Review: ‘American Star,’ starring Ian McShane, Nora Arnezeder, Adam Nagaitis, Oscar Coleman, Sabela Arán, Thomas Kretschmann and Fanny Ardant

February 27, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ian McShane and Adam Nagaitis in “American Star” (Photo by José David Montero/IFC Films)

“American Star”

Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego

Some language in Spanish and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place on the island of Fuerteventura, which is part of Spain’s Canary Islands, the dramatic film “American Star” features a white and Latin cast of characters (with one black/biracial person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A jaded assassin gets emotionally attached to a young woman he is supposed to kill, and she sees him as a somewhat of a father figure/substitute for her deceased biological father. 

Culture Audience: “American Star” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies about assassins that are more about psychological repercussions than about high-octane violence.

Nora Arnezeder in “American Star” (Photo by José David Montero/IFC Films)

“American Star” is a deliberately paced, artful-looking story of an assassin who is emotionally torn over killing or saving a young woman who is his target. People expecting a fast-moving action film will be disappointed. This drama is a character study.

That’s not to say that there is no violence in “American Star.” The violent scenes in the movie are bloody and brutal. However, the violence is not the focus of “American Star,” which is more about what happens when an assassin gets emotionally attached to someone he is supposed to kill.

Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego and written by Nacho Faerna, “American Star” doesn’t have the usual stereotype of the assassin falling in love with his target. The woman he is supposed to kill sees him as a father figure instead of a potential lover. This type of affection catches him off guard while he is under pressure to complete the “assignment” of murdering her.

The British assassin who is the central character in “American Star” is named Wilson (played by Ian McShane), a world-weary killer who is contemplating retirement. Wilson has traveled by plane to the island of Fuerteventura, which is part of Spain’s Canary Islands. (The movie was filmed on location in Fuerteventura.) Although it’s a beautiful location, and Wilson is staying at an upscale hotel, the weather in Feurteventura during this time of year is often cold and windy.

Someone else is in Fuerteventura to keep an eye on Wilson: his nephew Ryan (played by Adam Nagaitis), who is also an assassin. Ryan and Wilson also have the same boss. Ryan has been sent to be Wilson’s “backup” in case anything goes wrong or if Wilson can’t complete this hit job. Wilson has resentment that Ryan is there because, as Wilson tells Ryan: “I work alone.”

Wilson and Ryan (who is the son of Wilson’s sister) have a relationship that can best be described as “prickly,” for reasons that are somewhat vague and go back for many years. Ryan, who is dishonest and creepy, enjoys being an assassin and thinks Wilson is going “soft” in this assassin work. For reasons that are unexplained, Ryan has been lying to his mother by saying that Ryan is still living in Paris. This is the type of lie that is upsetting to Wilson, whose sister (Ryan’s mother) has no idea that Ryan and Wilson are hired hit men.

Besides being assassins who are family members, another thing that Wilson and Ryan have in common is that they both used to be soldiers in the British military. Ryan makes a comment to Wilson that being an assassin and being a soldier are similar, because they are both jobs where they get paid to kill people. Ryan thinks it’s better to be an assassin for these reasons: “Private work, less risks. We still carry guns and take orders.” Wilson insists that being an assassin and being a soldier are not the same thing.

Wilson has also been given the assignment to kill two people who live in a sleek luxury home in Fuerteventura: a wealthy man named Thomas (played by Thomas Kretschmann) and his significant other named Linda (played by Sabela Arán). But there’s someone else who’s on Wilson’s hit list: a cantina bartender named Gloria (played by Nora Arnezeder), who is originally from France. Gloria has been living in Feurteventura for the past six years. The reason why she’s been targeted for murder is revealed in the movie.

Wilson introduces himself to Gloria at her job by pretending to be a tourist who works in “personal security.” He asks for Gloria’s help in looking for a famous shipwreck in the ocean called the American Star, which is in a remote part of the island. Gloria offers to take Wilson to the American Star. And that’s the start of them getting to know each other better.

The American Star is a giant and very rusty ship that is still upright in the ocean and is partially hidden by cliffs. It’s quite a sight to behold. When Gloria takes Wilson to see the American Star, she explains the history behind how the ship ended up there.

The ship got wrecked in the early 1900s. There was talk of turning it into a prison, but those plans were canceled. In 1939, a tugboat was taking the American Star to Greece to turn the ship into a floating hotel, but the tugboat’s towline snapped, and the ship got permanently stuck in the ocean. In 1939, then-U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had even christened the American Star, but the next day, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The ship has stayed in this part of the Atlantic Ocean ever since.

Viewers who look beyond the surface of what this movie is about can see that the American Star is a symbol for how Wilson feels about himself at this point in his life: an old relic who feels “stuck” in his existence. This is one of the reasons why the movie shows that Wilson becomes fascinated with the American Star. This lone ship in the ocean is a reflection of how lonely Wilson is. He doesn’t reveal much about his personal life to Gloria except to say that he’s not married, he lives alone, and he has no children.

Gloria tells Wilson that he reminds her of her deceased father. It’s hinted that Gloria’s father had a dangerous lifestyle of criminal activities, and he died because of it. Gloria eventually introduces Wilson to her mother Anne (played by Fanny Ardant), a real-estate agent who has been living in Feurteventura for the past 15 years. “American Star” shows that although Wilson doesn’t like to talk much, he gets into engaging conversations with Gloria, who is very talkative and curious, because he genuinely likes her. The feeling is mutual.

The movie has a somewhat unnecessary tangent showing Wilson having occasional friendly talks with a boy of about 8 or 9 years old named Max (played by Oscar Coleman), who is staying with his frequently quarreling and neglectful parents at a hotel room on the same floor as Wilson’s hotel room. Max is often left to do things on his own, which is how he gets acquainted with Wilson, who treats Max like a playful grandson. There seems to no real purpose for these scenes except to show that Wilson isn’t as cold-hearted and cruel as a lot of people might think he is.

McShane’s understated but effective performance in “American Star” is one of the main reasons to watch the movie, since almost everything that Wilson says or does has consequences in this story. Arnezeder is quite good in the role of Gloria, but Arnezeder has played ths type of “female character who exists to make the central male character feel good about himself” in other movies. “American Star” doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify what an assassin does in the act of killing, but it does give an up-close and interesting look at what happens when a meticulous assassin who likes to plan ahead ends up experiencing something that is unplanned—compassion and friendship for someone he’s been hired to murder.

IFC Films released “American Star” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 26, 2024.

