FlixChatter Review – CATS (2019)

Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper

Most people who know me probably think I’m a huge Cats fan; I’m a choir nerd and a crazy cat lady (my Instagram account is mostly pictures of my boyfriend’s three adorable kitties), so a musical that combines two of my loves sounds tailor-made for me. Honestly, though, I never really got into it. I saw it at the Orpheum during an anniversary tour, and while I appreciated the beautiful music, clever choreography, and elaborate costumes, I had trouble connecting with the story- unsurprising, considering it’s based on a collection of T.S. Eliot poems. When I heard the musical was being adapted into a movie, though, I figured I would give it another shot.

Cats is about a group of alleycats called the Jellicle Cats (no, I STILL don’t know what Jellicle Cats are; based on the songs, it sounds like they’re basically just normal cats but some of them are maybe magic?) preparing for the Jellicle Ball, an event where their leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses one cat to ascend to the “Heavyside Layer,” basically a cat heaven where they will be reborn into a better life. The cats each perform for Old Deuteronomy in order to convince her to choose them. However, a nefarious cat named Macavity (Idris Elba) is also trying to be chosen, and is doing his best to get rid of his competition.

Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the uncanny valley CGI character design. It’s not quite as bad as I was expecting-at least close up. The CGI fur is very realistic-looking, and it seems to be combined with practical costuming and makeup in some cases. That said, the full body shots looked so much creepier, and I am still super weirded out by how aggressively human the faces look. They put so much detail into the bodies, but the faces are mostly left as is, save for some CGI whiskers and occasional tufts of fur. Couldn’t they have done something with makeup or prosthetics? As it is, all I could think of was that scene in What We Do in the Shadows where Jemaine Clements’s character tries to turn into a cat.

Besides the unsettling character design, the movie is mostly pretty to look at. The production design is beautiful, and the choreography is impressive (if not necessarily well-shot); mainly casting professional ballet dancers was one of the best things they could have done for the movie. Some of the “cat-like” movements are a little uncomfortable, though. There’s this weird sexual energy about it, which for some stories or musicals is totally fine, and I know the stage show has a similar vibe, but knowing that it’s about literal cats makes it kind of awkward.

The other big topic I obviously have to comment on is the music. Overall, it’s decent; the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic hasn’t endured as long as it has for nothing. Several of the songs are fun, catchy, and in some instances, haunting. I liked the ensemble numbers, although the orchestration sometimes drowns out the vocals in some parts. Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella  obviously sounds fantastic in the best-known number, “Memory.” Jason Derulo gives a solid performance as the flirty and energetic Rumtumtugger; his diction suffers a little because he’s trying to sing with a Cockney accent, but I still really enjoyed his voice. Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is especially delightful; he has such a clear, bright, strong tone.

Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina only has one song, Macavity, and it’s…fine. She was obviously a stunt cast, because they gave her a song that’s not that vocally taxing. The song itself has this sultry vibe that Taylor’s breathy voice sort of works for, although it some parts it sounds more breathless than breathy, and I really would have loved to hear some more power behind the chorus. My biggest issue with the music was the shoehorned in Oscar-bait song, Beautiful Ghosts. It was written by Swift and Webber, but it definitely sounds more like the pop star’s song than the Broadway composer’s and doesn’t really fit the rest of the show’s tone. Worse still, it comes immediately after Grizabella’s first snippet of “Memory,” and having this slightly pretty but underwhelming song follow it dampens the effect of that moment.

The rest of the cast quality is pretty mixed. Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy and Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre cat are amazing actors in general and could make reciting the phone book sound good, so they do well with what they’re given. Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots and James Corden as Bustopher Jones are pretty groan-worthy; they’re the comedic relief, but they have way too much addded dialogue that’s basically just the individual actors’ brands of humor, and it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the movie. Idris Elba tries so hard, and he’s clearly giving it his all, but his character has been rewritten from a mysterious and malevolent presence to a cartoon villain, so there’s not much to salvage there. Lastly, newcomer Francesca Hayward as the abandoned kitten Victoria is, again, fine. She’s primarily a dancer, so her acting and singing aren’t spectacular, but she does okay with what she’s given. Her role in the movie is mostly as an analogue for the audience-someone for the other cats to explain the plot to- so there’s not much needed from her acting-wise.

This movie isn’t great. It’s not even so bad it’s good, which would at least be fun. Honestly, the source material just doesn’t lend itself to being adapted to a movie. Even with the added dialogue explaining the weird plot, the lyrics are still pretty bonkers and the anthropomorphized felines writhing around is uncomfortable, and  and while that might work on stage, it just doesn’t in film. Even if the character design hadn’t been terrifying CGI and the cast had been stronger, I don’t think anything could salvage Cats as a movie.

