Review: ‘Cassandro,’ starring Gael García Bernal

October 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Gael García Bernal in “Cassandro” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Content Services)


Directed by Roger Ross Williams

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, from 1988 to 1993, the dramatic film “Cassandro” (based on a true story) features a predominantly Latin cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Openly gay wrestler Saúl Armendáriz changes his name to Cassandro, and he becomes a wrestling star, but he faces challenges inside and outside the ring because of his sexuality.

Culture Audience: “Cassandro” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Gael García Bernal and anyone interested in unique stories about wrestlers.

Gael García Bernal and Perla De La Rosa in “Cassandro” (Photo by Alejandro Lopez Pineda/Amazon Content Services)

The dramatic film “Cassandro” isn’t a comprehensive biopic because it only focuses on a period time when luchador Cassandro (whose real name is Saúl Armendáriz) had a career that was on the rise. Even though Gael García Bernal doesn’t look like the real Cassandro, he does a pretty good job of embodying his essence. This lucha libre biopic isn’t as interesting as the documentary “Cassandro, the Exotico!,” but it’s a fairly compelling drama.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (who co-wrote the “Cassandro” screenplay with David Teague) “Cassandro” glosses over or leaves out some things that were in the 2019 documentary “Cassandro, the Exotico!,” which told much more of Cassandro’s life story. The dramatic film “Cassandro” (which had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival) is more like a few chapters in a biography. Bernal’s performance is the main reason to watch, because some of the movie gets repetitive.

The real Cassandro was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. As an adult, he relocated to Mexico, where he made his name as a luchador. His birth year was 1970, and the “Cassandro” movie takes place from 1988 to approximately 1993, when he was in his late teens and early 20s. Bernal was born in 1978, which means that he was in his early 40s when he made “Cassandro” but portraying someone who is supposed to be in his late teens and early 20s. Bernal is also much thinner than the stocky Cassandro, and their faces have no resemblance to each other.

Despite these discrepancies in physical appearance and age, Bernal immerses himself in the character of Cassandro. People who know what the real Cassandro looks like might not be able to get past how different Bernal looks from the real Cassandro. However, for those who can appreciate seeing a wrestling movie with good acting, there’s plenty to like about “Cassandro.”

The movie is told in chronological order and begins in a dressing room before a wrestling match. Cassandro, whose wrestling persona at the time was wearing a mask, is being taunted by the wrestler who will be his opponent in the ring: a brute named Gigántico (played by real-life wrestler Murder Clown), who is nearly twice the size of Cassandro.

“Do you like digging holes, or do you like getting your hole dug?” Gigántico asks Cassandro. Cassandro then places a photo of his mother Yocasta (played by Perla De La Rosa) on his dressing room table. Gigántico then tells Cassandro: “You should take off your mask and become an exotico.” (An exotico is a luchador who dresses in drag or wears heavy makeup un wrestling matches and does exaggerated moves that are meant to depict someone who is a flamboyant gay man.)

Gigántico continues to needle Cassandro: “What’s with the shitty moustache?” Cassandro answers, “I grew it for you, honey. I heard you like the way it tickles.” Cassandro loses the match against Gigántico. And then, Cassandro is even more disappointed when he hears he has to fight Gigántico again in Cassandro’s next match.

At the time, Cassandro is on the low end of the professional wrestling hierarchy. Like most athletes, he wants to become a champion. As luck would have it, Cassandro finds the trainer he needs. She’s a wrestler named Sabrina (played by Roberta Colindrez), who uses the wrestler name Lady Anarquía.

Sabrina has been observing Cassandro for a while and has become an admirer who thinks Cassandro has a lot of potential. When she offers to train Cassandro, he tells her he won’t be able to afford what she charges. Sabrina replies, “Don’t worry about it.”

Saúl/Cassandro is very close to his mother Yocasta and is unapologetic about being a “mama’s boy.” Yocasta, who works as a housekeeper/maid, is accepting of Saúl/Cassandro being openly gay. The movie shows that Yocasta gets some prejudice from two maid co-workers who make derogatory remarks about Yocasta being a single mother of an illegitimate son.

Saúl/Cassandro is estranged from his religious father Eduardo (played by Robert Salas), who does not accept Saúl/Cassandro being gay. Saúl/Cassandro and Eduardo have not seen each other since Saúl/Cassandro came out as gay when he was 15 years old. Eduardo and Saúl/Cassandro later have a conversation, which is one of the best scenes in the movie.

The movie alternates between showing Cassandro’s rise as an exotico in the lucha libre circuit and showing things that happen in his personal life. He starts using cocaine with a drug buddy named Felipe (played by Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, also known as music star Bad Bunny), who seems to be sexually attracted to Cassandro, but Felipe (who has a girlfriend) presents himself to the world as being heterosexual.

Cassandro has a more emotional connection to a fellow wrestler named Gerardo (played by Raúl Castillo), who is married to a woman and has two underage kids with her. Cassandro briefly met Gerardo’s wife and kids when he and Yocasta were at a diner and happened to see Gerado and his family at a nearby table. Soon after Cassandro and Gerardo meet each other, they have a secretive romance. But considering that Gerardo is deeply closeted and has no intention of leaving his wife, it’s easy to predict what will happen to the affair that he’s having with Cassandro.

“Cassandro” shows glimpses of the business wheeling and dealing that takes place in lucha libra industry. Cassandro’s agent/booker is Lorenzo (played by Joaquín Cosío), who introduced Felipe to Cassandro. Lorenzo’s ethics are very murky, since he knows and almost encourages Felipe to supply Cassandro with cocaine. Cassandro experiences a lot of homophobia from people in the wrestling industry and in the general public, but Lorenzo doesn’t seem to care too much, as long as Cassandro is making money for Lorenzo.

