Often we review films that are in the theater, but this summer we want to highlight some films that may be more accessible for our readers. There were several films that I wanted to see this year but couldn’t because of the high prices of movie tickets. As a result I had to wait until they were available on DVD to check them out. There are a few summer film festivals coming and I may be able to see other films that way, but for the most part I’m getting DVDs from the library and through other rental spaces.
Here’s a list of films in alphabetical order that I waited to see and think VL readers may enjoy as well. This is not a full review of these films as we usually do, but there are a few comments as to what the films are about and what I found interesting. If there are others you’d like to share please do!
This film was only in theaters for a few weeks, as many international independent films are. I wanted to see it to support both the director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel) and cast which includes Javier Bardem. I only knew a little bit about the story: that Bardem’s character Uxbal worked in an “underground” street economy and was trying to save enough money to leave his children before he died. What I was not expecting was the part of the move that is connected to spirituality/magic/paranormal/some may even say magical realism. The film is in Spanish with various subtitles on the DVD.
A film that I saw last year for the Tribeca Film Festival, Elvis & Madona is a film from Brazil. We follow Elvis, a lesbian who is working on becoming a photographer full time but must take a job as a pizza delivery person who meets Madona, a trans woman and drag performer who orders pizza that Elvis delivers. Their relationship begins as friends as Elvis photographs Madona for upcoming shows, yet it evolves into an intimate relationship that they both desire and find peace of mind. When Elvis becomes pregnant, her and Madona discuss their options and chose to parent the child. We watch as Elvis introduces Madona to her parents, explains the pregnancy, watch as they move in together, and struggle as new parents do to respect one another and create a safe environment for their child. This is a beautiful love story that I wish more folks would see. There were less than 20 people in the theater when I went to the screening. This film will make you realize how many stories are not being told and how thirsty we ALL are for more complex human narratives and representations!
When I first saw trailers for this film the one thing that stood out to me was actor Mark Wahlberg. You see I grew up in a generation where he was, and some may argue still is, a pop culture icon. There was some appeal because for many of us of a certain age who lived in the US, we’ve seen Wahlberg emerge as an artist whose craft has no longer focused on music but on film. However, the plot of the film centers, in my opinion, magical realism.
It is because of my love for magical realism that I went to see this film. I know it may sound odd to give a genre an ethnicity, but I do associate magical realism with Latinidad and since this film centers and builds off of our ability to suspend logic and believe something so magical to follow the story, it’s fitting to share my review with you all here.
I’ll first admit that I have not read the book by Alice Sebold that the film is based upon, so I cannot speak to it’s consistency with the original text and what is represented on the screen. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that there were people of Color in the film with speaking roles! I know it seems small, but usually this is not the case so it does stand out, at least to me, when I see such casting choices. The focus of the story is on a young girl named Susie Salmon who is murdered and watches over her family and killer from in-between heaven and earth. Can she allow herself to heal and forgive in order to make it to heaven? Or will her desire to witness vengeance against her murderer keep her in the in-between forever?
There is a mix of voice over as narration by Susie performed by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), which for some may be distracting. I, however, found it useful especially since I was not familiar with the text. Mark Wahlberg (The Departed; Four Brothers) plays her father Jack, Rachel Weisz (Definitely, Maybe; The Constant Gardener) her mother Abigail, Susan Sarandon (Speed Racer; In The Valley Of Elah) plays her Grandmother Lynn, and Rose McIver (Legend Of The Seeker) plays her younger sister Lindsey. Stanley Tucci (Julia & Julia; Swing Vote) is fascinating as George Harvey, the man who murders Susie.
The film takes place in the early 1970s and Susie is like many 14-year-old girls, in that she is focused on her school and has developed a crush for a very handsome senior: Ray Singh performed by newcomer Reece Ritchie (10,000 BC). I was pleasantly surprised to see an interracial love story set in the early 1970s and have it be extremely normalized versus ostracized and objectified. Like many younger girls, Susie is intimidated by Ray’s age and does not pursue him. However Ray is into Susie and after they watch Othello in their film club together, he asks her to meet him at the mall for a date in a few days. Right before Susie is about to experience her first kiss a teacher reprimands another student and interrupts their hallway kiss. That same evening Susie is murdered and dies without having been kissed by her first love.
I’ll admit that I was tickled when Susie and her friend spoke about the film Othello they watched and had commentary about the blackface of Laurence Olivier and called it “creepy.” Ray also expressed his connection to the film and called himself “the Moor” in love notes he sent to Susie. This is more dialogue that recognizes difference and the racial formation people living in the US experience than any other film I’ve seen where people of Color are not the lead.
When Susie is murdered and she finds herself in the in-between place where she can watch her family and only interact with them in specific ways, she meets a young girl named Holly performed by Nikki SooHoo (Bring It On). Holly helps Susie navigate her new environment and helps mentor her towards healing and heaven.
As Susie’s family tries to find her murderer, police investigator Len Fernerman performed by Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) takes the lead on her murder. Her father Jack and siblings dream of Susie, feel, and see her in their daily interactions and do not give up finding her murderer. It is her mother Abigail that cannot cope with the disappearance and murder of her daughter and the search her family seeks to continue. Abigail chooses to leave hear family and work in an orchard picking oranges in California, alongside several working class people and people of Color. The children are left to be cared for by their Grandma Lynn while Jack works and this is where Sarandon shines in her role. Not only is Grandma Lynn comfortable as a grandparent, but she’s also comfortable with a drink in one had, a cigarette in the other, and a full face of make up. She is a diva and plays the role very well. At the same time, Grandma Lynn’s actions help us understand why there is contention between her and her daughter Abigail.
