Darke Reviews – Book of Life (2014)


I brought you a special review tonight, a book. This is a special book, a book that should be read (shown to your children). It’s even got sports in it! Are you kidding? Fencing, Fighting, Death, Giants, Monsters, Chases, Escapes, True Love, Miracles. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

I do not use the above words lightly. I need you to understand this. If you know the words I used, you know how special they are. What they imply. I thought long and hard on the drive home tonight and realized the implications hold.

The Book of Life is a movie that defies modern day Hollywood. I have teased the rant to come on the issue of whitewashing in Hollywood. The issues of casting caucasians in the part where someone of another ethnicity either should have been cast as appropriate to the story or could have been cast with no detriment (and possible improvement). This is nearly the opposite in every respect and it shows.

First we have the movie produced by native Mexican deity of film making Guillermo del Toro (that explains a casting choice too now that I think of it). The director, Jorge R. Gutierrez has worked as an animator before this picture, and this makes his first big screen production in the directors chair – AND a screenplay credit. I am impressed. Sometimes this is a sin. Today it is a blessing. There is also a co writer credit for Douglas Langdale. Upon review of his previous writing credits I can only assume he has learned much over the years since the Return of Jafar.

The story focuses on the relationship between three friends, Manolo (The guitarist), Joaquin (the hero), and Maria (the firebrand). The two boys want to wind the hand of Maria, who is content with being in control over her own life and making her own choices. Little do they know their lives are the focus of a bet by two deities of the dead, La Muerte and Xibalba, over the fate of all mankind.

Remember the whitewashing issue I mentioned? Yeah here – most of the cast is actually hispanic, in a movie focused around a religious day for hispanic culture. SHOCKER. Yes, some argument could be made for commercializing the Day of the Dead, but that’s happening  en masse, at least this seems to show it some measure of respect. We have Diego Luna as Manolo, Zoe Saldana As Maria. Also we have Kate del Castillo (IMDB says she is one of Mexico’s most acclaimed and popular actresses), Hector Elizondo, Danny “Machete” Trejo, Gabriel “Hot and Fluffy” Iglesias, Cheech Marin, and famed and epic opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Yes, there are some casting choices that don’t fit the rest of the theme, but they don’t distract and they don’t annoy. Channing Tatum works in his usual fashion and honestly is as funny as he ever is. Christina Applegate still has one of the most beautiful voices around. Ron Perlman (DelToro connection) is …well Ron Perlman and therefor awesome. Ice Cube, perhaps, is the weakest casting in the voices and most distracting. Its right up there with Steven Tyler in Epic.

From a technical standpoint, the movie in 3D works. It is absolutely gorgeous in every single respect. Colour, lighting, sound, animation, aesthetics. It is near flawless. I could not get over how gorgeous (or comically absurd) the character designs were. How well the colors and depth of field were used through the film. The specific design choice to make the characters similar to wooden marionettes was brilliant within the context of the story being told. Aside from the odd gag, it worked beautifully.

TL;DR?

Yes, Fury comes out this weekend. I have to see it tomorrow. I don’t want to. I want to see this again.

I want everyone to see this film. EVERYONE. It is family friendly for certain at nearly all ages. There’s a lot for adults here. There’s a lot for dates here – the story of love and how its handled work well enough to make me cry at times.

On that – the movie did make me cry. It got to me. It also made me laugh and laugh hard at other bits. It didn’t anger me with how they handled Saldana’s character. Even the rivalry between the friends didn’t play out as bad as it could have.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again when it matters – the movie made me smile. It made me feel warm. It entertained on many levels and that is what movies are here for.

So yes, please go see Book of Life this weekend if you can. It’s what Hollywood looks at.  If you can’t see it this weekend, please at least see it.

It is so worth it.

 

PS – I am serious, I do consider that opening film I referenced a good comparison here. Right or wrong, its what I feel.

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