Because “Cassandro” takes place over an approximate five-year period, which consists of Cassandro’s earliest years as a pro wrestler, it’s not depicted in the movie how Cassandro’s cocaine addiction escalates and nearly ruins his life and career. This part of Cassandro’s life story is in “Cassandro the Exotico!” documentary. Perhaps the filmmakers of “Cassandro” didn’t want to do a typical “rise-fall-comeback” story arc that is often used in celebrity biopics, but it still feels like the movie doesn’t have a realistic portrayal of the down sides of Cassandro’s cocaine addiction.

“Cassandro” has some areas that come across as a bit dull and too talkative. The wrestling scenes are entertaining, but the movie’s most emotionally resonant moments happen outside the ring. The mother/son relationship that Cassandro and Yocasta have is enjoyable to watch. However, the character of Sabrina seems underdeveloped in the movie, which makes her dialogue quite generic. Even when the movie has some weak moments of banality, Bernal carries the movie with emotional authenticity and charisma.

Amazon Studios released “Cassandro” in select U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2023. Prime Video premiered the movie on September 22, 2023.

Review: ‘¡Que Viva México!’ (2023), starring Damián Alcázar, Alfonso Herrera, Joaquín Cosio, Ana de la Reguera, Ana Martín and Angelina Peláez

March 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ana Martín, Damián Alcázar, Ana de la Reguera and Alfonso Herrera in “¡Que Viva México!” (Photo by Juan Rosas/Sony Pictures International Productions)

“¡Que Viva México!” (2023)

Directed by Luis Estrada

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico City and the ficitional city of La Prosperidad, Mexico, the comedy film “¡Que Viva México!” features a predominantly Latino cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An upper-middle-class factory manager, who wants to forget that he came from a poor family, goes back to his hometown with his wife, two children and maid, after his paternal grandfather dies and leaves an inheritance of valuable gold that starts a family feud.

Culture Audience: “¡Que Viva México!” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and like watching long-winded, unimaginative and tacky comedies.

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Damián Alcázar, Angelína Peláez, Alfonso Herrera and Ana de la Reguera in “¡Que Viva México!” (Photo by Juan Rosas/Sony Pictures International Productions)

What’s worse than a crude, repetitive, unfunny comedy that has nothing interesting to say? A crude, repetitive, unfunny comedy that has nothing interesting to say and drags on for 191 minutes. In other words, avoid this garbage movie at all costs. Yes, you read that correctly: the time-wasting “¡Que Viva México!” is three hours and 11 minutes long, which is annoyingly too long for a movie that is this stupid.

Directed by Luis Estrada (who co-wrote the movie’s terrible screenplay with Jaime Sampietro), “¡Que Viva México!” (which means “Hurray, Mexico!” in Spanish) was originally supposed to be a Netflix movie with a release date of November 16, 2022, the same date that the movie was scheduled for release in cinemas and on Netflix. But something went wrong with this distribution deal. Estrada (who is also the movie’s producer) has given interviews saying that he signed a deal with Sony Pictures International Productions for the theatrical release of “¡Que Viva México!” Netflix still retains streaming rights for the movie.

In the beginning of “¡Que Viva México!,” arrogant and selfish Pancho Reyes (played by Alfonso Herrera) is a senior general manager at a textile company’s main factory in Mexico City, where he oversees several workers. He is feared but not respected by his subordinates. In order to cut costs, Pancho has been firing employees, and the employees who remain must take on a heaver workload. Pancho takes delight in deciding how many people will be part of the layoffs because he likes having that power.

Pancho’s boss Jaime Sampaolo (played by José Sefami), who owns the company, is even more egotistical and ruthless than Pancho. The politically conservative Jamie hates unions, paying fair living wages, and liberal politicians. Jamie is also a misogynistic jerk who expects female employees to be nothing more than sexual playthings for their male bosses. Needless to say, Jaime hates the #MeToo movement, as he complains about it in a rant to Pancho.

One day, Jaime calls Pancho into Jaime’s office and praises Pancho on achieving high productivity for the company. Jaime doesn’t care how many employees were laid off by Pancho, as long as the company’s profits keep increasing. Jaime tells Pancho that Pancho is on track to be promoted to general corporate manager.

Throughout “¡Que Viva México!,” Pancho has nightmares that are phony scenes made to look like they are really happening to Pancho at the time, but then the scenes are revealed to be Pancho having a bad dream. These “nightmare” scenes are very gimmicky and quickly grow tiresome. These “nightmare” scenes are also lazy and unimaginative ways of stretching the total running time for the movie.

“¡Que Viva México!” opens with one such nightmare scenario, where Pancho and his snobby wife Maria Elena, nicknamed Mari (played by Ana de la Reguera), are having a black-tie dinner with other guests at what looks like a country club or high-end resort. Jaime congratulates Pancho for being a senior general manager at the company, despite coming from a shady background. One of the movie’s main themes is that Pancho is ashamed of his working-class family whom he left behind in his hometown of the fictional La Prosperidad, Mexico. Pancho thinks these family members are trashy.

Suddenly, this stuffy party is interrupted by two elderly men carrying rifles and pointing these guns at the guests. These intruders are Pancho’s father Rosendo Reyes (played by Damián Alcázar) and Rosendo’s father Francisco (played by Joaquín Cosio), who both say that they don’t want any money. Pancho’s father and paternal grandfather say that they just want revenge for Pancho being so ungrateful for their sacrifices, such as paying for Pancho’s college education. Just as it looks like Pancho will be shot, he wakes up from this nightmare.

