Review: ‘La Guerra Civil,’ starring Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya

January 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya in “La Guerra Civil” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“La Guerra Civil”

Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in the United States and Mexico, the documentary film “La Guerra Civil” features a predominantly Latino group of people (with some white people) discussing the rivalry and careers of world champion boxers Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya.

Culture Clash:  Chávez and De La Hoya, who faced off in two championship matches in 1996 and 1998, represented two aspects of Mexican-rooted culture (native Mexicans for Chávez, Mexican Americans for De La Hoya), which affected the type of fan support and images that each boxer had.

Culture Audience: “La Guerra Civil” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies about boxing and how ethnicity plays a role in athletes’ identities and public perceptions.

Oscar De La Hoya in “La Guerra Civil” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“La Guerra Civil” goes beyond the usual clichés of boxing documentaries, by taking a candid look at how Julio César Chávez’s Mexican identity and Oscar De La Hoya’s Mexican American identity shaped their championship careers. It’s a traditionally made documentary that doesn’t really break any new ground in cinematic techniques, but the content of the story is meaningful because it shines a light on how ethnicity and nationality have a massive effect on how people feel about a public figure. The movie also vividly describes the conflicts (both internal and external) that can arise when someone identifies as a member of two different countries. Chávez and De La Hoya both participated in “La Guerra Civil,” which had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

“La Guerra Civil” (which means “The Civil War” in Spanish) is the feature-film directorial debut of Eva Longoria Bastón, a Mexican American who is an ideal person to tell this story because she’s lived many of the experiences described in the documentary. There is an authenticity to how this story is told that cannot be replicated by a documentary director who can’t relate to the main subjects of the film. “La Guerra Civil” is not told in complete chronological order, but the engaging editing makes the storytelling easy to follow.

Longoria Bastón conducted the main interviews (she can sometimes be heard off-camera asking follow-up questions), and she made the wise decision not to overstuff the movie with too many talking heads. Because much of the archival footage consists of boxing matches that were already televised, there aren’t many surprises in what’s shown in the documentary, except for some childhood photos or videos of Chávez and De La Hoya. The real value in “La Guerra Civil” is how these two former champs open up about how their past rivalry was bigger than a boxing title: It was a reflection of how people of Latino (especially Mexican) heritage felt about themselves.

“La Guerra Civil” dutifully covers a lot of biography basics that fans of Chávez and De La Hoya might already know but people unfamiliar with boxing might not know. Born in 1962, Chávez grew up very poor in his hometown of Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico. He had four brothers and five sisters; their father was a railroad worker.

In the documentary, Chávez reveals boxing wasn’t even his favorite sport as a child. He says that at the time, “I liked to play soccer, baseball and volleyball. I liked everything except boxing, because I had two brothers who started boxing before me. ” He adds, “I never thought I’d become a world champion.”

Chávez remembers one of his motivations to start boxing was after he got beaten up by a girl when he was an adolescent. At 16 years old, Chávez eventually got interested in boxing as a way to make money for the family, but he initially had to keep his training a secret from his mother, who disapproved of another one of her sons getting into boxing.

Chávez’s mother, whom he describes as kind and nurturing, eventually approved of his boxing activities when she and the rest of the family saw how talented he was and how his boxing earnings could benefit the family. He relocated from Culiacán to Tijuana to train as a professional boxer. (Hall of Fame boxing trainer Ignacio Beristán gives some background on how Tijuana is an important training ground for Mexican boxers.) Chávez’s “rags to riches” story made him a boxing hero to many, especially those coming from disenfranchised and underprivileged backgrounds.

By contrast, De La Hoya came from a family of boxers (his father, grandfather and brother), and he was pushed into boxing from an early age by his father. “I was forced into it,” De La Hoya says in the documentary. De La Hoya began competing in amateur boxing matches when he was 6 years old. This self-described “scrawny kid” would often bring down opponents who were a lot more muscular and more experienced than he was.

Born in Los Angeles in 1973, De La Hoya is the son of Mexican immigrants, whom De La Hoya says made their household more of a Mexican household than an American household. But because he was a first-generation American, De La Hoya was able to experience and represent both Mexican and American cultures, including being fluent in Spanish and English. Although Chávez and De La Hoya both say that they grew up in rough neighborhoods, De La Hoya’s East Los Angeles neighborhood was decidedly more middle-class than Chávez’s destitute La Redonda neighborhood in Culiacán.

De La Hoya says his first memory of boxing was the boxing fights that would take place for fun in the garage of his uncle. When De La Hoya was about 5 years old, he was ordered to fight one of his older cousins. De La Hoya vividly recalls the fear and humiliation he felt when he lost the fight and how it motivated him to beat the cousin in a rematch.

Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gómez, who’s been a friend of De La Hoya’s since their childhood, remembers that De La Hoya’s childhood revolved around boxing: “He [could] play for a little while, but when his dad would come out of work, it was time for [Oscar] to go to the gym.” Sports journalist Ron Borges compares De La Hoya to Tiger Woods, in how both athletes had hard-driving fathers who gave them no choice but to train in their respective sports at an age when most children are in kindergarten. “Little Oscar was a business commodity for his father,” Borges comments.

De La Hoya describes these early experiences in terms of how they influenced his career and how he approached boxing. He says that his boxing career was often about him feeling underestimated and wanting to prove his skeptics wrong. Although De La Hoya reached the heights of professional boxing, he makes it clear that it was with constant criticism from many people who thought that he “wasn’t Mexican enough.”

His good looks and the media’s “The Golden Boy” nickname of De La Hoya also made him the target of ridicule by people who thought he was too handsome and too Hollywood to be taken seriously. It’s mentioned several times in “La Guerra Civil” that at public appearances, De La Hoya would get just as many cheers and he would get boos from audiences.

Several of the people interviewed in the documentary discuss at length why Chávez got such unwavering public adoration in Mexican communities, while reactions to De La Hoya were decidedly more mixed. Boxing commentator Eduardo Lamazón says, “Chávez was a man of the people, of the slums. He was raised like many Mexicans, eating the same food as they did, listening to the same music. And he boxed like a Mexican too.” Boxing journalist Jose Luis Camarillo adds, “Chávez was a god. He was the star of the show.”

Sports reporter Claudio Trejos describes a common perception: “For the die-hard boxing fan, Oscar’s just a pretty boy from East Los Angeles. He’s not a real Mexican.” It’s also mentioned in the documentary that people would often call De La Hoya a “pocho,” which is a derogatory term for a person of Mexican heritage who is deliberately ignorant of Mexican culture and doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. It’s a word that bilingual De La Hoya was unfairly applied to him because he says he was raised in Mexican culture and can fluently speak Spanish and English.