Review: ‘The Pope’s Exorcist,’ starring Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe and Franco Nero

April 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Daniel Zovatto and Russell Crowe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo by Jonathan Hession/Screen Gems)

“The Pope’s Exorcist”

Directed by Julius Avery

Some language in Italian, Spanish and Latin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1987, in Italy and in Spain, the horror film “The Pope’s Exorcist” (based on a real person) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Catholic priest Gabriele Amorth defies a cardinal’s orders not to perform exorcisms, and the priest is sent by the Pope to do an exorcism on a boy at an abbey in Spain that has a connection to the priest’s past. 

Culture Audience: “The Pope’s Exorcist” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Russell Crowe and exorcism horror movies, but the movie’s frequently ludicrous plot and oddly placed comedy make it a substandard horror flick.

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto and Alex Essoe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

In “The Pope’s Exorcist,” Russell Crowe hams it up as an Italian priest who performs exorcisms. But the jokes aren’t funny enough to make “The Pope’s Exorcist” a comedy, and the exorcisms aren’t scary enough to make it an effective horror movie. It’s just a loud and incoherent mess. The demon-fighting, alcohol-guzzling priest portrayed by Crowe comes across more like a drunk who’s a failed stand-up comedian than a formidable clergy person who is skilled at exorcism.

Directed by Julius Avery, “The Pope’s Exorcist” clearly wanted to make the movie’s title chararacter someone who isn’t a typical exorcist. But all the mediocre and often-cheesy jokes in the film just undermine the scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious. It’s a movie that tries to be amusing and terrifying and ultimately fails at being either or both. Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos wrote the disjointed screenplay for “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The screenplay is based on 1990’s “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and 1992’s “An Exorcist: More Stories,” two of the memoirs of real-life controversial Catholic priest Gabriel Amorthe, who was the official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, from 1986 to 2016. Amorthe died in 2016, at the age of 91.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” opens with a scene taking place in June 1987, when Father Gabriele Amorth (played by Crowe) visits a family at a farmhouse in Tropea, Italy, in order to perform an exorcism. (“The Pope’s Exorcist” was actually filmed in Ireland.) Father Amorth is accompanied by an assistant named Father Gianni (played by Alessandro Gruttadauria), who mostly just stands by while Father Amorth does the talking and exorcism rituals. The family has a son in his late teens named Enzo (played by River Hawkins), whom they think is possessed by the devil.

When Father Amorth and Father Gianni arrive at the farmhouse, Father Amorth saunters in and takes his time before he gets around to attending to the hissing and convulsing Enzo, who’s in a nearby bedroom. Father Amorth barely says anything to terrified parents Carlos (played by Jordi Collet) and Adella (played by Carrie Munro), who don’t say much to him either. Instead, Father Amorth zeroes in on the couple’s unnamed daughter (played by Laila Barwick), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Father Amorth asks the girl if she knows any prayers. She says she knows the Lord’s Prayer. Father Amorth tells her that she needs to keep repeating the Lord’s Prayer during the exorcism. The first thing that might go through some viewers’ minds is, “Why would a priest require a child this young to be involved in something this disturbing and possibly dangerous?” Most parents also wouldn’t want to put their child through the trauma of watching an exorcism.

But “The Pope’s Exorcist” wouldn’t exist if people acted realisitically in the movie. Even in the movie’s context of religious faith being more important than facts, too many people do things that look mindless and illogical. At any rate, the exorcism of Enzo looks like an unintentional parody of exorcisms, with the usual snarls and body contortions that are always seen in these types of movies. The expected “demon voice” is heard also coming from the possessed teen.

When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, demon replies: “I am Legion. I am Satan.” (The acting in this scene is horrendous.) Father Amorth than taunts the demon by saying if the demon is so powerful, the demon should be able to possess anyone in the room.

And what does the demon choose to do? The demon takes possession of an unlucky wild boar that’s in the room. Carlos quickly shoots the boar. The demon miraculously goes away. Enzo is no longer possessed. And that’s the end of that exorcism. Father Amorth is satisfied that he has completed another successful exorcism.

But not so fast. Father Amorth is later seen going to a stern meeting before a panel of five Catholic clergymen in July 1987. It’s a formal hearing in Rome, where Father Amorth is being reprimanded for performing that exorcism of Enzo in Tropea, because the exorcism was not officially authorized by the Vatican. Father Amorth also has to answer for other unauthorized exorcisms that he performed.

Father Amorth is a wisecracking “rebel” who tries to use prickly jokes and sarcasm to get himself out of contentious situations. He explains to the panel that 98% of the exorcisms he’s called to do aren’t real exorcisms. “They just need a little conversation … and a little theater.” Father Amorth says that 98% of the people he is told are possessed by the devil are people he refers to psychiatrists.

And what about the remaining 2% of those people? Father Amorth dodges answering that question. Most of the panel doesn’t say anything while Father Amorth defends himself. The person who does the most talking on the panel is Cardinal Sullivan (played by Ryan O’Grady), who is in his late 20s and is openly hostile to Father Amorth.

Father Amorth’s only real ally on the panel is Bishop Lumumba (played by Cornell John), who defends Father Amorth. Days before this meeting, Bishop Lumumba told Father Amorth in a private conversation: “Don’t worry, I will defend your faith.” Father Amorth replied, “My faith does not need defending.”

Cardinal Sullivan announces with a smirk that the Catholic Church will formally vacate the position of exorcist. In other words, Cardinal Sullivan is telling Father Amorth that he’s being fired as the Catholic Church’s chief exorcist for Rome. Father Amorth doesn’t accept that decision. Before the meeting is over, Father Amorth gets up and defiantly tells the panel, “If you have a problem with me, you talk to my boss.” Father Amorth then storms out of the room in a huff.

Meanwhile, an American family of three are driving to a dilapidated abbey in Castilleja, Spain. Julia Vasquez (played Alex Essoe) is a widow who inherited the abbey from her late husband Roberto Vasquez IV (played by Santi Bayón, briefly seen in a flashback), who died in a car accident a year ago. The abbey had been in Roberto’s family for years. In the car with Julia are her two children: rebellious daughter Amy Vasquez (played by Laurel Marsden) is about 15 or 16 years old, while obedient son Henry Vasquez (played by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) is about 11 or 12 years old.

Conversations in the movie reveal that Julia is financially broke and has no income. The only thing that Roberto left for her in his will was the abbey. Julia has decided to relocate herself and the kids to Spain to refurbish the abbey and sell it, hopefully at a profit. It’s a move that Amy sulks and complains about in the movie, as Amy does things to annoy her mother, such as smoke a cigarette inside the church, flirt with the construction workers, and climb up on unsafe places in the abbey.

Julia is apparently so broke, she can’t afford to stay at a hotel, so she is staying with the kids in the priests’ living quarters at the abbey. It doesn’t take long for spooky things to start happening in the abbey, especially at night. A construction worker is severely burned by lighting a flare near a gas valve. (That’s not supernatural. That’s just stupidity.) This injury is enough for the foreman to have his construction crew quit working on the abbey.