Mari knows about Pancho’s nightmares, and she keeps telling him to go see a therapist. In response, Pancho yells at her and says that she shouldn’t judge him because he knows all about how her “white trash family” got their money. Mari’s nationality is Mexican, but there are several mentions in the movie that she identifies her race as white, because her family is descended from white Europeans.

Mari is a hollow stereotype of a self-absorbed and materialistic “trophy wife.” Mari is also very rude to the family’s maid Lupita (played by Sonia Couoh), who has a kind and easygoing personality. For example, when Lupita makes a harmless comment about something in the household, Mari tells Pancho in a mean-spirited hushed tone that Lupita is being difficult. “She thinks she’s one of us,” hisses Mari.

Pancho and Mari have two children: son Tony (played by Raphael Camarena) and daughter Cati (played by Mayte Fernández), who look like they might be twins, although the movie doesn’t really say for sure. The children are about 7 or 8 years old. These kids are also the only characters in the movie who aren’t made to look foolish or awful. All of the other cast members play into how their characters were written: as bad parodies.

One day, Pancho gets several calls at home and at work from his father Rosendo. Pancho keeps deliberately avoiding these calls because he doesn’t want to talk to his father. In fact, he doesn’t really want anything to do with his family members who still live in shabby living conditions in La Prosperidad, including his mother Dolores (played by Ana Martin). Pancho hasn’t had contact with these relatives in many years. He hasn’t even met most of them yet.

However, Pancho eventually takes Rosendo’s call and finds out that Rosendo’s father Francisco died a few days earlier. Francisco was a miner, and the family has found out that Francisco had a secret will. There is speculation that Francisco, who was always looking for gold treasure, might have hidden gold that will be passed on to someone in the family through an inheritance.

Therefore, Pancho agrees to go to La Prosperidad out of greed, not out of grief. He decides to ask for a three-week leave of absence from his job. Mari, Tony, Cati and Lupita are also on this trip. Pancho’s relatives live in an isolated, underdeveloped area. And you know what that means.

Because this moronic movie is very phony-looking and illogical, “¡Que Viva México!” contrives the story around Pancho and his family entourage being “forced” to live in squalid conditions in the family compound, where there are no indoor toilets, no cell phone service and no Internet service. Viewers are supposed to believe that Pancho and Mari can’t figure out a way to find a comfortable hotel.

The Reyes family in La Prosperidad is a large, boisterous and argumentative clan. All these extra characters are mainly in the movie to have several people yell at each other in conflicts that mostly go nowhere. It’s yet another way that “¡Que Viva México!” wastes a lot of time. Pancho sees most of these relatives for the first time in several years when he goes to La Prosperidad for Francisco’s funeral and to see what he can get from whatever inheritance was left for Pancho. A corrupt priest named Father Ambrosio (also played by Alcázar) plays a big role in what happens in the story.

The members of this La Prosperidad family include Pancho’s six siblings: brother Rosendo Jr., nicknamed Rosendito (also played by Cosio), who grabs Pancho by Pancho’s genitals when Pancho and Rosendito see each other for the first time in years; sister Socorro (played by Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez), who is described as a “religious prude” by her father; brother Hilario (played by Luis Fernando Peña), who is called “the artist of the family”; brother Rufino (played by Álex Perea), who is described as “the black sheep of the family” and who immediately grabs Mari in a sexually suggestive manner; transgender sister Jacinta (played by Cuauhtli Jiménez), whose former name was Jacinto; and pregnant, unmarried sister Bartola (played by Vico Escorcia), who has six other children. All of Bartola’s children have different deadbeat fathers.

The significant others of Pancho’s siblings include Socorro’s “poet” husband Cruz (played by Enrique Arreola), who uses crutches and who used to be a teacher; Hilario’s wife Pánfila (played by Natalia Quiroz), who is so forgettable that Rosendo Sr. can’t remember her name; Rufino’s promiscuous girlfriend Gloria López (played by Mayra Hermosillo), who immediately flirts with Pancho; and Jacinta’s husband Guadalupe “El Lupe” Flores (played by Fermín Martínez), who pretends to be a loving partner but is actually abusive. Rounding out this dysfunctional family are Francisco’s widow Pascuala (played by Angelina Peláez); Rosendo’s brother Regino (also played by Alcázar); and Regino’s son Reginito (also played by Cosio), who is very competitive with his cousins.

“¡Que Viva México!” has a lot of sexist and tacky scenes where any woman under the age of 50 is treated as a target for sexual harassment, or depicted as existing only to give sexual pleasure to men. Pancho has no qualms about cheating on Mari, but when he finds out that she might be tempted to cheat on him, he goes ballistic with jealousy and rage. Mari’s decisions on whether or not to cheat on Pancho are always made when she’s drunk, so the movie has a loathsome scenarios where certain people try to shame, embarrass, or take advantage of Mari while her judgment is impaired by alcohol.

“¡Que Viva México!” also has several crass scenarios involving bodily functions. A low point is when someone defecates on Francisco’s grave, and the movie shows the graphic details, with no discreet editing. What that person does to Francisco’s grave is like what “¡Que Viva México!” does to any viewer’s hope that “¡Que Viva México!” could actually turn into a good movie.

Sony Pictures International Productions released “¡Que Viva México!” in select U.S. cinemas on March 24, 2023. The movie was released in Mexico on March 23, 2023. Netflix will premiere “¡Que Viva México!” on May 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Huesera: The Bone Woman,’ starring Natalia Solián, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla and Mercedes Hernández

March 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Natalia Solián in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Huesera: The Bone Woman”

Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, the horror film “Huesera: The Bone Woman” features a Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman’s pregnancy and her sanity are threatened when she keeps having nightmarish visions of her bones breaking and women who can contort their limbs and seem to be agents of death. 

