movie he has made in a long time. His last few films like “Machete Kills” and “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” had him repeating himself to tiresome effect, and I was begging him to try something new. His attempts to made good-bad movies completely missed the point of why such movies were enjoyable in the first place, and his many gifts were wasted as a result. But with “Alita: Battle Angel,” he gets his biggest budgeted movie yet, and you can feel his joy at playing around with tools he never got to play with before. The look of the movie is astonishing, and his filmmaking skills get reinvigorated as a result.

And, of course, you can feel Cameron’s influence over this project as he co-wrote the screenplay with Laeta Kalogridis, and his mastery of storytelling is on display here as he weaves in various themes dealing with pollution, corruption and endless greed to very strong effect. Hugo (Keean Johnson), Alita’s love interest, is infinitely eager to buy his way into Zalem, but like John Leguizamo trying to get an apartment in Dennis Hopper’s luxury high-rise which sits high above a zombie-infested city in “Land of the Dead,” the odds will never be in his favor. The rich live in safety while the poor live in squalor and, just like in the real world we inhabit, the division between the haves and have nots is far too big.

And yes, Cameron’s weaknesses as a screenwriter are on display as well. Ever since “Titanic,” he has shown a tin ear for dialogue, and hearing the villainous characters sputter out lines such as “looking for me” is dispiriting as I have heard this phrase far too many times. Also, the arcs of certain supporting characters are not resolved in a satisfying manner, and I had to look at the movie’s Wikipedia page to figure out exactly what happened to them. I still wait for the screenwriter of “Aliens” to reappear. Remember the classic line of dialogue Cameron came up with when Sigourney Weaver talked to Paul Reiser about the difference between bloodthirsty extra-terrestrials and human beings? It still stays with me:

“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

As for the actors, they help breathe life into the computer-generated landscape. It’s great to see Christoph Waltz play someone other than a devious villain, and he makes his scientist character a deeply heartfelt man who is more complex than we were first led to believe at first. There’s also nice supporting work from Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali who lend their charisma to enigmatic roles. And it is nice to hear Jackie Earle Haley’s voice as the enormous cyborg and assassin Grewishka as you can always count on him to create an ominous presence in a movie which calls for it.

But let’s face it, “Alita: Battle Angel” belongs to Rosa Salazar who portrays the title character. The actress, best known for her roles in “Parenthood” and “American Horror Story: Murder House,” gives this movie the heart and soul it deserves, and it was immense fun watching her discover the simple things in life to such a wonderfully enthusiastic degree. And when Alita embraces her role as a fierce warrior, Salazar sells it for all it is worth as she is not about to be held back by anyone. Without her, this movie would not have been anywhere as effective.

For a brief time, I thought this would be yet another movie where the main character struggles with whether or not they are “the one.” “Alita: Battle Angel,” however, is not interested in asking such time-wasting questions, and it did not take long at all for me to be fully engaged in her quest. I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I was for that.

“Alita: Battle Angel” ends on a note which serves as a set-up for a franchise filled with sequels. This will more than likely annoy many audience members as every other motion picture looks to be starting a franchise which serves to keep studio executives happy. Still, I found it to be a self-contained movie which never felt like an overlong advertisement for future installments. I am eager to see where Alita’s future adventures will take her, and I have a strong feeling we will find out before the first of several “Avatar” sequels are released. Heck, has filming on the first “Avatar” sequel even begun yet? Stop leaving us hanging Cameron!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Cold Pursuit’ is Far More Devious Than the Average Liam Neeson Film

Cold Pursuit movie poster

I went into “Cold Pursuit” believing it would be a typical Liam Neeson action film and a cross between “Taken” and “Death Wish.” Heck, it feels like Neeson has been doing the same movie over and over in recent years as he keeps playing characters who are either out to rescue their children or avenge the loss of a loved one. As we watch Neeson operate heavy machinery in a place which looks infinitely colder than the one he traversed in “The Grey,” I kept waiting for him to say, “I have a particular set of snow plows I have acquired over a very long career…”

Indeed, “Cold Pursuit” has the attributes of the average Neeson action flick, but I was surprised to see it also has a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. Even as the violence gets increasingly brutal and the blood flows more frequently, I found myself laughing endlessly as Neeson’s quest for revenge inadvertently sets off a war between rival gangs intent on protecting their own self-interests. As a result, this film was and was not what I expected, and as it went on I had no idea of the twists and turns the story would end up taking.

