FlixChatter Review: CODA (2021)

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I’ve been anticipating CODA since it’s triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year. The title refers to Child of Deaf Adults and it centers on a high school teen Ruby (Emilia Jones, phenomenal), the only hearing member of the Rossi family. Ever since she was a kid she’s been serving as the interpreter for the family in Gloucester, Massachusetts where they run a fishing business. 

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Right from its opening scene of her on a boat with her brother and father, I immediately sympathize with Ruby who looks wiser beyond her 17-year existence she lived pretty much with her family. What her brother and parents don’t realize, which is totally understandable, is that Ruby loves to sing. She sings while she’s on a boat fishing and she later joins the choir club at school. Despite Ruby’s initial shyness where she bolted out of her first class, soon her choirmaster/music teacher Bernardo Villalobos aka Mr. V (a vivacious Eugenio Derbez) discovers she’s got a really good voice. So good in fact that he selects her and a fellow pupil Miles (Sing Street’s Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) to do a duet for the choir event and even offers to train her for the Berklee College of Music. The more music becomes a bigger part of Ruby’s life, the more she is torn between pursuing her passion and her duty for her family.

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Writer/director Sian Heder sets up the world building of Ruby’s world so wonderfully. I really appreciate her portrayal of the deaf individuals in the way that they don’t see themselves as disabled. They just live their lives differently from the hearing folks but it doesn’t mean their lives are less fulfilling. There’s a moment where Miles remarks admirably about Ruby’s family in that she has a house that feels like home and parents who love each other. Despite their hardship and facing all kinds of business challenges, the Rossis face their struggles together as a family should be. It’s perhaps one of the loveliest portrayal of an American family that feels organic and authentic.

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It’s a credible glimpse into a life I’m not familiar with, told from the perspective of a young woman who’s just coming into her own. There’s a scene between Ruby and Mr. V where she said that she’s never done anything without her family before which I find so genuinely moving. There’s something so earnest and matter of fact about how Ruby approaches things that I find so endearing, even inspiring. I think teenagers often get a bad rap in the way they’re portrayed in the movies, that they’re lazy, entitled and clueless. Well, let’s just say Ruby isn’t your typical teenager and she leads a pretty tough life as a young girl, balancing school and her family business, even waking up at 3 am daily to go fishing.

I’m glad Heder cast actual deaf actors to make up Ruby’s family. Troy Kotsur is especially delightful and hilarious as Ruby’s dad Frank, providing such comic relief with his intensely-elaborate ASL signing. Marlee Matlin is quite a revelation in a role as a working-class wife Jackie with an unabashedly sexual relationship with her husband. Daniel Durant also has some memorably defiant moment as Ruby’s brother Leo. Walsh-Peelo didn’t get as much to do here as he did in Sing Street, but he’s got a sweet presence as Ruby’s boyfriend.

Derbez is absolutely fun to watch as Mr. V who balances his enthusiasm for Ruby’s talent with some tough love. I wish I had a teacher half as fun and supportive as him. Now, the star of the show is definitely Emilia Jones who I found out after watching the movie is a Brit!! I was totally floored by her performance, not only does she have to master an American accent, she also has to learn ASL for the film. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance and I hope she won’t get forgotten come award season.

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I’ve since learned that CODA is actually an English-language remake of the 2014 French-language film La Famille Bélier. Apparently the French film producer himself approached Heder to direct the remake but wishes that she makes the film unique for the American audiences. Well, Heder certainly did an astonishing job reinventing the story and making it her own. The pacing and the way she structures the story works really well in that it immediately immerses you in the character’s journey. The sound design is fantastic as well, I especially love how the sound is completely turned off during the duet scene as the camera pans to Rossi’s family watching her perform… putting us in their shoes so to speak where they can’t hear anything during that segment is powerful and deeply moving.

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Heder also peppers the film with plenty of memorable moments I know I’ll remember for years to come, such as the tender moment Ruby and her dad share sitting on their truck under the stars following the choir. Frank asks her daughter to sing and he holds her neck to ‘hear’ the vibration as she sings to him. It’s a genuinely sweet father/daughter moment that also bridges the gap between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf.

I’m not surprised Apple snatched the film at Sundance for a festival-record $25 million. I sure hope Sian Heder continues to get prominent work in Hollywood and that there’ll be more opportunities for deaf talents in the industry.

4.5/5 stars


CODA is released on AppleTV+ on August 13.


Have you seen CODA? I’d love to hear what you think!

‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ Interview – with Isabela Moner & Eugenio Derbez

Last week, one of FlixChatter contributors Laura Schaubschlager got to meet the two lead cast of Dora and the Lost City of Gold (thanks Allied Global Marketing!) Read below on Laura’s conversation with Isabela Moner & Eugenio Derbez


The stars of Dora and the Lost City of Gold want you to know that this isn’t your preschooler’s Dora the Explorer. Okay, maybe it is. But it’s definitely for other viewers, too.