On the plus side for De La Hoya was his crossover appeal, which was skillfully marketed by people such as boxing promoter Bob Arum, who helped get De La Hoya many lucrative endorsement deals. By contrast, Chávez fluency in English remained very limited. In the documentary, sports agent Leigh Stenberg says about De La Hoya: “He radiated charisma. He had a killer smile. If you had to create a marketable boxer, you couldn’t go wrong with starting with Oscar De La Hoya.”

Sports journalist Dan Rafael comments, Chávez made himself a legend … He was the star of stars until Oscar De La Hoya came along.” Gómez comments on when the real backlash started against De La Hoya: “It wasn’t until the [1996] Chávez that people started questioning, that people started saying, ‘He’s [De La Hoya] is not a real Mexican.”

“La Guerra Civil” talks about the rise and fall of these two boxing champs, with a lot of emphasis on the rise. The expected highlights of their careers are shown in clips of thrilling boxing matches, as well as large, adoring crowds who gathered to see them at other public appearances. There’s enough discussion of boxing techniques to please boxing fans but not too much of an overload that would alienate people who aren’t boxing enthusiasts.

De La Hoya talks a lot about his commitment to rigorous training, which served him well when he went up against his hero Chávez for the first time, in 1996 for the World Boxing Council’s light welterweight championship. It was billed as the Ultimate Flory fight. In the lead-up this famous boxing match, Chávez and De La Hoya (and their respective entourages) did a U.S. press tour. While De La Hoya was keeping a tight schedule of an athlete in intense training, Chávez was spending his free time doing a lot of partying.

Borges, who covered the press tour, remembers the contrasting lifestyles of Chávez and De La Hoya on this tour: “He [De La Hoya] was working out every day. Chávez was, I assure you, not working out during this trip. He was out [partying], but he was not working out.”

De La Hoya shares his perspective of his and Chávez’s very different approaches to preparing for this big fight: “He’s not taking me serious. But guess what? I’m going to take you serious.” Chávez essentially admits that all of this was true.

When Chávez and De La Hoya had their rematch in 1998, De La Hoya said he didn’t slack off on his intense training. De La Hoya convinced legendary boxing Jesús Rivero (who’s interviewed in the documentary) to come out of retirement to help with De La Hoya’s training. De La Hoya describes Rivero as “a man of few words” and “grumpy” but “by fair the best trainer I ever had.”

Based on how De La Hoya and Chávez discuss how fame affected them, Chávez might have been more beloved overall by people of Mexican heritage, but Chávez had more self-esteem problems in coping with his success. Chávez says that although he got everything he ever dreamed of in his career and he was surrounded by people who adored him, at the height of his fame, “I felt very alone.”

Feeling lonely and empty inside is why Chávez says he turned to cocaine for comfort. He mentions that the first time tried cocaine was after winning a light welterweight title fight against Héctor “Macho” Camacho in 1992. “And that was my ruin,” Chávez says of cocaine. “I took refuge in drugs and alcohol.”

Chávez is open about his addictions to drugs and alcohol, but De La Hoya doesn’t discuss in the documentary that he also had addictions to drugs and alcohol. De La Hoya’s personal demons and rehab stints are briefly mentioned by someone else toward the end of the documentary, almost as if it’s an afterthought. You get the feeling that De La Hoya wanted this topic to be off-limits in order for him to participate in the movie.

The documentary also leaves out any talk about other aspects of Chávez’s and De La Hoya’s personal lives. For example, their marriages and children are not discussed. The movie makes passing references to De La Hoya being a sex-symbol boxer to many women when he was in his prime, but he doesn’t go into details about how he handled all that amorous attention.

Even though De La Hoya doesn’t talk about his addictions in this documentary, he does show a vulnerable side when remembering about his late mother Cecilia and his complicated relationship with her. Oscar De La Hoya’s brother Joel De La Hoya Jr. describes their mother Cecilia as Oscar’s biggest fan. Oscar says, “My mother went through a lot of emotional abuse,” but “she beat the hell out of us … My aggression, my pain, my anger—that comes from her.”

Oscar also shares his heartbreak of his mother dying of breast cancer in 1990, just three weeks after he won the gold medal at the Goodwill Games. “It was the biggest blow I ever felt in my life,” he says of his mother’s death. Oscar says he became so depressed that he was going to quit boxing, but he changed his mind, largely because he had promised his mother that he’d win a gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Olympics. And he did. When De La Hoya famously waved the flags for Mexico and the U.S. after his Olympics victory, this symbolic act of identifying with both nations cemented his dual heritage in many people’s minds.

The 1996 boxing match between Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya marked the first time that a Mexican and a Mexican American would be battling each other in this type of high-profile boxing championship. Critical sports scholar Rudy Mondragón explains why this particular match had such cultural resonance, particularly with people of Mexican heritage: “Boxing is a sport that’s never been shy to utilize race and ethnicity to create a theatrical spectacle … It was like the world was telling us: ‘There’s one way to be Mexican: Oscar’s way or Julio’s way.”

In the documentary, actor/comedian George Lopez and actor/TV host Mario Lopez, who are both Mexican American and not related to each other, share their thoughts on the Chávez/De La Hoya rivalry. Mario Lopez says he’s been a die-hard fan of Chávez since childhood, while George Lopez seems to be more sympathetic to De La Hoya. George Lopez and Mario Lopez are the only two people interviewed in “La Guerra Civil” who aren’t in the boxing/sports industry, but their “fan perspective” still seems very privileged since they’re both celebrities.

Some people might find “La Guerra Civil” lacking in some areas. For example, Trejos is the only woman who’s interviewed. This token female perspective is very noticeable, especially since the documentary mentions several times that women were a large percentage of Oscar De La Hoya’s fan base.

The movie also leaves out the perspectives of any professional boxers who had high-profile matches against Oscar De La Hoya or Chávez. Commentaries from “non-celebrity” boxing fans are only in very brief clips from archival news footage, not in new interviews conducted for the documentary. The only family member of Chávez who’s interviewed is his brother Rodolfo, who makes a brief appearance in the movie.

Although “La Guerra Civil” has an insular selection of people who are interviewed, what they have to say adds up to a worthwhile story about how people’s varying definitions of Mexican heritage manifested in the rivalry between Chávez and De La Hoya. “La Guerra Civil” isn’t a completely comprehensive documentary, but it does show that people from a similar culture can find common ground among their differences. And that’s why the movie is more than a boxing documentary. It’s also a thoughtful commentary about what we can learn from accepting other people’s identities without diminishing our own.