And then the inevitable happens: One of the kids gets possessed by a demon. The unfortunate victim is mild-mannered Henry, who has been mute, ever since his father Roberto died. Henry was in the car during this fatal accident, and he witnessed his father get impaled.

But as soon as the demon possesses Henry, the boy begins to talk. And after being silent for a year, the first words out of Henry’s mouth are: “You’re all going to die.” And then he drags his fingernails hard on his face, leaving deep and bloody scratch marks.

Henry is possessed by a foul-mouthed and lecherous demon. While Henry is possessed, not only are his rants filled with curse words and threats, but he also sexually attacks his mother Julia, by grabbing and fondling her breasts without her consent. The demon yells through Henry: “This baby is hungry, you fat cow! You never breastfed me!”

The demon also demands, “Bring me the priest!” When a priest is brought to the possessed Henry, the priest is thrown across the room, as possessed Henry snarls: “Wrong fucking priest!” We all know which priest this demon wants for a showdown.

Somehow, the Pope (played by Franco Nero) finds out about this demon possession. And before you can say, “silly exorcism movie,” Father Amorth is seen having a one-on-one meeting at the Vatican with the Pope. (In 1987, Pope John Paul II was the leader of the Catholic Church. The Pope in “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t act or sound like Pope John Paul II and has only a slight physical resemblance.)

In this private meeting, the Pope sends Father Amorth to the abbey in Spain to investigate this report of a boy being possessed. The Pope warns Father Amorth that this particular abbey has been problematic in the past for the Catholic Church. “Be careful,” the Pope tells Father Amorth. “This demon sounds dangerous.”

In Spain, Father Amorth meets the family and the young local priest who has been asked to help: Father Esquibel (played by Daniel Zovatto), who appears to be very pious and well-respected. Father Amorth sees for himself that Henry is indeed possessed. When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, the demon snarls, “My name is Blasphemy. My name is Nightmare.” Father Amorth quips, “My nightmare is France winning the World Cup.”

Father Amorth does a lot of zipping around on motor scooters, as if he’s some kind “on the go” exorcism delivery boy. Father Amorth is seen driving his Lambretto scooter for the trip from Italy to Spain. Apparently, the Catholic Church apparently doesn’t want to spend money on planes and trains for Father Amorth’s exorcism business trips. And when he’s not on his motor scooter, Father Amorth is gulping down drinks from his ever-present flask of alcohol.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” attempts to give the story some depth by showing that Father Amorth has a dark past that includes the death of a young woman named Rosaria (played by Bianca Bardoe), who is a sore subject for Father Amorth. The Rosaria character is in the movie, just to show another “supernatural force” on the attack against Father Amorth. As shown in flashbacks, there are other things that haunt this unconventional priest, including his experiences when he was in military combat as a young soldier in World War II.

Most of the action scenes in “The Pope’s Exorcist” are poorly staged and sloppily edited. Priests get thrown around and fall from tall heights in satanic brawls, but these priests emerge with no fractures or broken bones, which would surely happen in fights that are this violent. “The Pope’s Exorcist” is overly enamored with its adequate visual effects as being enough to make this movie terrifying. But it’s difficult to feel any terror when the exorcist is walking around cracking jokes.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” also seems to be making up exorcism rules as it goes along. Father Amorth says that he tells jokes because “The devil doesn’t like jokes.” In another part of the movie, he says the only way to get rid of a demon is to find out its real name. But that contradicts the earlier exorcism scene of Enzo being “cured” of demon possession because the demon possessed a boar that was quickly shot to death. And that exorcism doesn’t make sense either, because the demon spirit could still escape from a dead body and possess something or someone else nearby.

As the sardonic Father Amorth, Crowe seems fully game to lean into the wisecracking tone of “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The problem is that the rest of the cast members act like they’re in a life-or-death, grim horror film. Some of the supporting actors over-act and are just not believable in many of their scenes. “The Pope’s Exorcist” might give audiences some chuckles, but it’s the type of absurd horror movie that’s so bad, viewers are more likely to be laughing at it than laughing with it.

Screen Gems will release “The Pope’s Exorcist” in U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Piggy’ (2022), starring Laura Galán, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro and Camille Aguilar

October 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Laura Galán in “Piggy” (Photo by Jorge Fuembuena/Magnet Releasing)

“Piggy” (2022)

Directed by Carlota Pereda

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Villanueva de la Vera, Spain, the horror film “Piggy” features an all-Spanish cast of characters (white and Latin) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl, who is bullied by other young people for being overweight, finds an unlikely ally in a mysterious serial killer.

Culture Audience: “Piggy” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching oddball horror movies about oddball characters.

Richard Holmes and Laura Galán in “Piggy” (Photo by Jorge Fuembuena/Magnet Releasing)

Some of the most disturbing scenes in the horror film “Piggy” aren’t where people are being killed in bloody murders but are the scenes where the main character is emotionally damaged by the cruel bullying inflicted on her. For some viewers of “Piggy,” these harassment scenes might be more uncomfortable to watch than the blood and gore, because the psychological and physical abuse of bullying is more likely to happen to people in real life. The movie’s ending could have been better, but “Piggy” is still an intriguing and well-acted horror movie that provocatively explores issues of bullying, self-esteem and revenge.

Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, “Piggy” takes place in the small seaside town of Villanueva de la Vera, Spain. It’s the type of place that seems stuck in a bygone era and is an occasional vacation destination for tourists who like to go to places that are off the beaten path. “Offbeat” is one way to describe this movie too, which has some twists and turns that toy with viewer expectations of how the movie is going to end. “Piggy” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and won the prize for Best Horror Picture at 2022 Fantastic Fest.

“Piggy” is based on Pereda’s 2018 short film “Cerdita,” which means “little pig” or “piggy” in Spanish, and has the same star/protagonist for both movies: 16-year-old Sara (played by Laura Galán), who is the target of the bullying throughout the entire story. (Galán was actually in her 30s when she played this character in “Piggy” and “Cerdita.”)

in “Piggy,” Sara works part-time with her parents in their family-owned butcher shop. Her mother Asun (played by Carmen Machi) often insults and berates Sara for not looking more “presentable” for potential suitors, while Sara’s father Tomás (played by Julián Valcárcel) is a mostly passive parent who doesn’t seem very interested in making Sara’s life better. Sara lives with her parents and her younger, bratty brother (played by Amets Otxoa), who’s about 9 or 10 years old and who doesn’t have a name in the movie. Sara’s brother also teases her about her weight.