As the search for Susie’s murderer continues, Susie learns more about George and his past. As she discovers more about him, her family becomes more suspicious of him as well. Susie also meets other young women who are waiting for her to leave the in-between and discovers they are all there to meet her because they were all murdered by the same person. Susie is greeted by Flor Hernandez performed by newcomer Stefania Owen, one of George’s youngest victims, who attempts to welcome her into heaven.
One of my favorite parts about this film is that there are several lines that just make sense, especially for people who are mourning the loss of people in their lives like I was when I saw the film. Sometimes it means more to hear someone or something that has no investment in who you are and what you do wish you a long and happy life.
Our own Bianca Laureano reviewed the independent film Macheteroover on her site a few months ago. I haven’t yet seen the film (single mamis with toddlers and movies rarely mix) pero as Bianca’s latest review on VL demonstrates, popular support of independent films coming out of our communities is important. I got this email from Vagabond, creator of Machetero.
MACHETERO is back in NYC after the Irish premiere and award last month. It will be playing as a part of the New York International Independent Film And Video Festival Thursday, October 29th @ 8PM.
i just received word that if we sell out the MACHETERO screening on Thurs. Oct. 29th @ 8PM we will get a 2nd screening. However we need to sell out the theater by this Fri. Oct. 9th. The theater seats 150 people… Can we do it?
Let’s try! Buy your tickets now to this 1st screening and let’s gets a 2nd screening of MACHETERO scheduled! Let’s show and prove NYC that self-financed, independent, artistic, politically minded films about the de-colonization of a Latin American nation has an audience in NYC…
If 75 people could step up and bring someone else with them to the screening… (who likes going to the movies alone?) we could make this goal of selling out this screening (150 seats) of MACHETERO before Friday the 9th.
“What type of films do Latinos want to see?” That is a question that I ask myself all the time. Are Latinos in the United States genuinely interested in films about Latinos or would they rather just watch the typical Hollywood movie? For those Latinos that speak mostly Spanish would they like the option to watch English language movies with subtitles? Would these Latinos consider watching movies made by Latinos that touch on Latino themes?
We really need to make a concerted effort to support Latino movies so that films about Latinos continue to get made.
Latino movies, done in the United States and geared for our consumption before heading out to parts unknown and DVD, are not blockbusters. That is due to the fact that while they might be great films, most folks don’t see them. Why? Small budgets. This leads to small, unimpressive special effects or none at all, thus their unpopularity.
You can’t get one over on la Lopez. An extra on the set of the Hector Lavoe movie, El Cantante was singled out by Jennifer Lopez and thrown off the New York City set. This was no ordinary extra though. The extra was Angel Villagómez, a bochinche reporter from Escándalo TV, a gossip show on the Telefutura network. JLo recognized Villagómez and asked that he be removed from the set.
From rock concerts, to soccer games, to college dorm rooms, Che Guevara’s image can be found everywhere and is one of the most recognizable icons in the world.
The revolutionary’s image has been co-opted lately though. From Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona sporting tattoos of him to the rapper Jay-Z wearing t-shirts and saying things like “I’m Che with bling on.” Absurd I say. Che must be rolling in his grave.
To make matters worse, Hollywood is taking another shot at the life of Che (I must admit, the Motorcycle Diaries was a great film) with Benecio del Toro playing the part of the Argentine revolutionary. I’m still not quite sure if another Che movie is a good thing. Will this spread “the revolution” or simply water it down? At least the actor that will play Che in this new film is doing his homework.
Benecio del Toro visited Argentina to learn more of the life of the guerrilla leader “Che” Guevara and meet with Carlos “Calica” Ferrer, a childhood friend of Che.
La Mega’s el Vacilón de la Mañana morning radio show is apparently so popular that a movie version oh so smartly titled, El Vacilón: The Movie, will be hitting the big screen soon. The Spanish language radio show is based out of NYC’s WKSQ 97.9 FM aka la Mega radio station. It is a mix of vulgar and insulting jokes and schoolyard pranks mixed in with morning news, traffic, with an merengue or bachata thrown in. Hosted by two Rican characters, Luis Jimenez and Moonshadow, the show is currently syndicated in New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Boston, Hartford, Philadelphia, Tampa and Orlando. So there is an audience ripe and ready for the film which also features actor Paul Rodríguez and spoken word artista Caridad De La Luz aka “La Bruja”.
I’ll admit to having heard the show a few times years ago. I will admit to chuckling during the “Caiste!” segment, where people are pranked called. The rest of the show, which from what I can tell hasn’t changed since the years I last listened, plays to the lowest sense of Latino humor. Everything is wrapped in sexual double entendres and the comedic skits tend to be based in stereotypes and insults about Latino lesbians, gay men, African-Americans, dark-skinned Latinos, Jews, and South Asian immigrants. Women are treated with misogynist jokes.
Not all childhoods are innocent. More than 300,000 children are serving in armies in over 40 countries. The feature length film, Innocent Voices, tells the story of one such child in El Salvador. Eleven-year-old Chava, the main character of the film, has just one year before he will be called to fight the government’s battle against the peasant rebels. Chava enjoys his last year of innocence looking for work to help his single mom and falling in love with a classmate. What makes this story especially compelling is the fact that it is based on the real life childhood of screenwriter Oscar Torres.
Innocent Voices, rated R, opens tomorrow, October 14, in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Miami, and Philadelphia. In Chicago it opens October 21 and other cities on November 4.
It’s important to support films written by, directed by, and acted by Latinos, especially independent films that tell our stories, in our voices.