Culture Audience: “Huesera: The Bone Woman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing bizarre horror movies with intriguing stories and striking visuals.

Natalia Solián in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” delivers plenty of creepy images and convincing acting performances. Just don’t expect a clear and complete explanation for all of the disturbing incidents in this effective horror movie. The movie’s sound effects are just as terrifying as the visuals.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” is the feature-film debut of director Michelle Garza Cervera, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Abia Castillo. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, where Garza Cervera won the awards for Best New Narrative Director and the Nora Ephron Prize, an award given to emerging female filmmakers. Garza Cervera is certainly a talent to watch, since “Huesera: The Bone Woman” is the type of movie that will immediately hook viewers into the story and won’t let go.

The beginning of “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Mexico) has a stunning visual of people gathered at the feet of La Virgen de Guadalupe (a giant gold statue of the Virgin Mary), somewhere in wooded area in Mexico. This statue (which is about 100 feet tall) doesn’t exist in real life, but it was created through visual effects for the movie. Religion and motherhood are major themes throughout “Huesera: The Bone Woman.”

The movie’s protagonist is a woman in her 30s named Valeria Hernandez (played by Natalia Solián), who has been married to her mild-mannered husband Raúl (played by Alfonso Dosal) for an untold number of years. Valeria (who makes furniture in her home shop) and Raúl (who works in advertising) seem to be happily married. But soon, viewers find out that the only strain in their marriage is that Valeria and Raúl have been trying unsuccessfully for a long time to have a child.

That disappointment is about to change when Valeria visits her gynecologist (played by Emilram Cossío) for a medical exam because she’s fairly certain that she’s pregnant. The doctor confirms that she’s three months pregnant. Valeria and Raúl are ecstatic about this happy news and start making plans for their first child. Valeria wants to make a crib for the baby, even though her doctor advises her to temporarily stop doing any furniture-making work while she’s pregnant.

Not everyone is thrilled about Valeria’s pregnancy. One day, Valeria and Raúl go to visit Valeria’s parents Luis (played by Enoc Leaño) and Maricarmen (played by Aida López), who are excited to hear that Valeria is going to become a parent. However, Valeria’s older sister Vero (played by Sonia Couoh), a single mother who lives in her parents’ household with Vero’s two kids, is skeptical that Valeria will be a good mother. Also in the household is Maricarmen’s sister Isabel (played by Mercedes Hernández), who has never been married and has no children.

Vero makes snide and sarcastic comments every time Valeria talks about the pregnancy, such as saying that she thought Valeria would never get pregnant because Valeria was getting to be “too old” to conceive a child. Vero also says that she wouldn’t trust Valeria to babysit or be alone with Vero’s two children: Jorge (played by Luciano Martí), who’s about 10 or 11 years old and Paola (played by Camila Leoneé), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Why is so Vero so uptight and hostile about Valeria being around children?

When the family is gathered for a meal at the dining room table, Vero tells Raúl why she thinks Valeria won’t have good parenting skills: When Valeria was younger (perhaps when she was an adolescent), she was asked to babysit an infant, but Valeria dropped the child on the ground. An embarrassed Valeria tells Raúl that the baby wasn’t injured, but viewers later find out that it’s a lie.

After this uncomfortable family gathering, Raúl and Valeria are driving back to their home when a woman stops the car to talk to them. Her name is Octavia (played by Mayra Batalla), who was close to Valeria when they were in high school together. Octavia and Valeria haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years. They make small talk, as Valeria introduces Raúl to Valeria.

Octavia looks at Raúl suspiciously and immediately gives off “jealous ex-girlfriend” vibes. And sure enough, later in the movie, it’s revealed that Valeria and Octavia were lovers when they were teenagers. Raúl doesn’t know, and neither does Valeria’s family. It’s implied that Valeria has been keeping her queer identity a secret from most people in her life.

Flashbacks in the movie show that teenage Valeria (played by Gabriela Velarde) and teenage Octavia (played by Isabel Luna) were both in a rebelllious, hard-partying clique that included other queer people. Valeria and Octavia even made plans to move away together after they graduated from high school. However, Valeria changed her mind, and that’s what ended her relationship with Octavia, who seems to still be heartbroken and bitter over this breakup. Valeria later finds out that Octavia, who still has a hard-partying lifestyle, lives by herself and is not dating anyone special.

Because “Huesera: The Bone Woman” is a horror movie, it doesn’t take long for some frightening things to happen. Valeria begins to imagine that bones in parts of her body (such as a foot) suddenly break. She also sees faceless women who contort their bodies in grotesque ways and seem to be coming after Valeria to attack her or do something violent.

There’s a scene where Valeria is looking at the apartment building that’s directly across from the apartment building where Valeria and Raúl live. Valeria is horrified to see a faceless young woman contort her body, climb on the balcony, and jump to her death. Valeria even sees the bloodied and mangled corpse on the ground. But when Valeria rushes to tell Raúl about what she saw, and they both go to investigate, there’s nothing there.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” can get a little repetitive with the over-used horror narrative of a woman seeing terrifying visions that no one else can see, and then people start to think that she’s mentally ill. However, many of the images in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” are truly unique, particularly in the movie’s last 15 minutes. Fire and water are both used effectively in some of the film’s best scenes, by tapping into fears of drowning or burning to death.

