Movie reviews: 'Miss Bala' potboiler rarely gets above a simmer
Film critic and 'Pop Life' host Richard Crouse reviews three movies: 'Miss Bala,' 'Wonders of the Sea 3D' and 'Into Invisible Light.'
MISS BALA: 2 STARS
Based on a Spanish-language film from Mexico of the same-name "Miss Bala" is an updated, feminist take on the original movie. "In the end," says Gloria ("Jane the Virgin's" Gina Rodriguez), "the bullet settles everything."
Rodriguez plays a young American woman who goes to Tijuana to help her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) prepare to enter the Miss Baja California beauty pageant. After witnessing a brutal gangland nightclub slaying Suzu disappears and Gloria kidnapped by a drug cartel. In exchange for her safety and help in finding Suzu, Gloria reluctantly agrees to smuggle cartel drug money through the Mexico-USA border.
"I can help you find your friend," says charismatic drug boss Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), but first you have to do something for me. Mess around and I will kill you."
As she's learning the ropes — which includes blowing up a DEA safe house — she is intercepted by the DEA. "You have to believe me," she says. "They made me do it." Trapped between two fierce opponents she finds herself acting as a double agent, utilizing the skills she learned from the cartel to earn her freedom from both the drug lords and the DEA. "Sometimes you have to do terrible things to survive."
"Miss Bala" features frequent action sequences and mucho gunplay but is, at best, a by-the-book potboiler that rarely gets above a simmer. There is the tease of real danger in the interactions between Gloria and Lino but nothing that feels authentic. He's a sensitive psycho who falls for Gloria because she reminds him of an ex-girlfriend and she's a mild mannered make-up artist whose blood suddenly runs cold. He's like the Dale Carnegie of drug lords doling out advice — "You need to believe in yourself." "You need to feel confident." "Play your part." — that wouldn't be out of place in any self help book. She's a quick learner with a gun and, all of a sudden, an ace shot. In short, the characters are what they need to be in the moment, not what they need to be to be well-rounded or interesting.
Coming hot on the heels of female led revenge films like Coralie Fargeat's "Revenge" or Park Chan-wook's "Lady Vengeance," "Miss Bala" feels tame. Worse, it's sequel-friendly ending promises more of the same.
Read another take: Rodriguez deserves more than bland 'Miss Bala'
WONDERS OF THE SEA 3D: 3 ½ STARS
At the beginning of the "Wonders of the Sea 3D," a new documentary featuring underwater adventurers Jean Michel Cousteau and his children Celine and Fabien, narrator Arnold Schwarzenegger says the reason he signed on was because this "is an important film with an important message." The message is actually twofold. First he cites the aesthetic, calling the doc a "declaration of love for the beauty of the ocean." Later the movie's secondary, but more serious message of how the future of humanity is inextricably connected to the health of the ocean.
From Fiji to the Bahamas, with a pit stop in California "Wonders of the Sea 3D" takes us to the final frontier. More people have walked on the moon than on the bottom of the deep ocean, and indeed many of the creatures we are introduced to look ripped from the pages of a sci fi comic book. From the familiar — like the octopus; "We may never get closer to alien intelligence than this," says Jean Michel — to more exotic undersea life like the bizarre Christmas Tree Worm and a flatworm that looks like it could be a multi-coloured scarf in a Fashion Week runway show, the images are striking and surreal. There's even a fish who looks like Steve Buscemi.
The photography is beautiful, the 3D effective but as eye-catching as these images are they rarely provide a sense of scale. Life on the documented reefs reveals "nature's masterful design" but it's hard to tell if these creatures are ten feet tall or microscopic.
"Wonders of the Sea 3D" is aimed at kids whose imaginations may be sparked by the unusual watery beasts on display. The narration, courtesy of the Cousteau family and Schwarzenegger, is simple and direct, often with the feel of an educational classroom film. The narration may not be nearly as compelling as the images but the messages are memorable. "The ocean survives without us. We don't survive without the ocean."
INTO INVISIBLE LIGHT: 3 STARS
Self help author John Tarnoff says, "In order to create your future, you have to reconcile your past." It's good advice for his boomer audience, the over 50s who may be looking to reconnect and restart their lives. It's also a theme that runs through "Into Invisible Light," a new film starring Jennifer Dale.
Dale, who co-wrote the script with director Shelagh Carter, plays Helena Grayson a recently widowed woman who can only claim the inheritance if she heads a foundation for young artists. Sitting in the big chair, she has to figure out who gets support and who doesn't. She's thrust into the world of artists despite having given up her artistic objectives years ago. This leads to her to explore her own ambition, to write again. Writing allows her to find her voice again, to examine a life that felt inconsequential and repressed without an artistic outlet. Helping her spark joy is Michael (Peter Keleghan), a Samuel-Beckett-quoting former flame, now a writing professor. Examining her past, just as Tarnoff suggests, leads the way to her future.
"Into Invisible Light" is a movie for adults; a film for people who have lived a life and are in process, looking to start over again. It's a finely tuned story of second chances that eloquently essays a reawakening.
Densely written, this thoughtful examination of Helena's new phase of life is supported by elegant cinematography courtesy of Ousama Rawi and a moody, stark score by Shawn Pierce. It occasionally takes itself a bit too seriously, leaning on minor chord drama for effect, but the lingering effect is one of hopeful rebirth.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
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