Review: ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business,’ starring the voices of Alec Baldwin, James Marsden, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow

July 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tina Templeton (voiced by Amy Sedaris), The Boss Baby/Ted Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and young Tim Templeton (voiced  by James Marsden) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Boss Baby: Family Business”

Directed by Tom McGrath 

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the animated film “The Boss Baby: Family Business” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A laid-back man and his workaholic brother are physically transformed back to being children, and they team up with one of the brother’s two daughters to thwart an inventor’s plot to make parents into mind-controlled zombies and to have super-smart babies take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Boss Baby: Family Business” will appeal primarily to “Boss Baby” fans and people who don’t mind watching a mediocre and overly busy animated family film.

The Boss Baby/Ted Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and Dr. Erwin Armstrong (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” is the equivalent of people promising to tell a good story, but they end up wasting your time with a lot of hyper rambling. This overly cluttered animated movie buries any attempt at clear and concise storytelling. It’s a sequel that tries to have multiple storylines going at the same time and does none of those storylines very well. And it’s also does a terrible job at world building and explaining what happened in the first “Boss Baby” movie, in order for viewers to fully understand “The Bossy Baby: Family Business.”

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” is the sequel to 2017’s Oscar-nominated “The Boss Baby,” which were both directed by Tom McGrath and written by Michael McCullers. “The Boss Baby” (based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 book of the same name) was about sibling rivalry between two brothers: 7-year-old Timothy “Tim” Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi) and infant Theodore “Ted” Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who had the voice and intelligence of an ambitious business-minded adult because Ted came from a place called BabyCorp that manufactures adults in baby bodies. Ted behaves like a corporate executive, so he’s the Boss Baby in the movie’s title, but Tim is the only other person in the family who knows that Ted has this unusually mature mind.

Without rehashing the plot of “Boss Baby” too much, it’s enough to say that things worked out where Ted ended up having a “normal” childhood with Tim. “The Boss Baby” ends about 30 years later, with Tim now a married father. His 7-year-old daughter Tabitha has concerns over her baby sister Tina, who is revealed to be a Boss Baby too. In order to best understand “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” it’s necessary to know what happened in “The Boss Baby.”

And because it’s the type of sequel where much of the comedy depends on people seeing the previous movie, it can be even more confusing than it needs to be to newcomers to “The Boss Baby” series. “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” which picks up right where “The Boss Baby” ended, rushes through an explanation of what happened in “The Boss Baby.” Unfortunately, “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” has three different storylines, which make the plot a convoluted mess.

In the first storyline, Tim (voiced by James Marsden) and Ted (voiced by Baldwin), who are now adults, still have a sibling rivalry with each other. Ted is a hedge fund CEO who is a bachelor with no children. Tim is a stay-at-home father to daughters Tabitha (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt) and Tina (voiced by Amy Sedaris), and he knows that Tina is a Boss Baby, just like her Uncle Ted was. Tim’s wife Carol (voiced by Eva Longoria) is the family’s breadwinner (she works in a high-powered corporate job), while Tim is feeling a little down on himself because Tabitha seems to admire and respect Ted more than she admires and respects Tim.

And so, the second storyline is how Tim can find a way to have the type of close father-daughter relationship that he wants for himself and Tabitha. As an example of how emotionally distant Tabitha has become from Tim. Tabitha refuses to hug Tim, because she says she’s gotten too old for father-daughter hugs. She wants to shake Tim’s hand instead.

The third storyline is about how Tim, Ted and Tina try to stop a devious plot to make adults mind-controlled zombies and to have Boss Babies take over the world. Tim, Ted and Tina visit BabyCorp and find out that it has a Crisis Center that monitors threats to babies around the world. Dr. Erwin Armstrong (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), founder of a learning institution called Acorn Center, has the goal to make babies the ultimate learning machines, and he thinks parents are a threat to these plans.

Acorn Center has been opening up several locations. Dr. Armstrong personally teaches at the main Acorn Center location, where Tim’s older daughter Tabitha has been going to school. Tim immediately figures out that Dr. Armstrong’s Acorn Center is why Tabitha has been acting so emotionally distant from him: She’s being programmed to become one of these super-intelligent people who will take over the world. Part of that programming includes brainwashing to believe that parents are a threat to a child’s independence.

At the same time, BabyCorp has a baby formula that can turn an adult back into a baby. Tim and Ted take this age-reversing formula. The movie has a nonsensical sequence of Tom and Ted being transformed back into being children. (Miles Bakshi does some voice work as the young Tim.) This sequence ends with Ted being turned into a baby, but Tim’s reverse ageing turns him back into a 7-year-old, not a baby. The movie gives no explanation for this discrepancy, which is one of many examples of what’s wrong with the movie’s substandard screenplay.

Tim now looks like his 7-year-old self, so he and baby Ted go undercover in the Acorn Center where Tabitha is a student. This is the type of sloppily written movie where Ted and Tim just walk into the school, with no explanation for how they were able to quickly enroll in the school. And Tim’s “disguise” is just a pair of glasses and an alias: Marcos Lightspeed. Ted and Tim explain their absence to their family by saying that they are going on a business trip together.

Later, Tim tries to disguise himself more with tattoos and a wardrobe that tries to make him look like he’s “tough.” He’s treated like an outsider by most of the students, except for Tabitha, who befriends Tim. For this part of the plot to be believable, you’d have to believe that Tabitha doesn’t know what her father looked like when he was her age, because she doesn’t even comment on the resemblance. In other words, Tabitha might be “book smart” (she gets the highest grades in her class), but she doesn’t seem to have much common sense.

Tabitha brings “Marcos” home for dinner to meet her family, which includes Tim’s parents Ted Templeton Sr. (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel) and Janice Templeton (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). Ted Sr. and Janice notice how much “Marcos” looks and sounds like Tim when he was that age. However, they brush it off as a coincidence because Marcos wears glasses. It’s very much like how people in “Superman” don’t figure out Clark Kent is really Superman just because Clark wears glasses and isn’t in a superhero suit.

Except for Dr. Armstrong (a stereotypical “crazy inventor” villain), the movie’s supporting characters are given next to nothing to do but just take up space. An Acorn Center student named Nathan (voiced by Raphael Alejandro) is the obligatory school bully whose character, just like all the other students, is ultimately just there for show, with very little impact on the overall story. A student who’s given the name Creepy Girl (voiced by Molly K. Gray), who looks like a reject from a Tim Burton animated film, pops up here and there at random moments to act weird around Tim and Ted.