Four local teenagers, who are all in the same clique, have singled out Sara for merciless bullying. The group leader is Maca (played by Claudia Salas), who is the meanest of the group’s “mean girls.” Maca’s female sidekicks are Roci (played by Camille Aguilar) and Claudia (played by Irene Ferreiro), while the fourth person involved in the bullying is Claudia’s boyfriend Pedro (played by José Pastor), who is a good-looking troublemaker.

The four teens openly call Sara a “pig” or “piggy” to her face, and they sometimes make pig noises when she’s nearby. Claudia is the least cruel of the “mean girls,” but she goes along with a lot of the bullying and does nothing to stop it, which makes her just as guilty. There are some hints that Sara might have a crush on Pedro, so his taunting of Sara hurts her even more emotionally.

Maca, Roci and Claudia are in the butcher shop one day, while Sara and her parents are behind the counter. Maca leaves, and Roci and Claudia linger behind while Roci secretly takes a photo of Sara and her parents behind the counter. Sara later finds out that the photo was posted on social media with this caption: “Three Little Pigs. Fucking Fatso.” The photo has gotten numerous “likes” on social media.

Sara is understandably humiliated, sad and angry about this cyberbullying. And things gets worse for her. Sara goes to a local public swimming pool by herself, but she can’t even spend some time enjoying the pool before the bullies go after her. Maca, Roci and Claudia are also at this swimming pool, and they use a cleaning net to dunk Sara in the water.

These bullies don’t want to drown her, but this physical violence could still have harmful consequences. They don’t know if Sara has a medical condition that could cause a heart attack or some negative health reactions to this stressful situation. To add to Sara’s embarrassment, the three mean girls steal Sara’s non-swimsuit clothes before they leave, so Sara has to leave the pool wearing nothing but a bikini.

Before this attack on Sara, she saw a mysterious and unkempt-looking stranger in his 30s (played by Richard Holmes), who startled her with his presence at this public swimming pool. He says nothing to her, so Sara assumes he’s just a creepy person in a random encounter. Little does she know that she will see this man again many times over the course of the next few days.

Sara, who has to self-consciously leave the swimming pool with her swimsuit and no other clothes, is walking down a deserted road near a wooded area when three teenage boys follow her in a car, get out and chase her down, rough her up a little bit, and call her “Fatty,” “Fatso” and “Miss Bacon.” How much worse can Sara’s day get?

After the teenage harassers drive away, a white van drives by Sara. And she sees that Roci and Claudia have been kidnapped in the back of the van. Claudia sees Sara and makes frantic gestures for Sara to help her. A terrified Sara is seen by the van’s driver, who stops the vehicle and gets out. And lo and behold, the driver is the same man whom she saw at the swimming pool.

Sara is so frightened that she urinates on herself. What Sara didn’t see (but viewers can see) is that before driving off with Claudia and Roci, this same stranger had killed Maca and hid Maca’s body in the woods. When the driver gets out of the van, he and Sara make eye contact with each other.

In that moment, Sara could do any number of things. What she chooses is to wave her hand in approval when she realizes that this man probably saw her being bullied at the swimming pool. He silently drives away with the kidnapped Claudia and Roci in the back of the van. Now that this kidnapper/murderer knows that Sara is not going to report what she saw, the rest of the movie is about what happens in the cover-up of these crimes and whether or not Sara gets caught for helping this criminal.

Over time, it becomes obvious that this unidentified criminal has been stalking Sara, who develops a bizarre little crush on him, because he seems to be the first man who pays attention to her. Several questions arise throughout the movie, with the biggest ones being: “Who is this criminal?” and “Why has he decided to come into Sara’s life in the way that he does?” Don’t expect “Piggy” to give all the answers by the end of the movie.

“Piggy” is less concerned about solving the mystery of this unnamed stranger and more concerned about how Sara changes psychologically during the course of the story. The movie challenges viewers to ponder if bullying victim Sara deserves less sympathy once it becomes obvious that she aided and abetted in the kidnapping of at least two of her tormenters. When police investigators interview Sara about the missing teens, she lies and says she doesn’t know anything about their disappearances.

“Piggy” has plenty of suspense, but the movie doesn’t quite convince viewers that more people in this small town wouldn’t immediately notice and suspect this disheveled and creepy-looking stranger who’s been lurking around, doesn’t talk, and doesn’t seem to know anyone in this town. He never really gets on the police’s radar, which is the most unrealistic part of the movie. The middle section of the movie tends to drag with repetition about Sara lying to police, and Claudia’s mother Elena (played by Pilar Castro) immediately being suspicious that Sara is not telling all that Sara knows. When Elena confronts Sara and Sara’s mother Asun with these suspicions, it leads to one of the best scenes in the movie.

Asun vigorously defends Sara and chastises Elena for Claudia being a bully to Sara. Elena vehemently denies that Claudia has ever been a bully to anyone. This scene cleverly shows how both mothers don’t really know their daughters. And even though Sara is defended by Asun, Sara is still very angry at her mother for not seeming to care about Sara being bullied until after Sara was a “person of interest” in this missing persons investigation.

The last 15 minutes of “Piggy” turn into a literally bloody mess that will frustrate some viewers who want more definitive answers to the questions raised in the movie. However, thanks to Galán’s memorable performance (where she conveys a lot of emotions without saying much in the movie), “Piggy” has a way of getting viewers’ attention about this unfortunate fact of life: People who are bullied can sometimes turn out to be worse than their bullies if the motive is revenge.

Magnet Releasing released “Piggy” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022. The movie expanded to more U.S. theaters and was released on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Uncharted’ (2022), starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg

February 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sophia Ali, Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

“Uncharted” (2022)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Spain and the Philippines, the action film “Uncharted” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 25-year-old American man who’s had a longtime obsession with finding Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s legendary gold fortune teams up with two cynical art thieves—a middle-aged man and a woman in her 20s— to find this treasure.

Culture Audience: “Uncharted” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, because their on-screen appeal is one of the few highlights of this messy and idiotic action flick.

Antonio Banderas in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

Even by standards of suspending disbelief for far-fetched action movies, “Uncharted” is still a disjointed and disappointing mess that thinks it’s funnier and better than it really is. Not even the on-screen charisma of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg can save this movie from being relentlessly moronic, with sloppily staged stunts, characters with cardboard personalities, and a storyline that often drags. Unfortunately, “Uncharted” is just another in a long list of movies based on video games that fail to improve on the video game in a cinematic way.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Uncharted” starts off with an over-the-top stunt scene that’s an indication of the idiocy to come for the rest of the movie: Nathan “Nate” Drake (played by Holland), a 25-year-old adventurer, is hanging off of a string of cargo boxes held together by rope and dangling out of an airplane that’s high in the sky. Considering that Nate is not wearing a helmet for protection, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by the deadly wind velocity, you just know that “Uncharted” is going to be the type of movie where viewers will be rolling their eyes and asking themselves, “Are we supposed to believe that people could survive these stunts in real life?”