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Have you seen CATS? Let us know what you think!

TCFF19 CringeFest Shorts Block Reviews – chills, thrills, & post-apocalyptic frills

TCFF may have come and gone, but hey, doesn’t mean that we’re all done with our coverage and reviews. Just in time for Halloween, we’ve got reviews of 9 horror/thriller films in the Cringe-fest shorts block. Thanks to our horror reviewer Laura Schaubschlager.

For all the TCFF coverage, type TCFF2019 in the search box on our homepage.


I was lucky enough to spend my Tuesday night at TCFF’s Cringe Fest – a block of 9 short horror films advertised as “chills, thrills, and post-apocalyptic frills.” Because of the number of films, I’ll keep my reviews of each brief, but overall, this was a spectacular variety of shorts and it absolutely delivered on its promised chills and thrills.

Killer Hike 7

I had the same problem with this film that I had with Puppet Killer: it makes fun of teen slasher movies, but it doesn’t have any new takes-it just points out how the teens are played by older actors and the characters each fit into specific tropes; again, even the jokes about the horror cliches are cliches themselves. I will say that the cast was a lot of fun to watch despite the stale material; they all gave really over-the-top performances that could have been embarrassing if done wrong, but were genuinely entertaining thanks to this talented group of actors.

Meat Eater

I’m not even sure I should review this one, since it is really short-a couple minutes long at most. We see a young woman running through the woods, trying to escape an unseen tormentor, towards what she hopes will be her salvation. It does manage to keep the suspense high despite its short run time, which is impressive.

Footprints

This one could have easily been boring-a supernatural found footage movie sounds almost lazy-but I really enjoyed it. The found-footage style really worked with the dark, snowy forest setting, and using the set-up of a husband suspecting his wife of cheating as a framing device was a creative way to tell a story about an otherwise traditional movie monster.

Wrong Level

Based on “The Elevator Game,” an internet urban legend about riding an elevator to a different dimension, Wrong Level follows a young man trying to rescue his girlfriend by playing the game himself. As silly as it sounds, I actually think the “Elevator Game” story is kind of creepy, and it’s a great idea for a short film; the tension literally rises as the elevator ascends. The set-up allows for excellent pacing, which isn’t easy for a short film.

Break In Break Out

This was another suspenseful, well-paced short, and is one of two fantastic films by the talented Michael Drisoll in the Cringe Fest block. Not only is it wonderfully tense and full of twists (I don’t even want to try and describe the plot because I worry I’ll give too much away), but the color scheme and lighting are also gorgeous in a gritty sort of way.

Frost Bite

I didn’t expect a zombie movie to make me cry, but Frost Bite managed it. The young actress playing the girl leading the zombie across the frozen wasteland is incredibly talented. The zombie effects are creepy and well-done. And if the ending doesn’t make you shed at least one tear, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

The Birdwatcher

A quiet, awkward corporate employee on a birdwatching hike through the woods stumbles upon a potentially dangerous situation and has to decide what to do. With the majority of the focus on one actor with absolutely no dialogue, The Birdwatcher is lucky to have a talented lead- he’s goofy and charming but mysterious enough to make you wonder if there’s something darker going on with him. I also really enjoyed the ending; the short did a great job of building up to it, and it struck the perfect balance of comedy and horror.

To The Boats

The second film in the Cringe Fest lineup by Michael Driscoll, To the Boats follows two men running to the coast of England, trying to reach their final method of escape from the horror of their once beloved home country. This movie is visually stunning, with some gorgeous, sweeping shots of the countryside and coast, and the actors give a gripping, emotional performance.

Check out Ruth’s interview from last year with Michael about this film.

Mr. Sam

Oh, boy. This movie was…a lot. It’s about Sam, an eccentric mortician and his relationship with his mother, a young girl he tutors, and the corpse of a man he’s infatuated with. There are a lot of incredibly dark topics in this film-rape, incest, child abuse, and necrophilia-that feel like they’re mostly there for shock value. I’m not saying dark subjects shouldn’t be included in movies, but because this was a short, there was no time to explore them, and it never felt like there was a real reason for them to be there, as there barely seems to even be a narrative arc, just these loosely strung-together plot points. The cast is good, with Sam and his young student being the stand-outs, and hopefully their roles in this lead to bigger projects, but this was an uncomfortable film to end on.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

TCFF19 Horror/Thriller Reviews: Puppet Killer + Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street + 3 Day Weekend

We’ve already reached halfway of the film fest!! You can search TCFF2019 for ALL of the posts we’ve done so far this year.