The rest of “The Boss Baby: Family Business” just further tangles these three messy storylines with a lot of filler. It all leads up to a pivotal Acorn Center talent pageant that’s supposed to coincide with what Dr. Armstrong calls B-Day, the revolution that he wants to start where Boss Babies will take over the world, and there are no more children’s rules and no parents in charge. At a couple of points in the movie, it turns into a sappy musical, with Tabitha breaking out into song. The movie’s animation is not outstanding and certainly won’t be nominated for any major awards.

The voice cast members do a perfectly adequate job in their roles. However, Longoria’s Carol, who could have been an interesting character, is the most sidelined role in the family. She’s doesn’t do much and has forgettable lines of dialogue. The wacky toy wizard Wizzie (voiced by James McGrath) brings very few laughs. And the conversations throughout the movie are littered with clichés. At one point in the film, workaholic Ted Jr. says of his seemingly successful life: “It’s lonely at the top.”

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” might be enjoyable for people who just want to watch an animated film as a distraction and don’t care if there’s anything memorable about the movie. But whatever sarcastic wit that Boss Babies are supposed to have in this world is largely missing in “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” It’s a movie that tries too hard to be so many things at once that it ends up being nothing special at all.

DreamWorks Animation will release “Boss Baby: Family Business” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It,’ starring Rita Moreno

February 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rita Moreno in “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and American Masters Films)

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It”

Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera

Culture Representation: The documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” features a group of predominantly Hispanic people (and a few white people and black people), discussing Rita Moreno, the only Latina entertainer who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, also known as being an EGOT winner.

Culture Clash: Moreno talks about racism and sexism that caused problems for her.

Culture Audience: “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in biographical stories about celebrities with long careers who broke barriers, as well as frank discussions about what it’s like to be of Hispanic ethnicity in the predominantly white American entertainment industry.

A photo of Rita Moreno on the set of 1961’s “West Side Story” in “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” (Photo courtesy of MGM Studios)

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” doesn’t reveal anything new and significant that Rita Moreno didn’t already reveal in her 2013 self-titled memoir. However, this laudatory documentary, which includes Moreno’s participation, is still inspirational and will be very informative to people who know very little about Moreno’s story before seeing this movie. Breezily directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” follows a pleasant but not groundbreaking celebrity documentary formula of flattering commentaries from other celebrities and pundits; archival footage and exclusive documentary footage; and candid but selective confessions from the celebrity. “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

The movie opens with a scene of Moreno preparing for her 87th birthday party in 2018. But she’s not being fussed over by an entourage of people. She’s in her house’s kitchen laying out the silverware and the decorations, with some help from assistants. Moreno is all too aware that people watching this scene will be surprised that she’s doing the kind of work a personal assistant or event planner would do.

Moreno quips, “You can tell I’m not a real star because somebody else would be doing this. Show business: That’s why you must never really believe anything about your fame and all that kind of bullshit. Yeah, it goes up and down. Right now, it’s up.”

The documentary includes footage of the party (which has a Cuban costume theme, because Moreno says she likes hosting themed costume parties), where an energetic and lively Moreno dances happily with guests. She’s charismatic, humorous and has a very obvious zest for life. It’s that mixture of self-deprecation and self-confidence that Moreno has on display throughout the entire documentary.

And these personality traits have helped Moreno (who was born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano in 1931 in Humacao, Puerto Rico) sustain a career for longer than a lot of people end up living. But, of course, she didn’t get to where she is so easily. And the documentary rightfully gives Moreno a lot of screen time to tell her story: the good, the bad and the ugly.

She recounts that from an early age, she knew she wanted to be an entertainer: “Being a natural performer, I think I was born that way, I was wired that way. I wanted to be a movie star since the time I saw my first picture.”

Moreno’s mother Rosa María, who was a seamstress, left behind Moreno’s father Francisco and Moreno’s brother Francisco Jr. in Puerto Rico to move with Moreno to New York City in 1936. Moreno vividly remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty and thinking that the statue represented the president of the United States. It might have been a future indicator that Moreno would go on to support feminism and other progressive issues when she became a social activist in the 1960s.

The documentary could have used some insight from Moreno about how leaving behind her father and brother impacted her life and if she ever kept in touch with them. It’s unclear if the filmmakers didn’t ask her those questions, or if they did ask but Moreno didn’t want to talk about it on camera. At any rate, she doesn’t mention her family left behind in Puerto Rico for the rest of the documentary.

Nor does there seem to be any attempt by the filmmakers who find anyone who knew Moreno from her childhood or her teenage years, to verify some of her stories of what life was like for her before she became famous. It’s an omission that’s an example of how this documentary is certainly good about rehashing information that Moreno has already talked about in several interviews and in her memoir, but the documentary doesn’t really dig beneath the celebrity veneer in a way that is entirely revealing, even if it might make the celebrity uncomfortable.

Moreno says that her mother fully supported her showbiz aspirations from a very young age, because Rosa María would often dress her daughter up like a doll and encourage her to perform wherever she could. By the age of 15, Moreno dropped out of high school because she was busy working as an entertainer. By the age of 16, she was supporting her family with her income.

But that doesn’t mean that her entry into showbiz went smoothly. Moreno remembers that as a child living in New York City, which was very racially segregated at the time, she had insecurities because she was treated as inferior because of her race. And as she became a young woman, she says she was often the target of stereotypes of being a “spicy” or “sexpot” Latina whose only worth was in her physical appearance.

A fateful meeting with Louis B. Mayer (the co-founder of MGM Studios) led to Moreno’s first big break in the movies. She went with her mother for an appointment to see Mayer at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where Mayer was staying in the penthouse. Moreno’s first major role model as a movie star was Elizabeth Taylor. And so, for this important meeting with Mayer, Moreno says in the documentary that she deliberately made herself look like Elizabeth Taylor as much as possible. The tactic worked, and Mayer decided on the spot to give Moreno a contract at MGM, because he said that she looked like a “Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.”

Moreno says in the documentary that this big break is an example of how one person can change the course of someone’s career in a matter of minutes, in ways that years of hard work cannot do. Moreno had a contract with MGM, but it came with strict limitations, because it was back in the days when movie studios controlled and dictated whom their rising young stars could date and how they would appear in public. And because of her racial identity, Moreno was always typecast as the “ethnic girl” where she usually played supporting characters who were written as subservient and/or intellectually inferior to white people.

It’s fairly well-known that Moreno’s most famous movie role was in the 1961 movie musical “West Side Story.” Nothing new about her “West Side Story” experience is revealed in this documentary that she hasn’t already talked about elsewhere. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” making her the first entertainer of Hispanic ethnicity to win an Oscar. She still jokes about how her speech was short because she was so shocked that she won, and she’s been making up for that short speech ever since.