Nate (who is not a superhero with superhuman abilities) is able make leaps and bounds in the air, like he’s Spider-Man, a character played by Holland in other movies. Maybe the filmmakers of “Uncharted” think that just because Holland is Spider-Man in other movies, audiences are supposed to believe any human character that Holland plays in another movie can magically have Spider-Man-like powers too. It just makes this movie (and its visual effects) look even more absurd.

As Nathan bounces around and leaps unrealistically from box to box in the air, a red Mercedes 300 Gullwing suddenly starts barreling out of the airplane directly toward Nate. Someone then grabs Nate’s hand, but the movie then does a dissolve edit to show a flashback to 15 years earlier in Boston, when Nate’s older brother Sam grabs Nate’s hand to prevent him from falling from a building. In the last third of the movie “Uncharted” circles back to the airplane scene by showing what caused Nate to fall out of that plane.

In this flashback, 10-year-old Nate (played by Tiernan Jones) and Sam (played by Rudy Pankow), who’s about five or six years older than Nate, are breaking into a museum at night to steal what is purported to be the very first map of the world. The screenplay for “Uncharted” (written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) is so shambolic, it never really explains why these two brothers want to steal this priceless art. Is it a prank? Is it to sell the map on the black market? Is it because they think they can keep the map like a trophy and are too stupid to know better?

Whatever their reasons are for this inept break-in, Nate and Sam are quickly apprehended by security guards. Nate and Sam are orphans whose parents have gone missing and are presumed dead. They are living in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. Because Sam has been in trouble before, and now has “three strikes against him,” he’s kicked out of the orphanage and is expected to be held in a juvenile detention center. For whatever reason that’s never explained in the movie, Nate escapes any punishment.

Sam runs away from the orphanage the night before he’s supposed to be taken into custody. Before he leaves, Sam gives Nate his most cherished possession: a brass ring on a chain, as proof that he has an incentive to see Nate again. Sam tells Nate: “I’ll come back for you, Nate. I promise.” Nate hasn’t seen Sam in person since that night.

Nate and Sam are history buffs who are obsessed with the legend of a gold fortune hidden in the 1500s by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. As children, they planned for years to go looking for this treasure when they got old enough to do so. But this separation has put a big halt to those plans.

“Uncharted” then fast-forwards to the present day. Nate is now a bartender at a trendy lounge in New York City. He’s still a history buff who likes to spout trivia, such as who invented certain things and when. This type of knowledge doesn’t really impress a pretty blonde customer named Zoe (played by Alana Bolden), whom Nate flirts with one night when he’s working. She has this response: “You’re kind of weird, but you’re kind of cute too.”

The same night, after the lounge has closed, a customer sitting at a table refuses to leave. He introduces himself as Victor “Sully” Sullivan (played by Wahlberg), and he tells Nate that he wants to hire Nate for an adventurous job. Nate is suspicious, but he takes Victor’s business card, which lists Victor’s address, phone number and business title as “Private Acquisitions.”

Out of curiosity, Nate shows up unannounced to the address on the card. Victor is there, and that’s how Nate finds out that Victor collects valuable and historical artifacts, most of which are stolen. And that’s not all: Victor knows Sam, whom he says he hasn’t seen or heard from in about two years. “He ghosted me,” Victor says about Sam.

Victor is also interested in finding Magellan’s gold treasure, which is valued at about $5 billion. Victor has sought out Nate because Victor figures that Sam might have left some clues for Nate to find this treasure. Victor suggests to Nate that if they both team up to find the gold together, there’s a chance they’ll also find Sam. Does that make any sense? Of course not, but Nate goes along with it anyway, mainly because Victor has the money and resources to finance this trip.

But not so fast, Nate. Victor is skeptical that Nate has what it takes for some of the violence that’s sure to come with this job. Victor sees Nate as just a nerdy young guy who might be too sheltered and inexperienced to be an effective partner for Victor. And so, Victor wants Nate to pass a test.

There’s an upcoming auction of rare Spanish art from the Renaissance era. Victor’s plan is to steal a jewel-encrusted crucifix at this auction. And he wants Nate to be his accomplice. And this auction leads Victor and Nate to encounter the two chief villains in the story.

At the auction are two people who will stop at nothing to get this crucifix too. Santiago Moncada (played by Antonio Banderas) is a wealthy Spanish collector who’s the heir to a family fortune. But not for long, because Santiago’s father Armando Moncada (played by Manuel de Blas) has recently announced that he’s giving away the family fortune to charity. Santiago, who’s the head of the Moncada Foundation, is infuriated by this decision, but Armando remains unmoved by Santiago’s pleas to change his mind. “I should have cut you off years ago,” Armando tells Santiago with disgust.

The other person who’s at the auction to get the crucifix is a mysterious and shady mercenary named Jo Braddock (played by Tati Gabrielle), who wants to be called by her last name. Braddock used to be romantically involved with Victor, but he broke up with her. She’s very bitter about it, so there’s an extra reason why she wants to beat Victor at his own game. It’s briefly mentioned that when Braddock and Victor were romantically involved with each other, she was his partner in crime too.

The auction devolves into one of many of the movie’s ridiculous fight scenes, where people with weapons spend too much time trading insults when they could easily defeat their opponent by using the weapons. And even though Braddock has combat skills, she unrealistically defeats several armed people who are much taller and stronger than she is when they gang up on her in a group. In reality, anyone would be easily defeated when being the only person to fight a group of at least five or six armed and dangerous people.

Victor and Nate soon find out there’s someone else who wants the crucifix too. She’s a skilled thief named Chloe Frazer (played by Sophia Ali), who’s also looking for Magellan’s treasure. Victor already knows Chloe, since they’ve been rivals in previous art thefts. Predictably, Nate and Chloe have an instant dislike of each other, which turns into mutual attraction, which they try to fight/deny/suppress in a cliché “will they or won’t they get together” subplot. Nate and Chloe have a hard time trusting each other, since one of them could betray the other at any moment.

Victor, Nate and Chloe team up for a flimsy reason explained in the movie. Their shenanigans take them to Spain and the Philippines, two landmark destinations for Magellan’s voyage around the world. The villains are never far behind, of course. Santiago wants Magellan’s treasure too, because he claims it was stolen from the Moncada family. The bombastic and moronic fight scenes that would kill people in real life will have viewers wondering by the middle of the movie: “How are these characters still alive?”