And get used to the sound of bones being contorted or fractured. Not only does Valeria have a habit of cracking her knuckles, the visions that haunt her almost always include the sounds of bones breaking. It might be too nauseating for some viewers, but the movie’s sound design and sound mixing are top-notch for achieving the intended horror. The cinematography by Nur Rubio Sherwell is also noteworthy for how it creates a foreboding atmosphere, amid what is supposed to be domestic bliss for a new mother.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” blurs the lines between what is religion and what is pagan witchcraft. More than once, Valeria visits a spiritualist named Ursula (played by Martha Claudia Moreno) for guidance and some rituals. Valeria’s Aunt Isabel, who is treated like a weirdo in the family, because Isabel never got married and has no children, becomes more important to troubled Valeria, as Valeria starts to question her own life choices.

All of the cast members play their parts well, but “Huesera: The Bone Woman” would not be as memorable without the stellar lead performance of Solián. Even when the story gets a little muddled, and viewers will begin to wonder why it’s taking so long to explain why Valeria is experiencing all this terror, Solián maintains an authenticity to her character throughout the movie. Valeria is not a typical “damsel in nightmarish distress” from horror movies, which often care more about the murdered body count than the interior lives of the protagonists.

Is there a bone woman named Huesera in the movie? In real life, there is a fairly obscure Mexican folk tale about an elderly woman named Huesera, who collected bones and brought these bones back to life, but don’t expect that to be part of the movie’s story. “Huesera: The Bone Woman” could have done the most obvious thing and made the movie into a ghost story, with Huesera haunting Valeria. However, by the end of the film, viewers can understand the intended message: Sometimes, what can haunt people the most is when they try to hide from their true selves.

XYZ Films released “Huesera: The Bone Woman” in select U.S. cinemas on February 10, 2023. Shudder premiered the movie on February 16, 2023. “Huesera: The Bone Woman” was released on digital and VOD on February 17, 2023.

Review: ‘The Box’ (2022), starring Hatzín Navarrete and Hernán Mendoza

March 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hatzín Navarrete and Hernán Mendoza in “The Box” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“The Box” (2022)

Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, the dramatic film “The Box” features a Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a 13-year-old boy travels from Mexico City to get the cremated remains of his long-lost father, he meets a factory worker who looks like the boy’s father, but with a different name, and they form an uneasy father-son type of relationship. 

Culture Audience: “The Box” will appeal primarily to people who want to see compelling stories about family identities and worker exploitation.

Hatzín Navarrete in “The Box” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“The Box” is a “slow burn” movie that starts off a little sluggishly, but the story gets more compelling toward the last half of the film. It’s a solid and well-acted drama that can hold viewers’ interest, even when the movie drags on for a little too long, and a family secret is too easy to predict before it’s revealed. “The Box” has familiar themes in coming-of-age stories about the loss of innocence while trying to define one’s own self-identity.

Directed by Lorenzo Vigas, “The Box” had its world premiere at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival. Vigas co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Paula Markovitch and Laura Santullo. “The Box” was Venezuela’s official entry for the 2023 Academy Awards for the category of Best International Feature Film. (The movie didn’t an an Oscar nomination.) Even though “The Box” takes place in Mexico, it’s considered a Venezuelan movie for awards eligibility, because Vigas is Venezuelan, and the movie was financed by Venezuelan production companies.

In the beginning of “The Box,” a 13-year-old boy named Hatzín (played by Hatzín Navarrete) travels alone by bus from his hometown of Mexico City to an unnamed city in Mexico. The purpose of this trip is so he can claim the cremated remains of a person he is told is his long-lost father, who was found in a mass grave. Mass graves of murdered people (many of whom remain unidentified and unclaimed) have become a big social problem in Mexico, which “The Box” acknowledges in ways that serves as a menacing backdrop for the story.

Hatzín’s father, whose name is Esteban Espinosa Leyva, disappeared from the family when Hatzín was too young to remember. Hatzín (who is an only child) is being raised by Hatzín’s maternal grandmother, who has diabetes and is unable to travel. Hatzín’s mother is deceased.

Hatzín is a quiet and introverted child who has mixed feelings about this trip. On the one hand, he is sad that there’s no chance that his father will reunite with the family. On the other hand, he’s relieved to be out of his household, since he isn’t very happy there. His grandmother isn’t neglectful or abusive, but the movie repeatedly drops hints that Hatzín is lonely and doesn’t feel complete without having a father figure in his life.

Hatzín has a letter of authorization from his grandmother to have the cremated remains released to Hatzín. When he arrives at the center where unclaimed bodies are being kept, Hatzín gets the cremated remains in a metal box (which looks like a pet-sized coffin), as well as his father’s photo ID, which he is told was found with his father’s body. Because Hatzín doesn’t really remember what his father looks like, he assumes that everything on the ID is correct.

Hatzín is about take a bus to go back home when, by sheer coincidence, he sees a man walking on a street who looks exactly like the man on the photo ID of his father. Hatzín approaches the man and asks him if his name is Esteban Espinosa Leyva. The stranger (played by Hernán Mendoza) is friendly and says that his name is Mario Enderle. Mario tells Hatzín that this is a case of mistaken identity.

Hatzín insists that there is no mistake, while Mario says there is. Mario looks amused and then slightly uncomfortable when Hatzín follows Mario into a shop. Hatzín tells Mario there is no mistake, because he remembers interacting with Mario when Hatzín was younger. Mario tells Hatzín to go away. But Hatzín can’t let go of the feeling that something isn’t quite right about what he’s been told about his father being dead.

Hatzín then decides to act like a private detective. He secretly follows Mario to a factory where Mario works, and then he follows Mario to a few other places. After asking some questions to factory employees and doing some more snooping around, Hatzín finds out that Mario spends a lot of his time recruiting people to work in the factory.

Hatzín confronts Mario again. And this time, he’s brought the photo ID as proof. Mario says it must be a fake ID using a stolen photograph. Hatzín explains that if his father is still alive, he wants to find him, but Mario in unmoved by this sob story. Mario is so annoyed by Hatzín, he drives Hatzín to the nearest bus station and tells Hatzín to go home.