Check out the recap from Saturday (thanks to our media producers + TCFF interns!):

Well, since it’s almost Halloween, here are a trio of horror/thriller reviews of films screening at TCFF! Thanks to our horror reviewer Laura Schaubschlager. Two of the films below are screening Wednesday night.


I love that Twin Cities Film Fest happens to be right before my favorite holiday (Halloween, in case that wasn’t obvious). I’m already in the mood to binge watch horror movies in the weeks leading up to the 31st, and the festival gives me a chance to see ones that I might not have heard of otherwise. I’ve been lucky enough to watch a few screeners ahead of the festival, and what I’ve seen is a promising sign of what should be another fantastic TCFF season.


Puppet Killer

Looking for a more traditional horror flick for your Halloween fix? Check out Puppet Killer for a fun, bloody parody of teen slasher movies. When Jamie (Aleks Paunovic) is a little boy, his stepmother mysteriously goes missing-but he’s convinced she was murdered by Simon, the fluffy pink puppet his late mother gave him. Ten years later, Alex returns to the cabin in the woods where his stepmother disappeared for Christmas break with his girlfriend Jessie (Lisa Durupt) and their friends Curtis (Lee Majdoub), Rick (Richard Harmon), Brooke (Gigi Saul Guerrero), and Lee (Kyle Cassie).  They find the seemingly innocent puppet in the basement, and soon after, the bloodbath begins.

The writing in this movie isn’t spectacular; it’s clearly meant to poke fun at teen slasher movies, but it doesn’t say anything new about the subject, and some of the jokes about horror cliches feel like cliches themselves. There are also these two characters, a couple sisters trying to hide the body of a guy one of them killed, who show up maybe 20 minutes before the end of the movie whose subplot is never acknowledged or resolved; they’re pretty much just there for a couple extra kills, and considering the movie already has a solid group of high schoolers, more serial killer fodder seems unnecessary, especially when the characters add nothing else to the story.

That said, this is still a really fun movie. In traditional teen slasher fashion, the actors cast as high schoolers are obviously older than their characters, and in this movie, I mean obviously; Alex Paunovic as the main teen, Jamie, is 50 years old. This makes several bits of dialogue extra funny, and the actors are clearly having a lot of fun in their performances as obnoxious, melodramatic adolescents. As far as horror goes, the movie has some fun, solid kills, with decent and bloody practical effects.


Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street (doc)

If you’re not a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, you might wonder why anyone would make a documentary about the second installment of the popular 80’s slasher franchise. But Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is more than just one of many sequels: it’s a movie laden with gay subtext and stars a young gay actor, Mark Patton, who, at the time of filming, hadn’t come out. The mid-80’s were especially hard for the LGBTQ community, thanks to the AIDS epidemic being at its peak and causing the public to demonize homosexuality. For an up and coming movie star who felt like he had to stay in the closet to protect his career, the overt homosexual tone of Freddy’s Revenge– and writer David Chaskin’s insistence, after the movie received negative reviews, that he hadn’t written it that way and that it was Mark’s performance that made the movie gay- halted his path to stardom and forced him into a life of obscurity. He went off the grid, living in a small town in Mexico until 2010, when he was tracked down to be a part of Never Sleep Again, a documentary about the Nightmare franchise.

Since then, Mark has embraced his role as a male “scream queen” and gay horror icon, attending several conventions and using his celebrity platform to talk about bullying and homophobia in the horror community. The documentary is not only a fascinating exploration of Mark’s acting and personal journey, but an insightful look at how homosexuality was viewed in the 80’s (especially in Hollywood), and why many members of the LGBTQ community connect with the horror genre.

The documentary is also narrated by Cecil Baldwin, a gay horror icon in his own right (he’s the lead in the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale), adding to what is already an excellent film.


3 Day Weekend

Okay, this isn’t exactly horror-it’s more of a thriller- but the idea of being alone in the woods and stumbling across what at first appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong, then trying to evade the criminals with no car and a phone with no service, is a pretty scary concept. When Ben Boyd (Morgan Krantz) goes on a solo camping trip in the middle of the woods, he discovers a bloody mess in the front seat of one car, a woman (Maya Stojan) bound and gagged in the trunk of another, and the apparent kidnapper (Nathan Phillips) chasing after him. But all is not as it seems, as more of the story is revealed through the different characters’ perspectives.