Victor and Nate’s reluctant partnership just rehashes the over-used movie stereotype of “the grouchy older guy who’s annoyed with the eager younger guy, but they have to find a way to work together.” On the way to the auction that’s shown in the beginning of the movie, Victor ridicules Nate for chewing bubblegum at this black-tie, formal event. The bubblegum comes in handy though, when Nate uses it to prop open a door to a room that can only be accessed through an electronic system.

Victor keeps calling Nate a “kid” in a condescending manner, which gets very tiresome, very quickly. There’s a scene shown in one of the trailers for “Uncharted” where Victor has a newly grown moustache. Nate asks Victor, while pointing and grinning, “What is that thing on your face?” Victor replies, “Puberty’s right around the corner, kid. You can grow your own.” It’s more than a little ridiculous that Victor treats a 25-year-old Nate as if Nate is a pre-pubescent child, but that’s what you’re going to see while Victor and Nate exchange unfunny jokes that fall flat.

The movie also tries to have “cutesy” banter between Victor and Nate. An example is when Nate tells Victor during an action scene: “You can get shot in the head, or you can come down here for a cuddle.” Fortunately, the stale and witless dialogue between Victor and Nate isn’t in the majority of “Uncharted,” because there’s a long stretch of the movie where Nate and Chloe work together without Victor being around at all.

In addition to having cringeworthy dialogue, “Uncharted” has very phony-looking production design. Hidden tunnels and hidden caves that are supposed to show signs of rot and decay instead look like very polished and overly staged movie sets. This lack of authenticity is very distracting and just makes “Uncharted” look too glossy instead of being the gritty action flick that it should have been.

“Uncharted” takes a steep nosedive into stupidity with too many action scenes that would cause death or serious injuries in real life, but the characters barely show any signs of being affected. One of the worst is a scene where Chloe and Nate plunge deep into the ocean as a result of falling from high above in the air. When they emerge after being thrashed around by deadly waves, they have no injuries, their clothes are still fully intact, and Chloe still has full makeup on.

As much as Holland tries to inject some fun into his Nate character, Holland is just doing an older version of the teenage Peter Parker character that he plays in the “Spider-Man” movies. Wahlberg’s portrayal of Victor is just recycling the same sarcastic grump character that Wahlberg has played in dozens of other movies. Banderas hams it up as a generic villain, which is essentially a shallower version of the wealthy villain he played in the obnoxiously bad 2021 action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

Ali’s portrayal of Chloe is adequate, but Ali is stymied by the filmmakers not letting Chloe be a fully developed person but just a character to do stunts and trade sardonic quips with Nate and Victor. Chloe tells a little bit of a backstory about herself to explain why she has a hard time trusting people, but this background information is literally a brief mention that seems like a half-hearted attempt to try give Chloe more depth. As for Gabrielle’s Braddock character, she has no depth at all and has some of the worst lines in this terrible movie.

“Uncharted” might satisfy people who have very low standards on what makes a good action film. Not all action films have to be completely realistic, but they should at least have coherent storytelling, an exciting pace and compelling characters. “Uncharted” has none of those qualities.

The characters are boring villains and superficial heroes. This horribly edited movie also tends to drag and get repetitive. An epilogue and mid-credits scene make it obvious that the “Uncharted” filmmakers want to make a sequel. “Uncharted” is such a horrendous dud, any plans for an “Uncharted” movie series should be left permanently off of the movie industry map, but good taste never gets in the way of filmmakers who want to make millions from churning out garbage movies.

Columbia Pictures will release “Uncharted” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Chasing Wonders,’ starring Antonio De La Torre, Paz Vega, Quim Gutiérrez, Jessica Marias, Michael Crisafulli, Francesc Orella, Carmen Maura and Edward James Olmos

June 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jessica Marias, Quim Gutiérrez, Paz Vega, Antonio De La Torre, Michael Crisafulli, Edward James Olmos and Carmen Maura in “Chasing Wonders” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Chasing Wonders”

Directed by Paul Meins

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place over an eight-year period in Spain and Australia, the dramatic film “Chasing Wonders” features a predominantly Hispanic cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The story’s male protagonist, shown at ages 12 and 20, has a tension-filled relationship with hs father, who is haunted by a tragedy from his past. 

Culture Audience: “Chasing Wonders” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in immigrant stories and stories about people with family secrets.

Antonio De La Torre, Michael Crisafulli, Carmen Maura and Edward James Olmos in “Chasing Wonders” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The dramatic film “Chasing Wonders” blatantly pulls at people’s heartstrings. However, the acting and story are realistic enough that viewers should find something to like about this movie about a Spanish immigrant family trying to overcome emotional dysfunction while living in Australia. Yes, it’s unabashadly sentimental and at times a little melodramatic, but the movie’s overall message is hopeful and uplifting. “Chasing Wonders” can also be relatable to anyone who understands how events from a family’s past can affect the emotional well-being of the family, possibly for generations.

Directed by Paul Meins and written by Judy Morris, “Chasing Wonders” is a movie that flashes back and forth between two time periods for the story’s Spanish Australian protagonist: Savino Farias (played by Michael Crisafulli) at age 12 and at age 20. Although the story is told from Savino’s perspective, the movie’s narrator is Savino’s maternal grandfather Luis (played by Edward James Olmos), who adores Savino and is Savino’s greatest teacher and mentor.

The back-and-forth time shifts and having two different characters as the narrator and protagonist could result in a very messy film. But fortunately, the movie’s constant jumping over time periods is easy to follow, thanks to the consistently clear screenwriting from Morris, skilled editing from Nicolas Gaster, and solid direction from Meins.

“Chasing Wonders” was also filmed over a five-year period, so the movie did not need two different actors to play Savino as a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old. Keeping the same actor as a child and as an adult just adds to the realistic nature of this dramatic story. It also helps to distinguish between the time periods, because Savino looks his age at these two different periods in his life.

As grandfather Luis explains in voiceover narration in the beginning of the film: “We are all here to dream. It is the very purpose of our mind. And when we are young, our dreams are vivid, crystal-clear. My grandson, he was a dreamer.”

And who is Savino Farias? He is an only child who was born in Spain into a tight-knight but frequently emotionally repressed family. His stern father Felipe (played by Antonio De La Torre) owns a vineyard, while his homemaker mother Adrianna (played by Paz Vega) is the more nurturing parent. Felipe is emotionally troubled: At times he can be cold and distant, while at other times he can fly into a rage over petty things.

Also living in the household are Adrianna’s father Luis and his wife Maribel (played by Carmen Maura), who both adore Savino, who is their only grandchild. Felipe has a handsome and more impulsive younger brother named Goyo (played Quim Gutiérrez), who also lives in the household. Goyo works with Felipe at the vineyard. It’s a family-owned vineyard, but Felipe is in charge, and he never lets people forget it.