“I think it appeals to a broader audience,” mused Eugenio Derbez, who plays Alejandro Gutierrez, during a brief round-table press interview before a meet and greet event at the Mall of America.

“I really think that it speaks to everybody, especially my generation that really, like, grew up with Dora,” added Isabela Moner, who plays the titular young explorer.

While the movie is obviously aimed at a younger audience, with its source material stemming from the nearly 20-year-old educational Nick Jr. cartoon, it’s also an action-packed adventure film, something both actors were thoroughly excited about.

“For me, it was a dream come true,” Eugenio said.

“I grew up watching Hollywood action movies and I always wanted to be part of them. I never thought it was going to happen, but it happened, so I was really, really happy.” – Eugenio

But being in an action movie is obviously physically demanding, which Eugenio and Isabela weren’t shy about talking about.

“It was scary, it was very demanding-it was the most exhausting film physically that I’ve done,” said Eugenio. “We went through all the cardio. The underwater scene, the quicksand, everything was real. The log, also, we were inside the log.”

Isabela clarified, “We did, like, a simulation-type thing, so it was in a sound stage, so they had a trunk rolling but we were inside it. Someone threw up. We don’t know who, but we know where!”

The underwater scene was especially challenging.

“They taught us how to hold our breath,” explained Eugenio. “They wanted us to hold our breath for two minutes […] they trained us for like a week and finally we did it! But it was really hard. And also, before the scene, we had to be treading water for a few seconds and it was very exhausting.”

“Yeah, it’s hard to breathe fully and take a full, deep breath in when you’re already treading water,” added Isabela, who had a particularly harrowing experience filming the underwater scene.

“Everyone’s kicking water up and we’re all ‘choking’,” she explained, miming the actors pretending to choke on water, “But I actually started choking and we were already rolling and they were like ‘3,2, 1,’ they’re going to pull us underwater and I couldn’t tell them I was choking because I was choking and then they pulled me underwater.”

“They thought she was acting,” chimed in Eugenio. Isabela remained positive about the ordeal, though.

“It was pretty scary, but things like that happen. I think it’s great; I hope they used the original take!”

The action isn’t the only thing Isabela was excited about in the movie. Being of Peruvian descent herself, she was especially looking forward to Peruvian culture playing such a prominent role on such a large platform, even learning Quechua, an indigenous language spoken primarily in the Peruvian Andes and the highlands of South America, for the role.

“I had a voice memo to work with from San Marcos University in Peru, and that was all I had.”

“It’s an unwritten language, right?” Eugenio asked.

“Yeah,” Isabela replied. “They use a thing called a quipu, which is like knots on a rope, and the knots mean different things…it’s crazy. Usually you just learn it from hearing other people speak it, so a lot of my older relatives knew how to speak it, so I would call them if I needed an extra translation of something.”

This dedication to cultural detail meant a lot to both actors, along with the importance of Latinx representation in Hollywood overall.

“Representation in Hollywood, especially now, it’s really important,” said Eugenio. “Latinos, we’re being charged and harassed very much lately, so the timing is perfect. It’s good to tell our people with the Dora movie that being Latino is cool-to tell the kids that speaking Spanish is okay, is a good thing. So I’m glad the movie came out in this very moment where we need that kind of support.”

“Yeah,” agreed Isabela.

“We need to unite–we need to support each other more than anything because in the industry, at least in my point of view, there’s not many Latinos or Latinas. I see the same people at every audition, and it’s the same kind of roles, the same kind of dialogue, and the same attitude, and it would be great to see some diversity, or at least some roles that are ethnically ambiguous but are given to a Latino.” – Isabela

In addition to starring in the movie, Eugenio was also an executive producer, and he used his position to make sure the cultural representation in the film was done right.

“It was so great with Eugenio producing this, because it was authentic,” said Isabela. “It wasn’t like ‘Google Translate’ Spanish in the script, and he made sure the dialect was correct. There were no stereotypes like that, because I’m sure he’s faced many of them.”

With such talented, motivated, and passionate individuals as these two in the industry, hopefully we’ll continue to see an increase in more thoughtful and diverse cultural representation in film.

You can catch Dora and the Lost City of Gold in theaters now.


Thank you Isabela Moner and Eugenio Derbez for talking to Laura from FlixChatter!


FlixChatter Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a new family adventure live action film, based on the popular Nickelodeon animated television series Dora the Explorer. If you are like me (and you don’t watch Nickelodeon on a regular basis—OR AT ALL!!), you may have heard of Dora the Explorer from Saturday Night Live’s TV Funhouse animated skit spoof, where they switch Dora’s name with the name “Maraka”, and do pretty much what Dora does on Nickelodeon but with the SNL twist.