This movie jumps into the suspense quickly and maintains that tension throughout the hour and twenty minute run time. There’s next to no dialogue, which allows the actors’ talent to really shine. It’s well-paced, allowing a pretty even amount of time to focus on each character’s perspective.

The story-telling gets a little murky and convoluted toward the very end, and some of the brief bits of dialogue feel forced or out of place, but overall it’s a gripping mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat and constantly going “Wait, what?!” at every new reveal.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

FlixChatter Review – IT Chapter Two (2019)

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman

It Chapter 2 takes place 27 years after the first film. When children again start mysteriously dying in Derry, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls his childhood friends (James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris), to return to their hometown and finally defeat the fear-hungry entity that terrorized them in the form of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) all those years ago.

The highlight of this movie is absolutely its stellar cast. Everyone has excellent chemistry and genuinely feel like lifelong friends, especially Bill Hader and James Ransone. The actors clearly studied their younger counterparts thoroughly, because past just looking similar to them, their mannerisms mirror those of their younger counterparts incredibly well; my cousin pointed out that James McAvoy is slightly duck-footed when he walks, the same way young Bill (Jaeden Martell) is. All of the actors give impressive performances, but Bill Hader is the stand-out; while he’s as hilarious in this movie as anyone who has seen him on SNL would expect, he also gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance toward the end.

(L-R) Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan

My main complaint with this movie has to do with its length. It’s nearly three hours long, and while the first one was pretty long too-about two and a half hours-this one felt much more padded. There were several flashbacks to the kids having additional encounters with It, and while the scenes were mostly well-done, and it was nice having more screen time with the talented young actors, it felt like the filmmakers were just trying to squeeze in more scares. This is especially frustrating when the time focused on unnecessary flashbacks could have been used to flesh out parts that were mostly glazed over-Bill’s relationship with his actor wife Audra (Jess Weixler), Bev’s struggles with her abusive husband Tom (Will Beinbrink), and pretty much all of Mike’s background.

One of my main problems with the first movie was how little development they gave to Mike, and I had hoped that would change in the sequel, since he’s the only member of the friend group who stayed in Derry and is responsible for bringing them back, but he’s once again sidelined; I’m pretty sure we go nearly an hour without seeing him onscreen after the group’s reunion. Even his big scene from the book with former school bully/current psychiatric hospital escapee Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) is cut very short.

That last bit brings me to my other big complaint about the movie: there are several parts played for laughs that shouldn’t have been, especially most of the scenes with Bowers. His brief attack on Mike is handled more seriously, but the majority of his scenes, as bloody as they are, have this weird comedic tone that doesn’t mesh with this character that has been established as a genuinely intimidating figure. It’s not like this movie lacks for comedy-as scary as it is, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments-so I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to inject humor into non-humorous situations.

While I have my issues with trying to pack in extra scares in this movie, I did still enjoy them. There are plenty of slow burning, suspenseful scenes, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and creative and unsettling imagery. The famous fortune cookie scene is frenetic and terrifying, Bev’s unnerving encounter with the strange old woman (Joan Gregson) in her old apartment is exquisitely tense, and there’s a moment toward the end involving young Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) that really made me shudder.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoyed It Chapter 2. It’s scary, funny, heartfelt, and well-acted. While I think the first movie is a little better (or at least more succinct), the second movie is a satisfying follow-up and a wonderful conclusion to a great horror story.

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Have you seen IT Chapter Two? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Ready Or Not (2019)

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Written by: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy

Whenever I finally tie the knot, there are a few things I know I absolutely want in my wedding: a tea-length dress, lilacs and lilies of the valley in my bouquet, my little sister as maid of honor. And there are things I absolutely do not want: a veil, people clinking their glasses to get my husband and me to kiss every other minute during dinner, and a game of hide and seek where my in-laws try to murder me as part of a ritual sacrifice. That last one should probably go without saying, but the bride in Ready or Not might have appreciated it being brought up during the wedding planning process.

Ready or Not follows a new bride, Grace (Samara Weaving), as she tries to fit in with her husband Alex’s (Mark O’Brien) rich and eccentric family by participating in a post-wedding tradition of playing a game. Unfortunately, the game chosen is a version of hide and seek where, if Grace is found, she’s sacrificially killed as part of a dark and mysterious pact the family made long ago.