Neeson plays Nels Coxman, an ordinary man who lives a quiet life with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) in the small Colorado town of Kehoe. As “Cold Pursuit” begins, Nels has been given Kehoe’s Citizen of the Year award, something he accepts quite humbly as he considers his job as a snowplow driver nothing particularly special. Nels is also revealed to be a quiet man as his wife encourages him to speak more regularly at the dinner table and use as many words as President Abraham Lincoln said during his address at Gettysburg.

It doesn’t take long for tragedy to strike when Kyle dies of a heroin overdose. Nels refuses to believe his son could ever be a drug addict even when the police, long since hardened by the morbid work they do, remark how parents always say that. From there, the movie does not slow down as Nels goes from being the town’s key citizen to a vigilante as cold as the frosty weather he works in on a daily basis. Seeing him do deadly deeds either with a snowplow or a sawed-off rifle made me think of a line between Chevy Chase and Tim Matheson from “Fletch:”

“You shoot me, you’re liable to lose a lot of these humanitarian awards.”

Neeson inhabits the role of Nels as effectively as any he has played in the past, and I could tell he was having a lot of fun with this particular character from start to finish. Unlike the government agents and trained snipers he has played previously, Nels is nothing like them as he truly is an ordinary guy caught up in a situation he has no control over. At one point he even tells his brother, Brock “Wingman” Coxman (William Forsythe), how he learned about disposing dead bodies from a crime novel he once read.

“Cold Pursuit” also introduces to one of the slimiest and most comical drug kingpins I have seen in some time, Trevor “Viking” Calcote. Trevor is played by Tom Bateman in an inspired performance as he makes this drug dealer as brutal as he is hilariously hypocritical. While he shows no remorse in offing another human being, he is equally intense when it comes to making sure his son learns all he can about life from William Golding’s classic novel “The Lord of the Flies” while eating foods which do not contain the slightest ounce of high fructose corn syrup.

What intrigued me most about “Cold Pursuit” was how Nels’ quest for vengeance ends up triggering a turf war between drug dealers and American Indian gang members. In the process, we are subtly reminded of how America was stolen from the Indians (they are called Native Americans for a reason folks) and that the word “reservation” has more than one meaning. In this small Colorado town, a bad review on Yelp or Trip Advisor can be every bit as damaging as a bullet. This all results in a motion picture with a body count somewhere in between Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.”

“Cold Pursuit” is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller “In Order of Disappearance” which starred Stellan Skarsgard, and both films were directed by the same man, Hans Petter Moland. Learning of this made me wonder if Moland would fall intro the same trap George Sluizer did when he remade “The Vanishing” in America and changed the ending to disastrous effect. However, it looks like little was loss in the translation as this remake retains much of the brutality and black humor of the original. This was a giant relief to me after witnessing the misbegotten remake of “Miss Bala” which all but neutered the original for the sake of a PG-13 rating. Unlike “Miss Bala,” this film is anything but generic.

If there is any issue I have with this film, it is the inescapable fact that Laura Dern is completely wasted here. She is always a welcome appearance in anything she appears in, but she disappears from “Cold Pursuit” way too soon to where I wondered why they bothered casting her at all. Frankly, I am getting sick of seeing Dern reduced to playing the helpless housewife whose love is wasted on male characters who fail to return it in equal measure. She deserves much better.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by “Cold Pursuit” as it proves to be an effective thriller and a twisted delight. For those who like their humor especially black, this is a film worth checking out as it features everything including a child who knows all there is to know about the Stockholm Syndrome. More importantly, it features female characters played by Emmy Rossum and Julia Jones who are far stronger than their male counterparts who are too caught up in their own jealousy and self-interest. The scene where Jones shows how she has her ex-husband by the balls, literally and figuratively speaking, is one which will never be quickly forgotten.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

 

‘Miss Bala’ is Far Too Average to Be the Least Bit Empowering

missbala2019movieposter

Right now, 2019 is looking to be a year where I have gone from appreciating movies for what they are to instead wishing they were something better. I have already sat through M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” which started off promisingly, but ended up becoming a contrived mess which left me thinking of what it could and should have been. As much as I pride myself on analyzing movies for what they are, I couldn’t do this with “Glass” as it came with expectations impossible to ignore, and it self-destructed long before the infinitely frustrating conclusion.