Hola. Hello. I’m Maraka. Soy Maraka,” says Maraka, standing next to an animated kitten. “Do you know who this is?” ask Maraka to the audience. “That’s right, I’m Mittens. Soy Mittens,” says the animated kitten. “Mittens is a cat. Mittens es un gato,” continues Maraka. And then Maraka throws you a curve ball: “Do you like Penguins?” Both Maraka and Mittens wait for five or six seconds, blinking here and there, while they wait for your answer. “Me too! Mittens and I are on our way to Penguin Island. Can you break a fifty?” asks Maraka, showing you a fifty dollar bill. Then they’re off on a hot balloon ride towards Penguin Island, breaking out a song—in English AND Spanish. And this is all you need to know to understand what makes Dora the Explorer so unique and strange animation at the same time.

Similarly to the Saturday Night Live version of Dora the Explorer, the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold introduces you right away to a young version of Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) who are living somewhere in the jungle, each with their parents. Dora has an animated monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo), who is her sidekick in jungle exploration. Of course, he understands her and speaks to her. One day, Diego’s parents decide to move to the city (somehow that ends up being Los Angeles). That leaves Dora to stay with her parents, going on adventures exploring the jungle. A few years later, an older, teenaged Dora (Isabela Moner) is told by her mother Elena (Eva Longoria) and father Cole (Michael Peña) that they have found an Incan treasure that they had been on the hunt for years, but she couldn’t come with them to find the treasure. Instead, she would be sent to live with her aunt, uncle and also-teenaged cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in the city.

Once she arrives in Los Angeles, Dora finds Diego less-than enthusiastic about her arrival, seemingly being a normal American teenager who is embarrassed by his cousin’s exuberance. The next day, they are sent to high school in the city, and Dora being herself sets off the school metal detectors with all kinds of tools and weapons used in jungle, found inside her school backpack. In class, Dora seems to be one of the smartest students, being home-schooled by her parents, but has competition from another girl named Sammy (Madeleine Madden). Dora is mostly ignored by her cousin Diego throughout the day; while in the lunchroom (she does complement all the lunch ladies and lunch gentlemen, of course) she befriends another geeky student named Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and develops a crush on him. Later, at a school dance Dora embarrass Diego yet again, which frustrates him to no end and alienates him from his group of friends.

The next day, while on a school trip the Museum of Natural History, the students are told to make groups of four and go on a scavenger hunt. All students form groups…all but Diego, Sammy, Randy and Dora. Left with no choice, they form the last group and are led to the basement by a museum docent who overhears their conversation about the scavenger hunt. They get tricked and are locked inside a large crate, then knocked out by sleeping gas. Once they wake up, they find that they have been flown on an airplane to the jungle. They get unexpected help from a guy named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) who tells them that he is a friend of Dora’s parents and is here to help them. While being chased by the treasure-hunting mercenaries, the teenagers and Alejandro escape into the jungle to try to find Dora’s missing parents. The treasure-hunting mercenaries are hot on their trail, and are aided by the sly animated character Swiper the Fox (voiced by Benicio del Toro).

Soon enough, the teenagers and Alejandro find Dora’s parents, but it turns out that Alejandro isn’t the savior he claims to be but is ***SPOILER*** (highlight to read)working with treasure-hunting mercenaries to find the long lost Incan treasure for himself.  This doesn’t come as a shocker, because if you have been following the story all along, you would realize that Dora’s parents have been safe all along and were just out of communication range while in the jungle. Luckily, the teenagers and Dora’s parents escape from the treasure-hunting mercenaries, and find the long lost Incan city of gold. This is where the movie turns more into Indiana Jones than it does Dora The Explorer . There are booby traps, gold idols and even Inca Princess Kawillaka (Q’orianka Kilcher) makes an appearance. Since this is a family-friendly movie, you can probably assume that all’s well that ends well… and you’d be correct!

The problem with Dora and the Lost City of Gold is that while it may work for a lovable animated child, like Dora, to be engaged in her kid adventures of life, it doesn’t work quite as well with real life teenage Dora, who is trying to be Indiana Jones more than she is Nancy Drew, putting her family and friends in real danger. It’s also bizarre that Dora is accompanied by a cartoony monkey and is being chased by a cartoon masked fox that runs on its hind two legs. Actress Isabela Moner does her best to portray the upbeat, sleuth-y main character, but the lines given to her by co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin feel like the belong more like on Nick Jr. than on the big screen. The jokes are very kid-friendly and will make most adults roll their eyes, as they try to land a punchline. What the movie has going for it is that it features a large Latin cast, speaks Spanish and doesn’t try to hide its cultural heritage. Also the actor that stands out the most is Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor and comedian that has found his way into some big Hollywood productions recently, including How to Be a Latin Lover and Geostorm.

Overall, Dora and the Lost City of Gold will appeal to those most nostalgic for the animated series, and to those kids who’ve outgrown the cartoons but have not yet moved on to the full-fledged superhero movies. This crowd of moviegoers (and their parents) will carry the film, and I could easily see it turning into a live action franchise for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough for adults to enjoy here, and the educational quotient of the movie leaves much to be desired.


  Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Well, what did you think?