Savino spent the first six years of his life living in Spain, until his father decided that the family needed to move to Australia, even though they didn’t know anyone there. Felipe’s parents were deceased by the time the family moved to Australia. Just like in Spain, Felipe owns a vineyard in Australia that is operated with Goyo’s help. The Farias family vineyard and house in Australia are much smaller than the ones that they had in Spain. The vineyard is so small that Felipe and Goyo are the vineyard’s only two employees shown in the movie.

Because Savino’s boyhood scenes show him at 12 years old, it’s during a time when the family has been living in Australia for six years. At some point when they were living in Australia, there was a new addition to the family household: Goyo now has an Australian live-in girlfriend named Janine (played by Jessica Marias), who does some help around the house and the vineyard, but Felipe and Goyo do most of the hard labor outside.

It’s never made clear how long Goyo and Janine have been together by the time that Savino’s childhood is shown when Savino is 12 years old. But based on conversations, it seems like Goyo and Janine have been together for less than two years. There’s a scene of the entire family having dinner together. Savino is asking for family blessings during the dinner prayer, and he doesn’t seem to know how to describe Janine’s relationship to the family in the prayers, since Janine and Goyo are an unmarried couple. Luis tactfully tells Savino that he can describe Janine as “Goyo’s girlfriend.”

Although “Chasing Wonders” might seem to be a family-friendly film that’s appropriate for all ages to watch, it’s not. There’s some cursing (much of it from children) and a graphic scene of Savino killing a hissing snake in self-defense. There’s also a sex scene with Goyo and Janine that briefly shows partial female nudity. Viewers should know this information up front so they can use their own discretion on whether or not to watch “Chasing Wonders,” especially if very young or very easily offended people could be watching.

The scenes with Savino at 20 years old show him going back to visit his original family home in Spain. He is greeted by the property’s live-in caretaker Cosme (played by Francesc Orella), who tells Savino that the family that currently owns the property is from Barcelona, but it’s not the family’s main home. Therefore, the homeowners are not there when Savino comes to visit.

Cosme lives in the property’s guest home. And just like Savino’s beloved grandfather Luis, Cosme lives with several members of his family: Cosme’s wife (played by Imma Vallmitjana); Cosme’s mother-in-law (played by Mariona Perrier); Cosme’s son (played by Marc Guzman); Comse’s daughter-in-law (played by Inés Abad); Cosme’s granddaughter (played by Claudina López); and Cosme’s grandson (played by Eric García).

There’s a brief scene of Savino having dinner with Cosme and his family, and then these family members are not seen again. Cosme is Savino’s main tour guide around the property, so Savino can see how the place might have changed since Savino lived there. Cosme also takes Savino to a few other places that are part of the Farias family’s past.

Most of the story is centered on Savino as a 12-year-old. At school, he’s somewhat of a loner. On the school bus, there are hints that most of his classmates treat Savino as an outsider because he comes from an immigrant family whose first language is Spanish. Savino is fluent in Spanish and English, and he has an Australian accent. He mostly keeps to himself, and there doesn’t seem to be anything outstanding about him at school.

Savino isn’t a complete outcast. His closest and only friend at school is Skeet (played by Jarin Towney), a rebellious kid who comes from a home where his parents have split up and his father rarely keeps in touch with him. When they’re not around adults, Savino and Skeet curse quite a bit. It’s adult language that Savino would never use in the presence of his strict father.

During conversations that Savino and Skeet have, there’s a “grass is always greener” tone to how they view each other’s family situation. Savino seems to think it’s better to have an absentee father than to have a father who is in the household but always seems to be disapproving and ill-tempered. In one scene, Savino says mournfully to Skeet about how Felipe treats him: “I just disappoint him. I don’t know what he wants. I’m not the kid he wants.”

Meanwhile, Skeet (who is emotionally wounded by a father who ignores him) tries to cheer up Savino by saying that having a disapproving father is at least an indication that the father cares. Skeet thinks that’s better than having a father who doesn’t seem to care at all. Savino tries to make Skeet feel better by encouraging Skeet to reach out to Skeet’s father. Although Skeet and Savino have very different views of each other’s family situation, one big thing that they have in common is that they both feel stifled and somewhat unhappy in their families, and the boys like spending time with each other outside of their respective homes.

Savino has a telescope that he got as a gift from his grandfather Luis. Savino loves looking at the stars with the telescope. And he sometimes does some harmless spying on Goyo and Janine, whose bedroom window is directly across from Savino’s. It’s why Savino accidentally sees the couple having sex in their room while their room’s window is exposed. Savino is curious, but he doesn’t fixate too long on watching them have sex. He’s not a perverted Peeping Tom, after all.

One evening while using his telescope, Savino sees a shadow of a big bird and a smaller golden bird that flew over a big rock formation that Savino wants to eventually see up-close in person. Savino excitedly tells his grandparents about what he saw and asks how to get to the rock. Luis mysteriously replies, “You know how. Follow the stars.”

This advice prompts Savino to secretly go exploring at night, knowing that his father Felipe would disapprove and possibly punish him. “Chasing Wonders” has some striking and beautiful cinematography from Denson Baker, especially in the outdoor scenes with wide open spaces. (However, some of the sky backdrops look like visual effects that could have been improved.) The movie was filmed on location in the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Penedés, and in Australia in Barossa Valley, Flinders Ranges and Adelaide Studios.

Savino is fascinated by the Milky Way. And he wants to find the rock formation that he spotted in that telescope sighting. Savino sneaks out of the home to do these walks, but he comes back in time before his parents notice that he ever left. Eventually, Skeet comes along for the journey one night.

There are scenes of Skeet and Savino walking in the outdoors, sometimes on or near a tube-like tunnel, while they talk about their lives. It’s very reminiscent of the 1986 classic film “Stand by Me,” but with two boys instead of four. During their conversations, Savino seems to fear his father but also want his father’s respect and approval.

Felipe is trying to prepare Savino to eventually take over the family vineyard when Savino is old enough to do so. At this point, Savino doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but it seems that his father has already decided for him. What bothers Savino is that he doesn’t know why his father is quick to get angry at him.

Savino knows that something happened to Felipe when Felipe was young, but the family doesn’t want to talk about it. Felipe and Luis sometimes clash because Felipe thinks that Luis gives too much encouragement to Savino to be a dreamer. Observant viewers will also notice that Felipe is probably jealous that Savino is closer to Luis than Savino is to Felipe.

Considering the gruff way that Felipe sometimes treats Savino, it should come as no surprise that Savino has more love for Luis than he does for Felipe. Everyone in the household seems to be a little bit afraid of Felipe because of his unpredictable temper. Felipe also seems to hate the possibility that Savino might not be interested in taking over the family business, because it’s a rejection that Felipe would take very personally.