But Hatzín won’t go home. The next day, Mario finds Hatzín asleep in Mario’s truck. “Didn’t I tell you to leave?” Mario yells at Hatzín. In response, Hatzín says that he doesn’t want to go home. Mario says to Hatzín: “You crazy fucker.” And so, these two strangers begin a tension-filled rapport that starts to turn into a father-son type of relationship.

It isn’t long before Mario makes Hatzín his apprentice. Hatzín is eager and willing to impress Mario, who says his dream is to have his own factory. Mario says that if he ever gets his own factory, he will hire Hatzín to work there. Hatzín likes this idea, because he has no intention of going back to Mexico City. Hatzín occasionally calls his worried grandmother, but he tells her that he’s found a job, and he’s not coming back home.

Hatzín is a dutiful and loyal protégé to Mario, but Hatzín is curious to find out more about Mario, who does not have an identifiable Mexican accent. Hatzín asks a factory worker if Mario is really from Mexico. The worker says yes, while also mentioning that Mario is from the city of Chihuahua. Hatzín also hears the workers talk about Mario’s generosity. For example, one of the workers says that Mario helped the worker’s mother (who has intestinal problems) go to a hospital.

Mario started off trying to get rid of Hatzín when they first met, but Mario soon comes to rely on Hatzín for many things that go beyond what a kid should be doing. For example, there’s a scene where Mario is shortchanged on his commission, and he orders an obedient Hatzín to go back to the office and get the money that Mario is owed. It’s a salary dispute that Mario should have handled himself, and not put the burden on Hatzín.

Viewers with enough life experience can see the movie’s several indications that Mario isn’t all that he first appears to be. The way that Mario handled the commission dispute, by ordering Hatzín to get the money, is really Mario’s way of testing Hatzín to see how loyal Hatzín will be to Mario. Because “The Box” is told from Hatzín’s perspective (which is a very naïve perspective at first), it takes quite a while before Hatzín starts to see who the real Mario is.

It should come as no surprise that Hatzín finds out that the recruitment of factory workers isn’t as straightforward as it seems to be. One of the things that Hatzín discovers is that many of these workers are deliberately exploited by not getting the payment that is owed to them. There are other shady things about the factory that are eventually revealed in the movie, which has some obvious foreshadowing of these revelations.

“The Box” has several cast members, but the movie’s only real character development is for Hatzín and Mario. “The Box” shows Hatzín’s almost desperate willingness to find his identity in whatever father figure pays enough attention to him. The cremation box is a symbol of not only the past that Hatzín wants to leave behind but also a past that he wants more answers to in his motivations to find out more about his father.

Navarrete makes his feature-film debut as Hatzín, a character he portrays with a lot of naturalism and credibility. Mendoza also gives an impressive performance as Mario, a character with many layers to his personality. Mario easily displays some of those layers to the world, while keeping other layers well-hidden. “The Box” is ultimately a cautionary tale about giving other people or things too much power in defining who you are, when that definition should really come from within yourself.

MUBI released “The Box” in New York City on November 4, 2022. The movie premiered on MUBI on November 11, 2022.

CNN debuts ‘Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico’

February 16, 2023

Eva Longoria (pictured at left) in “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” (Photo courtesy of CNN)

The following is a press release from CNN:

CNN Original Series will premiere Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico on Sunday, March 26, 2023, at 10pm ET/PT on CNN. Produced by RAW, the film and television company behind the two-time Emmy® Award-winning Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, the six-part series follows award-winning actress, producer, director and activist Eva Longoria across the many vibrant regions of Mexico, revealing its unique and colorful cuisines.

“I am so excited for viewers to tune in and see firsthand what I love so much about Mexico – the food, the people, the cultures,” said Eva Longoria, Host and Executive Producer. “This journey allowed me to further appreciate and fall in love with my roots and I feel so honored that CNN entrusted me with this unforgettable, once in a lifetime, experience.”

Executive produced by Stanley Tucci, Searching for Mexico invites audiences to journey with Longoria across the lands of her ancestors as she explores how Mexico’s rich culture, landscape, and history have helped shape its cuisine, loved the world over. This season, Longoria surveys the cutting-edge gastronomic fare of Mexico City; discovers Mayan influences in Yucatan cuisine, including the slow-cooked cochinita pibil; and ventures to the home of Latin America’s chocolate trade, Oaxaca, where she samples the velvety chocolate mole. As Longoria enjoys a festive carne asada in Nuevo Leon, traditional birria stew in Jalisco, and walks in the footsteps of her own ancestor, Lorenzo Longoria, in the exact spot in Veracruz where he arrived 400 years ago, she unlocks the secrets behind Mexico’s most treasured and sometimes surprising dishes. Searching for Mexico will regularly air Sundays at 9pm ET/PT.

“CNN Original Series have transported us around the globe and our viewers are always eager for a journey, especially when it involves food,” said Amy Entelis, Executive Vice President for Talent & Content Development, CNN Worldwide. “We are honored to partner with the multi-talented Eva Longoria on her first hosted non-fiction series, introducing CNN audiences to new dishes and flavors – and a new side of Eva – as she explores the many of wonders of Mexico.”

Executive Producers for Searching for Mexico are Eva Longoria, Ben Spector and Stanley Tucci with RAW’s Shauna Minoprio, Eve Kay and Jess Orr. Amy Entelis, Lyle Gamm and Jon Adler are the Executive Producers for CNN Original Series.