Moreno is also in director Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, which is due out in December 2021. Details about her role in the movie have not yet been revealed as of this writing, but she plays a character named Valentina. The documentary has brief footage of her walking onto the set of the “West Side Story” remake, with Spielberg making a quick cameo.

Moreno’s traumatic experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment aren’t glossed over in the documentary. Just like she’s done in other interviews and in her memoir, she talks about being raped in her 20s by her agent at the time. (Moreno does not name him.) She says she continued to work with him because he was the only agent she knew at the time who would represent a Latina performer. Moreno says that rape experience also fueled a lot of realistic anger when her “West Side Story” character Anita successfully fought off a gang of male attackers.

Moreno also shares the experience of being sexually demeaned at an industry party in Beverly Hills when she was in her early 30s. The perpetrators were not only a powerful party guest but also the party host, according to Moreno. She describes being told by party guest Harry Cohen, who was head of Columbia Pictures at the time: “You know, I’d like to fuck you.” She says that, at the time, she laughed off this sexual aggression to his face, because she was afraid of the backlash she would get if she got visibly angry.

And later, when the party host (whom she does not name but she describes as a well-known distillery mogul) asked her to dance, he sexually grinded on her without her consent. During this assault, he said to her, “You’re a sexy little bitch, aren’t you?” Moreno says she was so mortified and scared that she asked the Mexican gardeners at the party to take her home, and they willingly obliged because they could sense that she had been violated in some way.

Moreno mentions that these gardeners were the “classiest people at the party.” And it’s clear that she tells this story to serve as an example of why people shouldn’t be dazzled by money and fame as a reason to think that someone is “better” than someone else. Money and fame don’t buy class. And being rich or famous doesn’t mean someone is incapable of heinous acts.

Moreno’s story is also an example of how winning an Oscar isn’t an automatic guarantee of getting bigger and better opportunities. After winning an Oscar, she says was only offered roles where she played the type of character that was a lot like Anita in “West Side Story.” Because she didn’t want to be typecast, Morena says in the documentary she turned down roles and that she didn’t do movies for another seven years after she won the Oscar for “West Side Story.” She says that instead, she worked in TV and theater.

This is where this documentary’s filmmakers show some carelessness. A quick look at Moreno’s filmography shows that she in fact did appear in several movies during the seven years (1962-1969) that she says that she didn’t. But she was correct in saying that she also worked in television during that time period. Her inaccuracy doesn’t mean that she deliberately lied, but it’s very possible her memory of that time period isn’t as accurate as it should be. It’s why celebrity documentaries aren’t always reliable if the celebrity controls too much of the narrative and the filmmakers don’t really care to fact check.

Moreno also talks about her torturous romance with Marlon Brando, whom she says she dated off and on for seven or eight years from the mid-1950s the early 1960s. It’s clear that she’s still conflicted about him all these years later. She bitterly describes him as an “anathema in my life,” but she also says that he loved her. And she has some therapy-speak when she declares, “He was the daddy I couldn’t please. I think about [him] now. What was there to love?”

She describes Brando as brilliant but also very selfish and controlling. Just as she did in her memoir, Moreno talks about how she got pregnant with Brando’s baby and secretly hoped that he would marry her. Instead, she found out he didn’t want to be her husband or the father of her child, and she had an abortion, which was illegal at the time. She had medical complications after the abortion that were traumatic for her.

Moreno also talks about how she was so distraught over the relationship with Brando that she attempted suicide. This is information that Moreno revealed several years ago. After they ended their relationship, Moreno and Brando co-starred in the 1969 movie “The Night of the Following Day,” where they have an argument scene and she slaps him in the face. She says that it didn’t take much acting on her part because she channeled her real-life rage at Brando into the scene.

If there’s any good that came out of her relationship with Brando, she says it was that he helped awaken her social consciousness during the 1960s. She became involved in the civil rights movement and feminist causes before it was “trendy” to do so. She says of her progressive political activism: “For the first time, I felt useful.” The movie includes video footage of her giving speeches and attending political marches and rallies, such as the 1963 March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In one scene in the movie, Moreno is shown in her “One Day at a Time” dressing room, watching on TV the 2018 U.S. Senate’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by Donald Trump for the Supreme Court. Moreno watches Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a former schoolmate of Kavanaugh’s from high school, testify that he sexually assaulted Ford in 1982, when they were teenagers. Moreno comments that she believes Ford, and that some of the testimony about sexual assault is triggering for her.

Moreno also describes her relationship with her husband Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist who later became her manager. They were married from 1965 until his death in 2010, at the age of 90. She recalls how she was charmed during their early courtship because he wasn’t aware that she was famous when they first started talking to each other. Moreno also said one of the best things about their relationship was that he had a knack for making her laugh.

But she’s also candid about admitting that toward the end of their marriage, she basically fell out of love with him, but they never got divorced because he loved her more than she loved him. Moreno also says that she and her husband had terrible fights and had a very dysfunctional marriage. However, Moreno confesses that they were skilled at hiding their marriage problems from the world, including their daughter (and only child), Fernanda Gordon Fisher, who is interviewed in the documentary. Gordon Fisher says that her parents had a good marriage with normal disagreements that weren’t too serious.

That’s not the way her mother describes it. Moreno says that Gordon was a “control freak” who didn’t like the “raucous and loud” side of her. She says, “When Lenny died, I gave that little Rosita [referring to herself] permission to leave.” She also admits she felt relieved when he died because “I didn’t have to answer to anyone anymore.”

Moreno has mixed feelings about her late husband, but there’s no doubt that she and her daughter adore each other. It’s mentioned that when Moreno’s daughter was in her 20s, she toured with Moreno and was Moreno’s backup singer/dancer. The documentary shows how Moreno and her daughter are still very close. Moreno also talks lovingly of her two grandsons (Cameron and Justin Fisher), who are briefly shown in the documentary.

The movie chronicles several of Moreno’s career highlights, including winning a Grammy for the 1972 cast recording album of children’s TV series “The Electric Company”; a Tony Award in 1975 for her featured performance in “The Ritz”; and two Emmys in 1977 and 1978, for guest-starring on “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files.” She was also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.

As for the title of this movie, it’s inspired by slogan on a T-shirt that Moreno wore when she received a career achievement award at a Television Critics Association event in 2018. Footage of her getting ready for the event and her acceptance speech is included in the documentary. “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” is a saying that sums up her persona perfectly: gutsy, vibrant and never forgetting her humble beginnings.

