Sometimes, it feels as if we are eavesdropping on day-to-day conversations rather than just hearing the usual litany of platitudes and regrets.
Gerardo Valero was born in 1962 in Mexico City, where he currently resides with his wife Monica. He has a degree in Architecture and an MBA from the IPADE Business School in Mexico. His interest in movies started at a very young age as his father used to take him and his brothers to double or even triple features at their neighborhood theater. He mostly remembers seeing Tarzan movies and Disney classics, though mostly they watched a lot of forgettable war and cowboy movies. He remembers "The Poseidon Adventure" being talked about by everyone at his school, and by the time he saw "Jaws" at age thirteen, it became his favorite all-time film and somehow still remains so, even after watching it more times than he can recall.
Valero first learned of Siskel & Ebert in the mid-eighties during one of many summers he spent with friends in Columbus, Ohio. By 1988 it appeared on a cable station in Mexico and soon became a must-watch for him. Then the internet came along, and in 1999, he emailed Roger his very first suggestion for his "Little Movie Glossary," which, incredibly, he chose for one of his coming Yearbooks! Since then Valero has sent him dozens (or hundreds) of suggestions and, even though his days of batting 1.000 in that department didn't last very long, he has happily been published about 20 times in Roger's annual "Movie Yearbook." He has also contributed to Time Magazine's “10 Questions” (segments on Alex Trebek, Andy Roddick and Hillary Swank) and to "Freeze That Frame" in the long-defunct Video Review Magazine (1991).
Valero has won prizes in a number of trivia contests: an Omega watch for the James Bond contest (1995) and a VCR for the Lethal Weapon one (1996), both by Premiere Magazine (Mexico Premiere), and his first DVD player in the Godfather trivia contest by Cinemex, a Mexican movie chain (1998). His main interests are movies and DVDs, playing tennis, following the NY Yankees and, whenever possible, traveling. His favorite film is still "Jaws," but the first two Godfather movies make him question his standings every time he watches them.
Even outside the U.S. it's common for movie-goers to avoid non-Hollywood films--not that subtitles are such a big deal to us, as we have no choice but to get accustomed to them since childhood. These feature's real problems are that they don't often receive much fanfare and their stars aren't always well known. We tend to stay away until we get one a "must see" recommendations and that was my case with the German film "The Lives of Others" (2006). It's a shame to think audiences will miss a story so gripping; this is one of the best films of its decade.
I've had to defend myself for loving "The War of the Roses" so much. The majority of people I've discussed it with found it too mean-spirited. I realize it deals with an ugly subject but this is a prime example of a movie being great at how it is about its core subject, no matter how touchy. This is one of my all-time favorite films.
"The Insider" is one of Michael Mann's best films and it represents a departure from the usual themes. One constant in his other movies is the imposing, menacing but sympathetic villain figure. They may all be capable of great violence but the tragic side of their stories helps the audience identify. In contrast, "The Insider" gives us something completely different: a faceless and unsympathetic enemy that bends the will of those who get in its way without the need of doing anything particularly spectacular or even executing it on-screen: a villain aware that the fear of losing something like health insurance may be enough to shut its victims up. Its power comes from the income provided by the countless smokers unable to quit its product and its most important goal is to make sure that they never do.
Clint Eastwood is one of the few filmmakers whose work I always attend on his reputation alone. This is not to say they've been classics (think of his orangutan movies) but when entering a theater I can be reasonably confident, worst case scenario, of seeing something above average.
Eastwood has had several defined periods, such as his Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the cop pictures of the 70s and 80s (which arrived a bit late here in Mexico because "Dirty Harry" was censored). In a career that spans five decades and included dozens of features, a single splits it into Pre and Post, and that film is "Unforgiven." It's hard to think of a single feature that puts into perspective a filmmaker's career like this one does for Eastwood, and it opens the door to his current stage which has included some of his best work.
There's something fascinating about films with characters who have mastered a unique way of living their lives or professions, no matter how unusual or obscure, and the two best recent examples I can think of both star George Clooney. One of them is his Frequent-Flyer-Mileage-loving-liquidator in "Up in the Air" and the other is the title character of "Michael Clayton", the subject of this review.
Can any subject matter end up making a great movie?. That's the question that Siskel & Ebert's old review of "North" left me with many years ago. While Roger blasted the film's overall, twisted theme (if you don't like your parents, dump them and go get new ones), Gene dismissed this as the main problem by saying: "any subject can be done well".
One of the best things that can happen to a moviegoer is showing up expecting a standard genre film and ending up seeing something better. This was my experience with Roger Donaldson's "The Bank Job" which at first sight seemed like just another Hollywood caper movie in which the inevitable elements could be timed with a stopwatch.
One of my earliest and most memorable movie going experiences was Franklin Schaffner's 1968's "Planet of the Apes". It was presented in my grade school's Cine Club (sort of a small film festival that played one different, semi-recent movie every Saturday during a period of about a month). For weeks prior to the showing I was mesmerized by the publicity artwork which depicted a caged Charlton Heston being repressed by a gorilla. As an eight year old the movie originally struck me purely as a horror piece but it is the other "little things" that still compel me to write about it after all these years.
What's more, I believe "Planet of the Apes" with all of its different incarnations: original classic, sequels, remakes and TV adaptations, makes for a wonderful example of cinematic "dos and don'ts" At a glance the first entry in the series may seem like just another monster movie but this is hardly the case. It's too bad neither the majority of the filmmakers involved in the sequels, nor Tim Burton in his remake, were ever able to figure this out.
Is Frank Darabont's "The Shawshank Redemption" the best motion-picture of all time? According to Internet Movie Database users, that is exactly the case. The advent of the internet likely brought together the largest congregation of movie fans in history, ready to express their opinions in the most accessed movie data base ever, and the best rated film there is "The Shawshank Redemption."
This isn't something to take lightly, true, but there are peculiarities about the website's data that needs to be considered. If you've followed their rankings in the past you may have noticed that the response by users to recently released films tends to be more extreme than that of older ones, in other words, a recent good movie might initially appear with a higher rating and a bad one with a lower one; films only seem to reach their rightful place with the passage of time and particularly with the accumulation of a larger number of votes. Their opening weekend is not the most accurate of moments to evaluate what audiences really think about them.
A few film directors end up becoming masters of specific subjects. Scorsese grew up in an environment that allowed him to understand organized crime from the inside. Tarantino has a grasp on the language that some street people, their drugs of choice and their methods of use, and so on. Michael Mann is the Hollywood Epic Techno-Crime expert. Did he grow up with it? Did he research it? A few years ago, I came across an old 70s Starsky & Hutch episode which happened to be written by him; in it, a serial killer claimed to receive his murdering orders from outer space and wore a tin-foil pointy-shaped hat for just that purpose. This means I'm basically leaning towards research, but your guess is as good as mine.