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Issa López
Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Nery Arredondo
Issa López

A gang of five children try to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.
Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $34.97
Release Date: 5/5/2020

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Issa López
• “The Making of Tigers Are Not Afraid” Featurette
• Interview with Guillermo del Toro and Issa
• “Casting Sessions” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• 3 Photo Galleries
• Preview
• DVD Copy


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Tigers Are Not Afraid [Blu-Ray] (2017)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 18, 2020)

Some movie titles telegraph story/genre domains, while others remain mysterious. In the latter category comes 2017’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, a film whose title tells us zippity-zilch about its narrative.

Set in Mexico, drug cartels rule the roost and kill/abduct with impunity. This leaves many children orphaned, whether literally or figuratively.

When her mother disappears, Estrella (Paola Lara) needs to fend for herself. She eventually bands with a gang of boys in a similar situation.

As this situation develops, Estrella sees visions of her mother and also seems to benefit from the ability to make wishes that get granted. Fantasy and reality blend as Estrella and the others struggle to survive.

On the cover of this Blu-ray, we get a quote from Guillermo del Toro that praises Tigers. This acts as a significant blurb, and not just because of del Toro’s fame and success.

Instead, the comment seems significant because Tigers demonstrates such a clear del Toro influence. The film offers a definite reminder of del Toro’s earlier works and shows a strong connection to those flicks.

Does this mean that writer/director Issa López comes across as little more than a del Toro wannabe? No – while the influence seems clear, López still creates her own take on the topic, so it doesn’t seem like she consciously emulates del Toro.

Like del Toro films such as Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, Tigers straddles the worlds of reality and fantasy. In particular, we get the supernatural elements as seen through the eyes of children in all of these flicks.

With Tigers, López never makes it explicit whether or not the fantastic elements actually exist. We only see these through Estrella’s eyes, and all come with solid real-world explanations, a factor that keeps the film more grounded than the del Toro efforts.

Not that del Toro didn’t leave open room for interpretation in terms of fact vs. fiction, but I feel his movies lean more toward the latter. In the case of Tigers, I feel the topic gets left more up for grabs.

Whatever the case, López places the story in an abnormally brutal world. Again, del Toro didn’t skimp on misery via his flicks, but perhaps because Labyrinth and Backbone take place in the past, they come across as more obviously in the fairy tale vein.

With Tigers, López gives us a story firmly in the here and now, and our ability to more firmly relate to the brutal world of gang-ridden Mexico adds impact. The film comes with an immediacy that del Toro’s lack, as we can’t distance ourselves from the material due to its setting in the past.

López definitely depicts a cruel, brutal world in Tigers, one where little compassion exists. That makes the development of the relationships between Estrella and the boys more impactful, as we see how they need to overcome the darkness of their surroundings.

Admittedly, Tigers doesn’t offer particularly great characterizations for most of the kids. Obviously we get to know Estrella best, and we also learn a fair amount about gang leader El Shine (Juan Ramón López), but otherwise the various youngsters lack much onto which we can attach beyond basic personality traits.

That doesn’t become a particular problem, mainly because the Estrella/Shine connection carries enough of the load. This is really Estrella’s journey anyway – a little more exposition about the others might be nice, but the absence of that dimensionality doesn’t harm the movie.

Neither does the film’s essential absence of a concrete plot. Oh, Tigers comes with story points related to a purloined cell phone in Shine’s possession and the desire of a corrupt politician to obtain it.

Honestly, that side of the narrative can feel more like windowdressing, as if López felt she needed a persistent, coherent threat to motivate the action. I don’t think the movie really requires any of this, but again, it doesn’t turn into a problem.

Where Tigers succeeds best relates to the depiction of the kids and their harsh environment. As noted, López doesn’t soften the edges, so we get a dark, cruel world with nary a hint of good.

This depiction feels accurate and also necessary for the film to evolve. The emotional punch of the kids’ relationships becomes more impressive because we see how much they need to overcome, so a less heartless setting would diminish that sense.