This is one of the most fun movies I’ve seen this year. It’s a great balance of horror and comedy; the suspense is high all the way through, keeping you guessing the whole time, and the performances had me cracking up, thanks to a stellar cast. Samara Weaving, who’s already made a name for herself in horror through the Showtime series Ash Vs Evil Dead and the Netflix movie The Babysitter, is a great final girl, and she shows some fantastic emotional range in this role. Melanie Scrofano as Alex’s sister Emilie and Kristian Brunn as her husband are especially hilarious (no surprise for anyone who’s watched him in Orphan Black). John Ralston as the butler, Stevens, is simultaneously funny and terrifying. And Nicky Guadagni as the cartoonishly villainous Aunt Helene is an absolute delight.

This movie has a lot going for it visually as well. There’s this yellow-ish gold filter that gives the film this gorgeous vintage vibe. The hair, makeup, and costumes are beautiful overall, but the standouts are Grace’s romantic, lacy wedding gown and simple braided updo, Alex’s cold and cunning sister-in-law Charity’s (Elyse Levesque) glittery evening gown, and Aunt Helene’s deep purple blazer, short, spiky, white hair, and dark makeup. Still, this is a horror movie, and despite all the pretty bits, there is plenty of blood–not gratuitously so, but definitely enough to satisfy fans of the genre, so if you’re squeamish, be prepared for that–especially toward the end.

My one gripe with this movie is that the relationship between Grace and Alex isn’t very well-developed. I can partially understand this, because it’s established early on that they’ve only been together for a year and a half, but showing a little more interaction between the newlyweds throughout the movie would have made a particular important moment toward the end either make a little more sense or be a more interesting twist.

Despite that one complaint, I genuinely enjoyed this movie and would love to watch it again. Maybe I’ll suggest it to my boyfriend for our next date night. Then again, if I hope for him to eventually to pop the question, this might not be the best movie to show him.

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Have you seen READY OR NOT? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Like so many 80’s and 90’s kids, my sister and I grew up loving the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy. While the short stories written by Alvin Schwartz are mostly variations of standard urban legends and folk tales, the original illustrations by Stephen Gammell are what really haunted us; the black and white nightmare imagery is enough to spook anyone at any age. So when it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would be producing a movie based on the series, I was ecstatic; who better to adapt these iconic books to film than the modern-day master of monster movies? But when I heard it would be a PG-13 teen horror, I deflated a bit. Would the tamer rating diminish the unsettling tone of the books and dull Del Toro’s beautifully-dark style?

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark begins on Halloween night in 1968 in a small Pennsylvania town, when a group of teens (Stella, played by Zoe Margaret Colletti; Ramón, played by Michael Garza; Auggie, played by Gabriel Rush; and Chuck, played by Austin Zajur) sneak into an abandoned house rumored to be haunted and find a mysterious old book belonging to the even more mysterious previous tenant, Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard). Soon after taking the book, the group is horrified to discover stories about them being written in it by an unseen hand in a suspiciously blood-like ink, and as the stories appear on the pages, they come to life in the real world.

Right away, I have to say the writing is messy. Using the overarching story of the kids finding this haunted book and having to solve Sarah Bellows’s mystery in order to incorporate the stories from the books into the movie leads to convoluted plot points, unrealistic character decisions that are too stupid to even suspend disbelief, and some truly cringe-worthy dialogue (“You don’t read the book-the book reads you” made my sister and me audibly groan). I really wish they had made it into an anthology-style movie so they could have fit in a few more stories from the books; there could have still been some connective tissue tying them together, a la 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat. It would have been a more succinct style of storytelling and felt less like a Goosebumps plot.

Despite the problems I have with the script, I was very pleased with the actual “scary story” bits. They were all excruciatingly and exquisitely suspenseful (“The Big Toe” scene had me clutching my sister’s sleeve and whispering “Oh no oh no oh no”), the creatures were terrifyingly designed in true Del Toro fashion while still retaining the look of Gammell’s illustrations, and they managed to make some stories I thought were pretty silly in the books (specifically “Me Tie Doughty Walker”) genuinely scary.

Acting-wise, the cast did well. Despite the lame jokes they were given, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur’s line delivery made me laugh out loud a few times, and Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza had some nice chemistry as Stella and Ramón. I also really enjoyed the score; the eerie melody to The Hearse Song is used effectively throughout the movie, and it sticks with you after you leave the theater.

Despite the story being underwhelming, I’d still recommend checking out Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark if you were a fan of the books, just for nostalgia’s sake. It’s a fun enough Halloween movie with some solid jump scares, and it’s probably a good intro to the genre for young, budding horror fans. [SPOILER ALERT – highlight to read] Is it good enough to warrant the sequel-baiting sting at the end? I don’t think so. But if you see it, let me know what you think!

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Have you seen Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Well, what did 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!