Searching for Mexico will stream live for pay TV subscribers via and CNN OTT and mobile apps under “TV Channels” or CNNgo where available. The series will also be available On Demand the day after the broadcast premiere to pay TV subscribers via, CNN apps, and Cable Operator Platforms. Ahead of the broadcast premiere and beginning March 17, the “Jalisco’ episode of Searching for Mexico will be available On Demand to pay TV subscribers via the CNN app and Cable Operator Platforms.

Images of food feautured on “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” (Photo courtesy of CNN)


About CNN Original Series
The CNN Original Series group develops and produces unscripted programming for television. Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development, oversees CNN Original Series and CNN Films for CNN Worldwide. Lyle Gamm, senior vice president of current programming, supervises production of CNN Original Series. Since 2012, the team has produced over 45 CNN Original Series, including Peabody Award winning and 13-time Emmy® Award-winning Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, five-time Emmy® Award-winning United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, two-time Emmy® Award-winning Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, and critically acclaimed series including This is Life with Lisa Ling, First Ladies, the “Decades” series, American Dynasties: The Kennedys, The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty, The History of Comedy, Race for the White House, and many others. CNN Original Series can be found on CNN, the CNN Originals hub on discovery+, HBO Max, and for pay TV subscription via, CNN apps and cable operator platforms. For more information about CNN Original Series, please follow @CNNOriginals via Twitter, and join Keep Watching, an exclusive, members-only community that enables fans to stay engaged with their favorite CNN Original Series & Films

About RAW

RAW is the global producer of premium documentaries and docuseries including the recent Netflix hits The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, Vatican Girl, The Tinder Swindler, Train Wreck: Woodstock 99, The Most Hated Man on The InternetThe Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, Catching Killers and Don’t F**K With Cats, as well as the award-winning feature films Three Identical Strangers, American Animals and The Imposter.  RAW, an All3Media company, produces Discovery’s highest-rated show Gold Rush; for CNN, RAW has also produced the Emmy winning series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, feature doc The Lost Sons and the doc series Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.  RAW’s most recent U.K. TV credits include BBC docs Parole, Head On: Rugby, Dementia and Me and ITV’s Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport.  

About Warner Bros. Discovery 
Warner Bros. Discovery (NASDAQ: WBD) is a leading global media and entertainment company that creates and distributes the world’s most differentiated and complete portfolio of content and brands across television, film, and streaming. Available in more than  220 countries and territories and 50 languages, Warner Bros. Discovery inspires, informs and entertains audiences worldwide through its iconic brands and products including: Discovery Channel, discovery+, CNN, DC, Eurosport, HBO, HBO Max, HGTV, Food Network, OWN, Investigation Discovery, TLC, Magnolia Network, TNT, TBS, truTV, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Television, WB Games, New Line Cinema, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies, Discovery en Español, Hogar de HGTV, and others. For more information, please visit

Review: ‘Amalgama,’ starring Manolo Cardona, Miguel Rodarte, Tony Dalton and Stephanie Cayo

June 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Miguel Rodarte, Tony Dalton, Manolo Cardona and Stephanie Cayo in “Amalgama” (Photo courtesy of Soul Pictures)


Directed by Carlos Cuarón

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera region, the comedy/drama film “Amalgama” features an all-Latin cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a trip to attend a dental convention, four dentists share a beach house and have conflicts over past and present rivalries and jealousies.

Culture Audience: “Amalgama” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s cast members, but even these fans’ patience will be tested by this movie’s messy and uninteresting story about adult relationships.

Miguel Rodarte, Tony Dalton, Manolo Cardona and Stephanie Cayo in “Amalgama” (Photo courtesy of Soul Pictures)

Utterly pointless and often tiresome, “Amalgama” is a comedy/drama that fails to be funny or intriguing. It’s essentially about four annoying dentists who play mind games and argue with each other while sharing a beach house during a business trip. Too many scenes in “Amalgama” seem to be building up to something interesting, but then ultimately go nowhere or just end up falling flat.

Possibly the best thing about “Amalgama” is the gorgeous beach scenery, since the movie was filmed on location in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera region. The movie’s insufferable characters and their time-wasting self-indulgences ruin the movie because of the film’s lousy screenplay and lackluster direction. Carlos Cuarón directed “Amalgama,” a forgettable flop that he co-wrote with Luis Usabiaga.

In “Amalgama,” an annual convention for dental professionals is taking place on the Mayan Riviera. The movie begins with convention attendees gathered for a speech by Dr. Hugo Vera (played by Miguel Rodarte), who also gives a visual presentation about a groundbreaking procedure to replace rotting teeth. Dr. Vera’s presentation is very well-received by the clapping audience, until he’s interrupted by a younger dentist named Dr. Avelino Magaña (played by Francis Cruz), who angrily stands up in the crowd and accuses Dr. Vera of stealing his treatment idea.

Dr. Vera vehemently denies it, but the presentation comes to an abrupt and awkward end. This accusation becomes the talk of the convention. Unfortunately, this intriguing part of the story gets completely ignored for most of the movie until it’s rushed in again as an afterthought and addressed in a flimsy and not-very-believable way.

After this speech, several of the convention attendees attend a cocktail party at a restaurant/bar. Four of these party attendees end up talking to each other and decide to share a beach house for the remainder of their business trip. At this beach house, these four dentists (and people who watch this movie) go through various levels of discomfort. It doesn’t help that all four of these dentists are unlikable in different ways. The more time that viewers spend with these four egomaniacs, the less likable these characters become.