The various kids do well in their roles, and in particular, Lara excels. She brings a natural sense to Estrella, as she lets her seem believable even when she deals with potential fantasy. Lara grounds the film and lets us buy into it various conceits.

Tigers offers a “slow burn” tale, one that needs some time and thought to sink in. It grows on the viewer as it goes and turns into a compelling story of survival among brutality.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

Tigers Are Not Afraid appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The visuals held up fairly well.

Sharpness usually looked appropriate. Some darker shots felt a little soft, but most of the time, the shows seemed accurate and concise. No issues with jaggies or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes or source flaws.

Colors tended toward stylistic choices, and this meant a lot of the usual orange and teal. These seemed fine within the series’ visual decisions.

Blacks were pretty dark and tight, and low-light shots displayed reasonable clarity, though as noted, they could feel a bit soft. While not excellent, the visuals appeared positive.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, it opened up matters in a satisfactory manner. Much of the time, the film focused on music and dialogue, but effects broadened circumstances fairly well. Occasional scenes with guns/violence added the most active material, but general atmosphere and fantasy elements also fleshed out the spectrum in a positive way.

Audio quality seems more than satisfactory. Speech remained natural and distinctive, while music appeared lively and full.

Effects displayed good accuracy and heft. This turned into a solid auditory experience.

We get a mix of extras, and we start with an audio commentary from writer/director Issa López. She presents a running, screen-specific look at story and characters, influences, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography, and connected domains.

López brings us a strong commentary. She covers the movie in an incisive way, especially when she discusses how she worked with the child actors. Expect an enjoyable and informative discussion.

The Making of Tigers Are Not Afraid runs 43 minutes, 28 seconds and brings notes from López, producers Carlos Taibo and Marco Polo Constandse, director of photography Juan Jose Saravia, editor Joaquim Marti, acting coach Fatima Toledo, acting coach assistant Vinicius Faria Zinn, prosthetics and makeup designer Adam Zoller, and actors Paola Lara, Viviana Amaya, Nery Arredando and Juan Ramon Lopez.

“Making” looks at story/characters, cast and performances, influences and realism. Though we do get some comments from the above-named participants, most of “Making” focuses on footage from the shoot.

That factor makes it especially effective. We already learn nuts and bolts from Issa López during her commentary, so the visual approach to the production works well. In particular, it becomes fascinating to watch the director elicit performances from the young actors.

Six Deleted Scenes span seven minutes, 34 seconds. These add some minor character/expository bits but nothing memorable or substantial.

From the Toronto International Film Festival, we get an Interview with Issa López and Guillermo del Toro. This chat fills one hour, three minutes, 26 seconds and looks at López’s life and career, the origins of Tigers and its path to the screen, themes, aspects of the production, cast and performances, tigers and symbolism, and other elements.

Though he also discusses the craft of filmmaking, del Toro mainly acts as interviewer – and a pretty good one, as his rapport with López creates a nice energy to their chat. We get a good array of insights from López – like her discussion of how telenovelas made it more difficult to work with the child actors – in this engaging piece.

Casting Sessions gives us three minutes, 58 seconds of auditions. These let us see tryouts for Juan Ramon Lopez, Paola Lara, Nery Arredando, Rodrigo Cortes Chazares, and Hanssel Eduardo Perez Casillas.

These offer an interesting glimpse behind the scenes. However, they’re too short.

Finally, we find three Photo Galleries. These cover “Concept Art” (22 frames), “Graffiti Art” (13) and “Behind the Scenes” (36). These present a good collection of images.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Tigers. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray except for the López/del Toro interview.

A compelling mix of fantasy and reality, Tigers Are Not Afraid becomes a winning effort. The movie uses its brief running time well and turns into an effective view of its unusual subject matter. The Blu-ray comes with mostly positive picture and audio as well as an informative array of bonus materials. Tigers offers a pretty solid drama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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