Three Amigos: Rise of the Mexican Directors

guillermo del toro

Ok, for this piece I’d like to discuss my love of Mexico’s finest Directors. In terms of what got me fired up to write this, bear with me whilst I set the scene.

The other night I was watching an old episode of the BBC miniseries, Luther, starring Idris Elba (check out a clip here, worth looking up if you’ve not seen it), and it got me thinking about the film Elba is currently working on, Guillermo del Toro’s latest, Pacific Rim.

guillermo del toroNow I’m intrigued. I’m a massive del Toro fan and it’s a shame he couldn’t deliver his version of The Hobbit. I am sure Peter Jackson’s take will be epic, but I bet Guillermo’s would have been quite something.

The reason I’m a fan of del Toro is simple, his filmography: Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. 

Like many others, I love the worlds he creates. His monsters are equally terrifying and beautiful. I suppose it helps that he spent 10 years as a special effects make-up designer before breaking into directing.

For example… Let’s take a moment to savour the scene where Liz bargains for Hellboy’s life with the Angel of Death…

Guillermo has often been described as creating fairy tales for grown ups. This is an apt description as Pan’s Labyrinth is not for the faint hearted. Yet in some ways, the worst monsters in his films are human: the fascist Captain in Pan’s Labyrinth, Rasputin in Hellboy etc.

And if we’re talking dark, it’s not just Guillermo that has a fascination with the macabre, his directorial partners in crime – Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Inarritu – also follow a similar path, albeit sticking more to drama than fantasy.

Mexico’s finest
Let’s start with Alfonso Cauron. His standout for me, was Children of Men; gritty, grimy, set in a bleak future and critically well received. He was a bit of a leftfield choice to direct the third Harry Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban. However, his style and tone fit the subject matter surprisingly effectively. Again, it was well received and largely seen as the bleakest, darkest instalment in the franchise. No bad thing at all.

alfonso cuaron
Then there’s Alejandro G. Inarritu. He’s had a stack of nominations for his filmography to date, most of which are linked by the theme of death: Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful.

Team players
All three directors tend to help each other out. Both Guillermo and Alfonso helped produce Inarritu’s Biutiful. Cuaron helped produce Pan’s Labyrinth and Inarritu edited it. You could say that, through this tag team effort, the film achieved greater heights than del Toro alone could have managed.

However, I think it’s just a case of three, talented individuals working together to create a masterpiece. This sort of collaboration hasn’t adversely affected their solo careers, as all have been successful in their own right. Indeed it’s benefitted them.

And whilst they all have their own style, there are themes and influences that link them together, like a happy family: life, death, darkness, light, magic, and fantasy. Pretty much the voiceover for the Pan’s Labyrinth trailer.

katnissThe future for the amigos?
Well, del Toro has Pacific Rim, plus rumours of Hellboy 3, which would be an exciting prospect. Inarritu has The Revenant, with DiCaprio and Sean Penn. Cauron has Gravity, a space film starring George Clooney.

Most interestingly though, Cauron is in the running to possibly direct the second instalment of the Hunger Games franchise (I think it’s safe to call it a franchise already right?). Entitled Catching Fire, it’s set to release November 2013.

So all in all, the Three Amigos are doing fine, with some exciting stuff in the pipeline. In celebration of this, let’s finish on a lighter note. Here’s the original Three Amigos in action with My Little Buttercup. Classic comedy.

Marvel – masters of the cinematic universe

avengers natasha romanoff

For this posting I’d like to discuss the evolution of the Marvel universe. I recently – finally – got around to seeing The Avengers. Or, as it’s known in the UK, Avengers Assemble (damn you, Steed).

I have to say, having unavoidably seen and heard many reviews, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and be expecting too much. Would it live up to the hype? Would it feel rushed/crowded with so many larger-than-life characters jostling for screen time? Well, much like everybody else, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Great pacing, great action, great characters, great dialogue.

avengers natasha romanoffPlus all the Avengers were given – more or less – an equal amount to do, including the new characters: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The latter unsurprisingly well written, given writer/director Joss Whedon’s affinity for strong, female characters (Buffy et al).

So, before this becomes an Avengers review, back to the subject in question. I had a vague awareness of the fact there’s been quite a few films over recent years that have come out of the Marvel studio. However when you really look, it seems like an unstoppable wave. To name the live-action films we’ve had since 1998:

  • 5 X Men (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
  • 4 Spider Man (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012)
  • 3 Blade (1998, 2002, 2004)
  • 2 Iron Man (2008, 2010)
  • 2 Hulk (2003, 2008)
  • 2 Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
  • 2 Ghost Rider (2007, 2012)
  • 1 Thor (2011)
  • 1 Captain America (2011)
  • 1 Avengers (2012)

I’ve left off the experiments that were Daredevil, Elektra and Man Thing, simply because they weren’t hugely successful and it’s unlikely there will be a follow up to any of these in the near future. Therefore I’m only including films where the characters have appeared more than once in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, from 1998 to 2012 (that’s 14 years, keep up), we’ve had 23 films. That’s 1.6 films a year! I’m not sure if what I’m expressing here is good shock or bad shock? Perhaps both.

snipes dorff bladeLooking ahead
I suppose, with this sort of prolific output, you’ll have successes and failures. In recent years, they’ve begun to have more of the former, both critically and commercially. For every mediocre Daredevil or Fantastic Four you’ll get a decent Spider Man or Blade.

Or, if you’re really lucky, strike complete gold and unearth Robert Downey Jr. A man born to play Tony Stark. Don’t believe me? Watch some of his early work, like Natural Born Killers. Check out this classic scene. For me, if you take his character there, throw in a little Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, you’ll get Tony Stark. Perhaps a leap but it makes sense to me!

Don’t stop us now
With recent successes of the Avengers’ characters, both in their ensemble film and stand-alone outings, the plan for Marvel films over the next few years is looking quite exciting. Next year we’ll get a second from the blonde Asgardian, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.  In 2014 we’ll have, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plus – most intriguingly – a massive departure from the norm with Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which has a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun as main characters.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one…yet. Although I do approve of the concept art above. What I like is that you cannot accuse Marvel of resting on their laurels or playing it too safe. That, in itself, is reason to be quietly optimistic. But I guess we’ll see. Oh, and there’s also a second Avengers due out 2015, just in case Guardians doesn’t go as planned.

Defenders of the universe
So, on the whole, I think it’s great Marvel are mixing it up. Yes, they’re putting out films for a lot of their mainstream superheroes, but they’re safer bets. Keeps the money coming in. They could just sit on that but, like any industry, if you’re not moving forward you’re doing the opposite.

So introducing a new host of characters is brave, yet wholly necessary. Eventually we’ll get sick of superhero films and want westerns or zombie films for a few years or something. But, if Marvel keep freshening things up, maybe we’ll stay a while longer. Maybe a character called Rocket Raccoon is just what’s called for – long live diversity!