Tag Archives: Moises Arias

Brother’s Keeper

Blast Beat

by George Wolf

The most effective way a film can lead us to look at a complex issue from a new angle – or look at it at all – is to narrow the focus. Introduce the issue through characters worth caring about, and suddenly individuals make the stakes more tangible than memes and hot takes.

In his feature debut, Blast Beat director/co-writer Esteban Arango shows fine instincts for just this type of socially aware storytelling.

It is the summer of ’99, and brothers Carly and Mateo (real life siblings Mateo and Moises Arias, respectively) are spending their last few days with high school friends in their native Columbia. They’re moving to the U.S. with their mother (Diane Guerreo), where they will finally join their father Ernesto (Wilmer Valderrama) and build a new life in Atlanta.

A metalhead who’s also a science prodigy, the older Carly sees the move as getting him one step closer to the Georgia Aerospace Institute, and then to his dream job at NASA.

Ne’er do well Teo, though, feels differently. He’s a talented artist, but only seems happy when he’s acting out to show his unhappiness.

Both Arias brothers are terrific, and it is the strength of their performances that keep the film from collapsing when Arango pulls convenient and predictable pages from the Young Adult playbook. Each brother begins making friends, with Teo remaining the fuckup while Carly poses as a student at the Aerospace Institute so he can audit a class taught by a former astronaut (Daniel Dae Kim).

But when Ernesto is suddenly faced with deportation, and when broken promises and unscrupulous lawyers threaten all the family has planned, the film’s investment in character pays dividends. We’re pulling for this family, and these boys in particular.

The immigration question in America is a messy one. But beneath the heated rhetoric and political posturing are real families with complicated stories. Even in the moments when it chooses well-worn paths, Blast Beat brings that message home.

Welcome to the Jungle


by George Wolf

On a mountaintop that rests among the clouds, eight child soldiers guard an American hostage and a conscripted milk cow.

They play what games they can manufacture and train for battle under the exacting eye of The Messenger (Wilson Salazar), whose visits bring supplies, decisions on permitted sexual “partnerships” among the group, and orders from the commanding Organization on how to carry out an ambiguous mission.

While The Messenger is away, one bad decision creates a crisis with no easy solution, becoming the catalyst for Alejandro Landes’s unconventional and often gut-wrenching Spanish-language thriller.

Yes, you’ll find parallels to Lord of the Flies, even Apocalypse Now, but Landes continually upends your assumptions by tossing aside any common rulebooks on storytelling.

Just whose story is this, anyway?

The Doctora (Julianne Nicholson)? She’s the hostage with plenty of clever plans for a jungle escape, and a sympathy for some of her captors which may be used against her.

What about Bigfoot (Moises Arias, impressive as usual)? He’s got plenty of ideas on what’s best for the group, but without Messenger’s blessing as squad leader, limited power.

Wolfie, the “old man” of 15? Shy, baby-faced Rambo? Lady? Boom Boom?

Landes never gives us the chance to feel confident about anything we think we know, as the powerful score from Mica Levi (Under the Skin, Jackie) and an impeccable sound design totally immerse us in an atmosphere of often breathless tension and wanton violence.

While Monos has plenty to say about how survival instincts can affect the lines of morality, it favors spectacle over speeches. Even the gripping final shot, containing some of the film’s most direct dialog, conveys its message with minimal force, which almost always hits the hardest.

It does here. Landes, in just his second narrative feature, crafts a primal experience of alienation and survival, with a strange and savage beauty that may shake you.

Mistakes by the Lake

The Land

by George Wolf

In case you’re not hip to the lingo, “The Land” is Cleveland, city of champions! Sure, that recent RNC downtown was a tire fire, but a basketball championship and a contending baseball team have brought some new found respect home to the North Coast.

Writer/director Steven Caple, Jr.’s gritty feature debut keeps the winning streak going.

Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) is a restless Cleveland teen, skipping school and skateboarding around the inner city streets with his crew Junior (Moises Arias), Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) and Boobie (Ezri Walker). Stealing cars for quick cash, the boys pop one trunk to uncover a large stash of MDMA capsules, and quickly enter a more lucrative business.

There’s never a doubt that the local drug pusher (a terrific Linda Emond) will come calling, and the familiar genre trappings that follow do hamper the film’s ambitions. That Caple is able to prop them up with other stellar elements says much about both his raw talent and future potential.

His eye for atmospheric detail is sharp, as Caple contrasts intimate settings of the boys’ tough homelife with more panoramic shots of familiar Cleveland landmarks, achieving a nicely subtle reinforcement of the desire to escape.

Impressive instincts for camerawork are here as well, especially during the skateboarding sequences, but Caple has enough restraint to never become overtly showy. The urgent, pulsating soundtrack is another plus.

Even better, and the main reason The Land rises above its lack of freshness, is Caple’s obvious rapport with his cast, and the effective characterizations that follow.

Lendeborg and Arias have the look of real keepers, but all four youngsters are able to convey a desperation that resonates. Kim Coates and Michael Kenneth Williams provide veteran support while Emond channels Jacki Weaver from Animal Kingdom, stealing every scene with polite menace. In a smaller role, Cleveland native Colson Baker (aka rapper “Machine Gun Kelly”) again shows a charisma that could bring more substantial film offers.

There’s nothing in The Land we haven’t seen before, yet there is a style and a vision here that’s welcome, more than enough to brand Caple as a filmmaker full of promise.