IT'S ALL THE MEN AGAINST A FEW GOOD WOMEN IN "MISS BALA"
Life gets very dicey for Gloria (Gina Rodiguez)as men keep shooting at her in the border drug escapades of "Miss Bala."

The best thing you can say about “Miss Bala” is that it is a chick flick disguised as an action flick.

So – demographically speaking – the guys get to see a lot of action in high-tech Tijuana, while girls enjoy the empowerment story of Los Angeles make-up artist Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez) who discovers in Tijuana that she has the cojones to kick some serious drug smuggling ass.

Or – short version – all the guys on both sides of the law in this movie are bastards, while all the women (three of them) are determined to do the right thing.

Sadly for director Catherine Hardwick (“Thirteen,” “Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood”) this pic will do nothing to further her career as the world's leading female director of action films.

And all the drama, so to speak, consists of innocent Gloria surrounded by dire straits as she gets pursued by angry men. There are no massively imaginative explosions like the kind that fills "Aquaman.” Instead, “Miss Bala” is all about car chases and shootouts.

Since everyone is either Mexican or Mexican-American, there is also a smattering of Spanish, with subtitles.

As for the plot, it begins with a beauty contest in Tijuana to select Miss Baja California. Gloria's best friend Suzu (Christina Rodlo) is one of the contestants.

Everything is going along sweetly when a platoon of drug cartel members invades the theater and Gloria accidentally sees a few of their faces. Nothing to do but swoop her up and haul her off to their hideout in the hills below the Mexican border.

Details are sketchy, but Gloria is forced to help the cartel smuggle some drugs into San Diego. So, of course, Gloria in San Diego gets caught by ICE forces who turn her into a double agent.

To save her own life and rescue Suzu, Gloria must return to Mexico and plant a tiny homing device in the cell phone of the drug cartel's leader.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, after everything does go wrong, Gloria takes control of the situation. 

While there isn't exactly a happy ending, there is the implication a sequel will follow. Could it be the continuing story of Glory and Suzu against the world of men?












"ROMA" FEELS LIKE REAL LIFE DURING THE EARLY 1970s IN MEXICO CITY
Though flmed in b&w, Yalitza Aparicio's portrayal of Cleo in the time of rooftop TV antennas feels real.

Watching the unanimously acclaimed "Roma," written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who also served as his own cinematographer, is like watching a poem -- everything can mean something else.

A reflection in the water can also be a reflection on life. Or not.

It all depends on your own life -- and the parallels to young Afonso. There is the oblique implication that an oddly-tempered boy in the casually upperclass home of Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) is representing the future film genius.

Structurally, the key member of this family, and the movie itself, is the family maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). She was the responsible adult in Cuaron's boyhood.

But we don't see a story through Cleo's eyes so much as we see the trappings of the upper middle class life that swirled around her.

This panorama moves with a disarming naturalness that can seem like nothing is happening. The film's early portions simply follow Cleo during her work day. The first thing every morning is to wash down and sweep out the rowhouse driveway of their comfortable though certanly not elegant home.

Perhaps the director is showing us Cleo is an average person to whom only average things ever happen.

Sofia is shown indirectly, not as the person in charge, but as the person forced to be in charge after Fernando, a dentist, leaves the family to go off on his own.

These times are the early 1970s in Mexico City, with political unrest bubbling just under the surface. "Roma" refers to the city's Colonia Roma district where the family lives and most of the movie takes place.

Devoutly autobiographical (it is said Cuaron used his family's old furniture from the 1970s in re-creating the film sets) Cuaron is essentially re-interpreting through adult eyes those events he had first experienced as a child.

For example, we don't see how Sofia suffers when Fernando leaves. We see instead Sofia's attitudes toward Cleo after Fernando has gone.

Judging through the eyes of today's political correctness, Cuaron's family treated Cleo with a  combination of affection and superiority. Cleo, for her part, cares deeply about this family that has no obligations, really, to employ her.

There are a few melodramatic events along the way. One of Cleo's friends has a boyfriend who introduces his cousin to Cleo. That seems to go pretty well, but then Cleo becomes pregnant and the father disappears.

Then Sofia goes with Cleo to the doctor to be sure Cleo gets good care.

There are several other domestic crises which Cuaron presents with such grace it hardly seems like anything is happening. But by the end of the film's135 minutes, we are dearly commited to caring what happens next in Cleo's life.