Most of the people who provide commentary for the documentary are other famous entertainers. Their remarks about Moreno are all positive, while some of the Latina actresses (such as Eva Longoria and Karen Olivo) expound on the specific barriers that Hispanic female entertainers often face in showbiz. Other people interviewed in the documentary include some actors who’ve co-starred with Moreno over the years, including George Chakiris (“West Side Story”), Morgan Freeman (“The Electric Company”), Héctor Elizondo (“Cane”) and Justina Machado (“One Day at a Time”).

Also weighing in with their thoughts are Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg (another EGOT winner), Mitzi Gaynor, Gloria Estefan, “One Day at a Time” executive producer Norman Lear, “Life Without Makeup” director Tony Taccone, “Oz” creator Tom Fontana and Moreno’s longtime manager John Ferguson, who breaks down in tears when he remembers how Moreno found her will to live after her suicide attempt. (Miranda and Lear are two of the executive producers of this documentary.) And some academics provide their perspectives on Moreno and her impact on pop culture, such as Columbia University artist/scholar Frances Negrón-Muntaner, The New School cultural historian Julia Foulkes and Columbia University film historian/author Annette Insdorf.

The documentary uses some whimsical animation at times to illustrate some parts of Moreno’s storytelling. But this added creative flair and all the celebrities who gush about her in the movie are all just icing on the cake. Moreno has more than enough charisma and has lived such a full life that her story could be a miniseries, not just a documentary film.

UPDATE: Roadside Attractions will release “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” in select U.S. cinemas on June 18, 2021. PBS’s “American Masters” series will premiere the movie on October 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha

December 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love”

Directed by Eugene Ashe

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and Detroit from 1957 to the mid-1960s, the dramatic film “Sylvie’s Love” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people and a few Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman who’s engaged to be married meets and falls in love with a jazz musician who doesn’t meet her mother’s approval because he comes from a lower social class.

Culture Audience: “Sylvie’s Love″ will appeal primarily to people who like sweeping romantic dramas reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Regé-Jean Page and Courtney Leonard in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love” is a perfect movie to watch if you’re in the mood for a rollercoaster ride of a love story that’s told in the epic and lush way that romantic movies used to be made in the 1950s and early 1960s. That’s the period of time when most of “Sylvie’s Love” takes place, and it’s from the perspective of African Americans. There are expected moments of passionate romance and crushing heartbreak, but there are also social issues in the story that have to do with race, class and gender roles in society.

Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, “Sylvie’s Love” shows the romantic saga between Sylvie Johnson (played by Tessa Thompson) and Robert Holloway (played by Nnamdi Asomugha) that begins when they meet in New York City in the summer of 1957, when they’re both in the early 20s. Robert is the saxophonist in the Dickie Brewster Quartet, a semi-successful jazz group that has been gigging around the city but doesn’t have a record contract yet. Sylvie works part-time in her father’s record store, but she is expected to eventually become a wife and homemaker.

Robert first sees Sylvie through the window of Mr. Jay’s Records, a record store owned by her father (played by Lance Reddick), who’s only identified as Mr. Jay in the movie. She’s watching TV while sitting behind the counter at the store. Robert looks at Sylvie in the way that viewers can tell that if it’s not love at first sight, then it’s at least major attraction at first sight. Robert sees a Help Wanted sign in the store window, takes the sign, and uses it as an excuse to strike up a conversation with the woman behind the store counter.

Sylvie is a TV fanatic and spends as much time watching TV as she can. And so, when Robert walks into the store, she doesn’t pay much attention to him. He browses through some records and asks her a question that she barely answers because she’s focused on watching TV. When he goes to the counter with an album, he asks how much the record would cost if he got an employee discount. He holds up the Help Wanted sign to indicate that he wants to work there.

She tells him that the store actually doesn’t need to hire any new employees. Sylvie explains that her image-conscious mother wanted the sign in the store so that if people who knew the Johnson family saw Sylvie working in the store, they wouldn’t think that the family was using Sylvie as free labor and that the family could afford to hire new employees. It’s the first indication that Sylvie’s mother Eunice Johnson (played by Erica Gimpel) is very class-conscious and obsessed with appearances. Not surprisingly, Eunice runs a finishing school for girls to teach them decorum and etiquette so they will be “proper” ladies for society.

Even though Sylvie told Robert that the store didn’t need to hire any new employees, when Sylvie’s father meets Robert, he takes a liking to the young man and hires him on the spot. Sylvie’s father tells Robert that he too was a jazz saxophonist, but he gave up his dreams of being a professional musician because of the financial obligations of taking care of a family. Robert has an easygoing, respectful manner, and it isn’t long before Sylvie is charmed by him too.

On one of Robert’s first days on the job, Sylvie accidentally locks the two of them in the store’s basement. While they wait for her father to arrive to unlock the door, they start talking about music, and she recommends that Robert get Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” album. Robert is impressed by how much Sylvie knows about music, but she tells him that her biggest passion is television. She says that her dream job would be to work as a TV producer.

Sylvie and Robert are showing signs that they’re very attracted to each other, but there’s one big problem: She’s engaged to another man. Sylvie proudly tells Robert that her fiancé Lacy Parker (played by Alano Miller) is the son of doctor and that she met Lacy at a cotillion. Robert doesn’t seem that impressed and he doesn’t know what a cotillion is until Sylvie explains it to him.

As time goes on, it becomes clear that this engagement to a doctor’s son is making Sylvie’s mother Eunice happier than it’s making Sylvie. Not once does Sylvie say that she’s in love with Lacy. She seems to be pressured into the marriage because Lacy is considered to be a “good catch” and Sylvie likes Lacy enough to commit to marrying him. Lacy is away traveling for a certain period of time, which is why Lacy doesn’t meet Robert, and Lacy isn’t around when Sylvie and Robert start to fall in love.

Robert tries to hide his disappointment that Sylvie is engaged, but he still invites her to see him perform with his band at a local club. Sylvie goes to the show with her cousin Mona (played by Aja Naomi King), who is also Sylvie’s best friend. Sylvie and Mona are enthralled by what they see during this performance, since the Dickie Brewster Quartet is very talented, with Robert being a standout player.

The other members of the Dickie Brewster Quartet are drummer Chico Sweetney (played by Regé-Jean Page), who is Robert’s extroverted best friend; bass player Buzz Walcott (played by Courtney Leonard), who has a somewhat goofy personality; and egotistical band leader Dickie Brewster, who is the group’s pianist and chief songwriter. Chico and Mona have an immediate flirtation, and they begin dating soon after they meet.

Sylvie has led a sheltered life and has never really experienced going to nightclubs. She’s intrigued and excited, but she also becomes acutely aware that she might not fit in with the fast party crowd that frequents the nightclub. One of the club regulars is a woman named Connie (played by Raquel Horsford), who’s about 10 years older than Sylvie.