Now we have another 2019 movie, “Miss Bala,” which proves to be just as frustrating if not more so. It has an intriguing premise of a young Latino woman caught up in a situation not of her making which has her playing both sides of the same coin to where she manipulates things to come out on top. But what results here is nothing more than a below average action thriller undone by cliched characters and a screenplay filled with contrived situations which willfully defy logic. A lot could have been done with this material, but the filmmakers have instead turned it into the equivalent of a subpar episode of “24.”

Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin” fame stars as Gloria, a makeup artist in Los Angeles who travels across the border to Tijuana to visit her best friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is competing in a local beauty pageant. But during a party at a nightclub, their plans are suddenly thwarted when members of a drug cartel open fire and everyone runs for their lives. Suzu ends up disappearing and Gloria becomes desperate to find her, but this search leads to her getting kidnapped as she becomes a pawn of both drug dealers and the DEA.

Like I said, “Miss Bala” has a very intriguing premise which comes with a lot of promise. Like Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” Gina Rodriguez plays a character who ends up in a situation not of her own making which leaves her looking guilty in the eyes of the world. What excited me was the anticipation of watching Gloria turn one side against the other as I was convinced she would do so in the most ingenious of ways. It’s fascinating to see a character go from being completely lost to gaining the upper hand once the instinct for survival kicks in.

Alas, “Miss Bala” is quickly undone by a screenplay which doesn’t do nearly enough to make Gloria’s transformation from a frightened civilian to a vengeful warrior emotionally fulfilling or believable. Writer Gareth Dunnett-Alcocer has constructed a kind of “connect-the-dots” screenplay which looks to take some characters and situations in interesting directions and instead resolves them in ways which feel far too pat and simplistic to where it’s like the filmmakers are telling us, “Remember who the good and bad guys are.”

As for the villains, they are a stereotypical bunch of drug cartel gang members who could occupy every other show on network television these days. The filmmakers attempt to balance things out by presenting us with DEA agents who prove to be as bad, but the moment where they turn against Gloria reeks of desperation as they can’t seem to decide what to do with characters who have not been developed in a satisfying way. Even worse, a certain character at the end is revealed to be an agent of another government agency, and it is one Gloria has even more of a reason to distrust than the DEA.

It’s a real shame because Rodriguez proves to be a formidable presence here as Gloria, and you can tell she put her heart and soul into this character as she fearlessly portrays the emotional turmoil of her character’s predicament from start to finish. Sadly, her transition from scared innocent to emboldened warrior never feels believable enough, but this is not necessarily her fault.

Aside from Rodriguez, you have Ismael Cruz Cordova playing an uber cool drug dealer and menace to society named Lino who takes pleasure in intimidating those he feels are beneath him. Part of me is getting sick of characters like these as they act so ridiculously confident even when there are numerous moments which make clear how foolish in who they trust. And just when Lino starts to get interesting, the character is rendered into a stereotypical bad guy through a storytelling device which feels tacked on only for the sake of tying things up quickly.

Anthony Mackie also shows up as another bad guy named Jimmy, but he is completely wasted here as he gives off the same thousand mile stares just like he did in “The Hate U Give.” And when he reappears in the movie’s last half to where we learn more about his character, I wanted to yell at the screen, “Seriously?”

“Miss Bala” was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who made one of the most unforgettable and emotionally visceral teen movies ever with “Thirteen.” I was hoping she would bring the same emotional urgency to this material, but perhaps she has softened her vision a bit too much in the wake of “Twilight” and “Red Riding Hood.” Hardwicke does direct some strong action sequences and she never lets the pace drag for a second, but she is unable to make this action thriller stand out from so many others like it.

I don’t know, maybe I am being a bit unfair to “Miss Bala” as it doesn’t aim to be a genre defying piece of cinema. But even as a simple B-movie with low aspirations, it never truly excites in the ways it wants to. Then again, perhaps I have been spoiled by portrayals of vicious gang members in movies like “Sicario” or “The Infiltrator” as they make the ones here look like paper-thin cartoon characters. For a motion picture looking to be a powerful piece of female empowerment, “Miss Bala” settles for something far less to where the finished project leaves not much of an aftertaste if any. Its ending has the promise of an ongoing franchise where Gloria will equate her skills with guns and deception with her love of makeup, I don’t think we will be seeing a follow-up to this one anytime soon.

It should be noted how this film is a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name. I have not seen the original, but I did take the time to watch its trailer which shows it to be grittier and more interesting than what we got here. If nothing else, I hope this remake will get audiences more interested in the original, let alone make them aware of its existence. The critical acclaim which graced it is not about to be bestowed on this tepid version.

* * out of * * * *