In one scene, Felipe shows Savino the art of wine tasting and how to be able to tell what year that the wine was made. Felipe gets irritated when Savino starts to giggle during this instructional demonstration. And then, Felipe becomes enraged when he figures out that Savino is tipsy from too much wine that Goyo allowed Savino to drink when Felipe wasn’t there. Goyo is apologetic, but he also thinks Felipe is overreacting.

Felipe verbally rips into Goyo (it won’t be the last time) and yells at him that they’re not in Spain anymore, where letting underage children drink alcohol is more acceptable than it is in many other countries such as Australia. Although it’s highly unlikely that any authorities would find out that Savino had too much wine to drink in this situation, Felipe’s anger has as much to do with wanting to be in control as it has to do with being a protective parent. Felipe thinks Goyo has a tendency to be irresponsible, and Felipe doesn’t want Goyo to be Savino’s role model.

Later in the movie, because of a misadventure that happens while Savino and Skeet snuck out of their homes to explore, Felipe takes away Savino’s telescope and hides it as punishment. It’s not enough to deter Savino from wanting to use the telescope. While Felipe is out in the vineyard, Savino snoops around to try to find the telescope.

Underneath Goyo’s bed, Savino finds a hand-drawn illustration of a family portrait. This illustration is the key to unlocking the mystery of Felipe’s emotional problems. The mystery is eventually revealed in a series of flashbacks.

“Chasing Wonders” is a poignant story about the ripple effects of a family tragedy and the realities of losing loved ones, but the movie also has several moments of inspiration in showing how family members can help each other in depressing times. Savino has a troubled relationship with his father. However, Savino gets a lot of love and respect from his mother and her parents, who all accept Savino for the way he is. It’s why Savino doesn’t feel completely unwanted in life.

Felipe could easily be the movie’s villain, but there are no real villains in this story—just a father who is emotionally damaged. Felipe loves his family, but he has personal demons that affect the way he expresses (or represses) his emotions. All of the cast members give admirable performances, but Crisafulli is particularly noteworthy as Savino, the anchor of this story. There’s a maturity of adulthood in someone’s eyes that can’t be faked or replicated when the same actor portrays the same character as a child and as an adult.

De La Torre as Felipe and Olmos as Luis are also very effective as two very different father figures. Savino learns life lessons from both of them. Savino might not have realized it when he was a child, but his emotionally painful experiences with his father probably prepared him to deal with difficult people in the real world, compared to someone who grows up in a very sheltered environment. The takeaway from the movie is that although people can’t control the families they were born into and other things that happen in life, one of the greatest gifts that someone can give besides love is honest and open communication.

Gravitas Ventures released “Chasing Wonders” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 4, 2021.

Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Marbella to open in Spain

March 28, 2017

Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Marbella
Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Marbella (Photo courtesy of Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa)

 Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa and Nobu Hospitality are launching the Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Marbella in southern Spain. Nobu Restaurant Marbella will open in May 2017, while Nobu Hotel Marbella will debut in spring 2018 at the luxurious Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa on the Golden Mile.

The following is an excerpt from a Puente Romano press release:

Nobu Restaurant Marbella, the first Nobu to open in Spain, will sit at the heart of Marbella’s dining scene, joining Puente Romano’s magnetic gastronomic offering of ten individual restaurants including the two-Michelin star Dani Garcia.

The new restaurant will introduce Nobu’s world-renowned cuisine to the resort’s discerning guests. With a fusion of Japanese cooking and Peruvian flavours, the menu will offer a mouth-watering array of signature dishes including Black Cod Miso, Yellowtail Jalapeño and Tiradito, as well as specialty plates inspired by Marbella itself. Nobu’s signature cocktails crafted by master mixologists will be served in the Nobu Bar and terrace, which will encompass a stylish setting with an electric atmosphere adjacent to the restaurant. Envisioned by Jean-Pierre Martel, one of Spain’s most cutting edge interior designers, in collaboration with StudioPCH Malibu, Nobu Restaurant Marbella will balance comfortable simplicity with natural materials and textures, consistent with the recently refurbished resort’s contemporary aesthetic.

Launching in spring 2018, the new Nobu Hotel Marbella will be distinguished by its bespoke Nobu guestroom design and sensual touches across the elegant hotel rooms. Guests can look forward to priority access to the Nobu restaurant, a private swimming pool, and Natura Bisse amenities. Nobu Matsuhisa’s exclusive in-room dining menu will be available around the clock to serve Nobu dishes to guests of Nobu Hotel Marbella who wish to make the most of the flexibility to dine in the privacy of their rooms or at the edge of the private pool.

Overlooking Puente Romano’s energised gastronomic and nightlife epicentre Plaza Village, Nobu Hotel Marbella will be the perfect destination for both business and leisure guests looking for a lifestyle filled with new and exciting experiences from dusk until dawn; the hotel will reinvent the resort experience with a range of spaces to intertwine work and play.

The launch of the new hotel at the Marbella property will also see Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa entirely transformed into an all-suites resort: 184 recently refurbished suites set across 27 beautifully designed Andalusian villas, will offer access to the resort’s famous amenities and Six Senses Spa, as well as the new Nobu experience.

Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa is situated between Marbella and Puerto Banus, just 45 minutes from Malaga airport.

Hard Rock Hotel Malta to open in 2020

February 28, 2017

Hard Rock Hotel Malta
Hard Rock Hotel Malta (Rendering courtesy of Hard Rock International)

Hard Rock International has announced plans to open Hard Rock Hotel Malta in 2020. According to a Hard Rock press release, the resort will have 370 guest rooms, including 110 suites offering balcony views. The upcoming project will be part of a new mix-used development called db City Centre, which includes a shopping mall, luxury residences and modern office spaces, in St. George’s Bay, St. Julian’s. Hard Rock Hotel Malta is being developed in collaboration with the Malta-based Seabank Group, a partner of Hard Rock for more than 15 years.

The press release also says that the Hard Rock Hotel Malta “will pay homage to the 19th century British military accommodation quarters building which will be a key feature of the project’s design and layout. Prior to opening, the historic site will be restored to its original glory.”

The hotel’s amenities will include:

  • Various high-end food and beverage establishments, including a multi-course signature restaurant and a rooftop lounge complete with Skybar.
  • Numerous pools
  • Rock Spa, a 16,000-square-foot full-service spa
  • Body Rock, a state-of-the-art fitness center
  • More than 37,000 square feet of planned function space, including the largest convention center on the island.

Hard Rock Malta is part of Hard Rock International’s ongoing expansion plans. In January 2017, the company launched Hard Rock Japan LLC and appointed Edward Tracy as CEO of the company’s new division, which aims major contender among the bidders for resort licenses in Japan, due to the recent passing of Japan’s Integrated Resorts Promotion Bill.

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