When Connie sees Robert and Sylvie sitting at a table together and talking after the show, Connie makes it clear that she’s interested in Robert. Connie cattily tells Robert that he can hang out with her when he’s done babysitting. Connie says it loud enough for Sylvie to hear. Sylvie looks slightly embarrassed. When Robert walks Sylvie home, they kiss for the first time.

During that fateful summer, Sylvie and Robert spend more time together, and they become more attracted to each other. They have double dates with Mona and Chico. Sylvie tells Robert how much she admires his talent and encourages him in his musical endeavors. Sylvie tells Robert, “I’ve never met anyone who plays music like you do.”

Robert, who is originally from Detroit, opens up about his life and tells Sylvie that he used to work on the assembly line of an auto plant. But he decided to take a big risk and quit his job to move to New York City and try to make it as a professional musician. His mother died two years ago, and he tells Sylvie: “When my mother passed, I realized that life’s too short to waste time with things you don’t absolutely love.”

Robert and Sylvie’s budding romance hits a jealousy snag when he invites her to a party attended by a lot of his nightclub friends, which include a sassy woman named Carmen (played by Eva Longoria), who runs the boarding house where the the band members live. At the party, Sylvie sees Robert dancing with Connie and gets jealous. Sylvie leaves the party in a huff, and then Sylvie and Robert have an argument out in the street,

Robert tells Sylvie that she doesn’t have a right to judge about “cheating” since she’s engaged to another man. Sylvie says that since Robert invited her to the party, she wanted to at least feel like she was special. Then they both admit that they want to feel special to each other. And not long after that, Sylvie and Robert become lovers.

During the time that Robert and Sylvie begin dating, things start to progress in Robert’s career. A wealthy French socialite named Countess Genevieve (played by Jemima Kirke), who also goes by the name Gertie, has taken an interest in the Dickie Brewster Quartet. She recommends them for gigs in Paris, invests money in buying them new clothes, and eventually becomes the group’s official manager.

Just as Robert and Sylvie’s romance is heating up, it comes to an abrupt halt when the Dickie Brewster Quartet gets offered a series of performances in Paris. Robert invites Sylvie to go with him to Paris, but Sylvie decides that it’s best if she and Robert go their separate ways permanently. (This isn’t spoiler information since it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

And there’s another reason for why Sylvie breaks up with Robert, but she keeps it a secret from many people, including Robert. She doesn’t see him or communicate with him again until 1962, five years after they broke up, when she unexpectedly finds out that Robert is back in New York City to record an album. Sylvie is now married to Lacy, they have a 5-year-old daughter named Michelle (played by Lotus Plummer), and Sylvie has been working as an assistant producer for a TV series called “The Lucy Wolper Cooking Show.”

Sylvie loves her job, and her producer boss Kate Spencer (played by Ryan Michelle Bathe) is a supportive mentor to Sylvie. The movie’s comic relief is provided by the cooking show’s host Lucy Wolper (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey), who’s prim and polished on TV, but in real life she has a bawdy sense of humor. Even though Sylvie is very happy in her career, her marriage is having problems because the job requires her to work long hours, which irritates Sylvie’s husband Lacy, who is a sales executive for an unnamed company.

Lacy doesn’t have a problem with Sylvie working outside the home, as long as it doesn’t affect her ability to have meals ready for him at his expected time, or interfere with plans he makes when he wants Sylvie to entertain clients in their home or go to his work-related events. And so, when Sylvie sees Robert again, it triggers thoughts and feelings about their romance. Meanwhile, Robert has been growing tired of being creatively stifled by Dickie, so he contemplates an offer from record company executive Sid Shuur (played by John Magaro) to launch a solo career as a musician/songwriter.

What happens in the story at times veers into melodrama, but it’s entirely realistic. The beauty of this movie is in the credible and almost poetic way that Thompson and Asomugha portray the love between Sylvie and Robert. It’s an emotionally difficult journey fraught with uncertainty over the future and circumstances that can keep them apart. But it’s also a story of emotional fulfillment and chasing happiness where you can find it.

And even though the romance in “Sylvie’s Love” began out of infidelity, writer/director Ashe doesn’t make this a cheap and tawdry story. Rather, the movie demonstrates the hard choices that people sometimes have to make when they fall in love with the right person at the wrong time. Viewers will feel invested in finding out that happens to Sylvie and Robert because these characters are relatable on many levels.

Everything about “Sylvie’s Love” is a glorious ode to the era in which the movie take place. The direction, music, cinematography, costume design and production design are among the technical elements that fit this movie like a snug, elbow-length satin glove. However, you don’t have to be a retro movie fan to enjoy “Sylvie’s Love,” which has timeless themes about love and self-identity. It’s not a perfect film, but it perfectly captures the emotions of a complicated romance.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Sylvie’s Love” on December 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Flipped’ (2020), starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte

April 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

“Flipped” (2020)

Directed by Ryan Case

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and Mexico, the satirical comedy “Flipped” has a racially diverse cast (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A husband and wife who aspire to host their own home-renovation show end up being forced to work for members of a Mexican drug cartel.

Culture Audience: “Flipped” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, but the premise of the comedy wears thin about halfway through the story.

Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes. The satirical comedy “Flipped” is one of Quibi’s flagship movies that began streaming on the service on Quibi’s launch date.

“Flipped” takes a concept that’s ripe for parody and wastes it with a dumbed-down crime caper that becomes repetitive and runs out of creative steam long before the story ends. Funny Or Die is one of the production companies for “Flipped,” which was directed by Ryan Case and written by Damon Jones and Steve Mallory. Despite some occasional laugh-out-loud comedic scenes and good efforts from the “Flipped” actors, they’re not enough to make up for the overall mediocrity of the screenwriting.

The married couple at the center of “Flipped” are Cricket Melfi (played by Kaitlin Olson) and Jann Melfi (played by Will Forte), two frequently unemployed, bitter and delusional people who consider themselves to be smarter and better than the “common people” they have to interact with in the real world. Cricket and Jann (who live somewhere in the Los Angeles area) also have a lot of resentment toward people who are more financially successful than they are. Cricket and Jann think that most rich people get financial success through luck or dishonesty, not intelligence or talent.

The irony is that Cricket and Jann have none of the intelligence or talent that they think they have. In the beginning of the story, Cricket has been fired from her job as a sales clerk at a Home Depot-style retail store called Fair & Square. Her supervisor tells Cricket that too many customers have complained about Cricket for being abrasive and rude. Cricket responds to being fired by smashing several store mirrors on the ground.

Around the same time, Jann also gets axed from his job as a theater director of a middle school. Jann wants to stage a school musical called “Children of the Fire,” which is based on a true story of 12-and-13-year-old children who died in a fire in the local area. The musical is obviously a terrible idea, but Jann can’t understand why school officials and parents want him fired over it.

While simmering with anger and self-pity at home, Cricket and Jann (who are having problems paying their bills) commiserate with each other on their living room couch about how they think they’re underappreciated in the world. Cricket says, “Is this our life now? Are we destined to be two people with vision living amongst the blind?” Jann adds, “I think people are intimidated by us because we’re ahead of our time.”

As they’re watching TV together, Jann and Cricket jeer at a home-improvement show called “Pros & Connellys,” starring a cheerful married couple Chazz and Tiffany Connelly (played by real-life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn), who do tasteful but bland renovations of middle-class houses. “Pros & Connellys,” which is on a network called HRTV (Home Renovation TV), is “Flipped’s” obvious spoof of the real-life Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Upper” show on HGTV.

While watching “Pros & Connellys” with contempt, Jann and Cricket tell themselves that Chazz and Tiffany are mediocre hacks. And lo and behold, there’s an announcement on the show that HRTV is looking to cast a new home-renovation show starring a married couple who could be the next Chazz and Tiffany Connelly. The auditions are open to the public and the winners will get to star in the new show. Jann and Cricket immediately decide that they’re the ones who deserve to win the contest.

With nothing to lose, Jann and Cricket buy a “fixer-upper” desert property for a very low price: $3,400. But there was a catch in the deal: Jann and Cricket bought the property sight unseen. And when they drive out to see the property for the first time, of course it’s a dirty and broken-down dump.

But the delusional Jann and Cricket think the house has a lot of potential for their tacky tastes. As they break down some walls, they come across a shocking discovery hidden in one of the walls: a large pile of cash totaling $500,000. Cricket and Jann can’t believe their luck. Or is it luck if they make the wrong decision on what to do with the money?

Instead of turning the money over to authorities, Jann and Cricket keep the cash and spend it all on redoing the house with trashy and gaudy decorations (including plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn) and hiring a TV crew to film their HRTV audition video. But, of course, stealing that amount of hidden cash means that whoever owns the cash will eventually come looking for it. And, of course, chances are that whoever hid that cash is probably involved with something illegal.

Sure enough, three members of a Mexican drug cartel show up to retrieve the money, and they menace Jann and Cricket when they find out that the dimwitted couple spent it all. The leader of this trio of enforcers is named Diego (played by Arturo Castro), who reluctantly lets Jann and Cricket talk him into watching their HRTV audition video to get his feedback.

He actually likes what he sees, but Diego and his henchmen still kidnap Jann and Cricket to take them to Mexico and murder them. Just as Jann and Cricket are about to be killed and buried in their already-dug graves, Diego announces that he’s changed his mind. He tells Cricket and Jann that he’ll let them live if they “pay back” the amount of the stolen cash by doing free renovations for his home.

Diego is so pleased with the renovations that he recommends Jann and Cricket for home renovations to other members of the drug cartel. Among these “clients” are Diego’s boss Rumualdo (played by Andy Garcia) and Rumualdo’s  wife Fidelia (played by Eva Longoria), who live in a lavish mansion. And that’s what happens during the most of the story.

How long will Cricket and Jann be stuck in Mexico paying off their debt? And will they be able to submit their HRTV audition video in time? Those questions are answered in “Flipped,” which goes downhill about halfway through the story when the “fish out of water” concept starts to wear very thin. There’s a cringeworthy scene of Rumualdo and Jann singing a cover version of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (also known as the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) at the quinceañera of Rumualdo and Fidelia’s daughter.

Castro’s comedic performance as Diego is actually one of the best things about “Flipped,” but he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he deserves. Diego comes across as a tough guy, but then he’ll make off-the-cuff remarks that reveal another side to him, such as when he laments that people don’t show enough respect to Pottery Barn.

Forte has made a career out of playing tone-deaf dolts, so there’s nothing really new that he does here as Jann. Olson’s Cricket character (who’s the more dominant and aggressive partner in the marriage) has some standout comedic moments, but she becomes more of a shrieking shrew as the story keeps going.

Garcia and Longoria have characters that are written in a very hollow and generic way, so ultimately their talents are underused in “Flipped.” And some people might be offended that “Flipped” panders to negative stereotypes of Mexicans as drug dealers. (Almost all of the Latino people cast in “Flipped” are criminals or connected in some way to the illegal drug trade.) But regardless of the race or ethnicity of the criminals in the story, “Flipped”  comes across as an idea that should have been a 15-minute skit instead stretched into an 80-minute comedy that wears out its welcome.

Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 11-chapter “Flipped” on April 6, 2020.

Eva Longoria launches her spring 2017 collection and previews fall 2017

March 7, 2017

Eva Longria
Eva Longoria wears the Malibu Halter Dress from her Spring 2017 collection. (Photo courtesy of Sunshine Brands)

Award-winning actress/producer Eva Longoria has unveiled has launched her fashion line Eva Longoria Collection, which is available on  EvaLongoria.com, her official website.

The Spring 2017 line of the collection offers modern styling, feminine details and effortless looks reflecting her unique personal style.  According to a press release, the collection debuts a variety of unique styling details including fit and flare, body-con, peplum and A-line shapes in dresses, blouse silhouettes with dramatic necklines and sleeve details, great fitting denim with power-sculpting features, novelty fashion knits, chic jackets, statement tee’s adding fun and humor to the collection, and wear to work separates. The brand is lifestyle driven and covers every customer’s end use.

Key colors within the collection emphasize classic navy, ranges of corals and red, grounded back to white, pale tones and nude, as well as feminine, understated prints adding dimension to the collection. Emphasis on comfort and stretch in the textiles and yarns were key.  Fabrics such as power knits, power Ponte, buttery knits, and 4 way stretch denim are incorporated in the collection.  The collection offers sizes ranging from from XS to XXL and 0-18 (and select styles are offered in petite sizing) at retail price points starting at $39 up to $159 (U.S. dollars).

Longoria commented in a statement, “I love working with great fabrics that are comfortable, soft to the touch, and feel good against the body,” says Eva.

Eva’s next collection for Fall 2017 is currently being showcased at the Sunrise Brands Showroom in New York City. The collection is on trend with lots of denim, military and menswear inspired looks and fashion dresses. Eva describes her collection as a blending of androgynous and femininity and explains the line incorporates new and exciting shapes and silhouettes.

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