Here are the four blowhards at the center of the story:

  • Dr. José María Chema Gómez (played by Manolo Cardona) is a talkative neurotic who is either bisexual or who doesn’t put a label on his sexuality. It’s mentioned in the story that he’s had romances with men and women. He’s currently in a relationship with a very jealous and possessive live-in boyfriend named Omar (played by Alejandro Calva), an older man who is paranoid that José is going to cheat on him. Omar and José have been together for 12 years, and their relationship has reached a crossroads because of Omar’s mistrust.
  • Dr. Elena Durán (played by Stephanie Cayo) is a bachelorette having an affair with her married boss Conrado Barona (voiced by Mario Cersósimo), who is also at the convention but is never seen in the movie. Elena and Conrado communicate by phone calls or text messages throughout the movie. Elena doesn’t think that being Conrado’s mistress means that she can’t get involved with anyone else. Elena (who thinks she’s quite the seductress) openly talks about being interested in dating other people.
  • Dr. Saúl Bravo (played by Tony Dalton) is a married father who loves his wife Tamara (played by Ximena Herrera), nicknamed Tammy. But ever since their young son Ricky was born, the couple’s sex life has dwindled. Saúl has a wandering eye and seems to be thinking about cheating on his wife. During the course of the movie, Saúl (who’s the only one of the four dentists who’s married and a parent) gets teased by the others for being the “boring husband and father” in the group. At times, Saúl tries to prove them wrong.
  • Dr. Hugo Vera is a bachelor who can be considered a “mama’s boy.” He lives with his ailing mother, who has Hugo at her beck and call. A home nurse aide helps take care of the mother’s medical needs, but Hugo and his mother are extremely co-dependent on each other for emotional needs. During the course of the movie, Hugo and his mother call each other multiple times. He’s worried about her health, while his mother always wants to know what Hugo is doing. Needless to say, Hugo’s close attachment to his mother has negatively affected his love life. He often gets teased by Saúl because Hugo is a lovelorn bachelor who has a mother with too much control over him.

Hugo and Saúl have resentments and rivalries that go back several years. This tension has to do with Saúl and Hugo competing over the same woman and the same job in the past. Therefore, expect to see several scenes with Hugo and Saúl bickering as their bad feelings toward each other frequently erupt.

José and Elena are acquaintances who know each other from attending this convention and seeing each other at other professional events. On this particular trip, they flirt with each other and show a definite sexual attraction to each other. In fact, at various points in the story, all three men show a sexual attraction to Elena, who uses this lust to manipulate them.

At the cocktail party, all four of these dentists end up talking together in a group when Saúl mentions that he’s staying at a great beach house (with private access to a beach) that’s owned by a friend who’s letting Saúl stay in the house while the friend is away. Saúl tells the other three dentists that there’s plenty of room in the house for all four them and that the house is a much better environment than a boring hotel. The other three eagerly accept Saúl’s invitation and go to the house, which is on a private island, so they have to travel by boat to get there.

Once they get to the house, the ego posturing starts between all four people. Elena knows she’s a very attractive woman, so she delights in getting the men sexually aroused when she’s walking or lounging around in a skimpy bikini, sometimes topless. Hugo and Saúl have several arguments, where they make digs at each other about their personal lives. Meanwhile, José and Elena flirt with each other some more, in a tedious “will they or won’t they hook up” subplot.

During this heavy flirtation, José is troubled by a series of phone calls that he gets from insecure Omar, who becomes enraged when he finds out about José’s change of plans to stay at a beach house with three people whom Omar doesn’t know. Omar irrationally accuses José of being at the house for orgies with these other dentists. This overblown drama with Omar leads to some occurrences that go from bad to worse.

Before the melodrama kicks into overdrive, there’s a badly staged plot contrivance of the four temporary housemates getting stranded on a boat that doesn’t have an emergency radio. They get stuck in the ocean when the boat’s engine suddenly stops working, and there’s no one else or any land in sight. Foolishly, these four dentists didn’t bring enough food with them in case they could get stranded for several hours, but they have enough alcoholic beverages to quench their thirst. And, of course, getting stranded on a boat while drinking alcohol leads to more arguments about how they’re going to get out of this predicament.

And there’s also a dull subplot about Elena’s boss/lover Conrado trying to get in touch with her because she has documents that he needs her to email for his upcoming lecture at the convention. But surprise! This remote beach area doesn’t have WiFi access, and the cell phone service is erratic and unreliable. Conrado’s wife (who’s never seen in the movie) has also unexpectedly shown up at the convention, so that affects how he’s communicating with Elena, who starts to wonder if its worth it to stay in this affair with Conrado.

“Amalgama” could have been a much better movie if there had been more purpose to the story than showing four people arguing a lot, with much of the conflicts coming from sexual tension. The movie predictably has some secrets that are revealed, but those secrets are utterly predictable and underwhelming. None of the acting in this movie is special. “Amalgama” is about four people who went to this getaway island for a retreat, but viewers of “Amalgama” will want to get away from these four unpleasant people as fast as possible.

Soul Pictures released “Amalgama” in select U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022. The movie was released in Mexico in 2021.

Review: ‘¿Y Cómo Es Él?,’ starring Omar Chaparro, Mauricio Ochmann and Zuria Vega

April 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Omar Chaparro and Mauricio Ochmann in “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

“¿Y Cómo Es Él?”

Directed by Ariel Winograd

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various Mexican cities, including Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City, the comedy film “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An angry cuckold decides to get revenge on the taxi driver who is his wife’s lover, and the two men take an unexpected road trip together.

Culture Audience: “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching silly and unimaginative comedies about men who complain about relationships with women.

Mauricio Ochmann and Omar Chaparro in “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

Dreadfully boring and sloppily made, the cinematic dud “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” is as about as fun as getting a flat tire, which is one of many predictable things that happen in this road trip movie pretending to be a wacky comedy. “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” is based on the very flimsy idea that a man intent on getting revenge on his wife’s lover (who’s a taxi driver) will decide to take a road trip with him instead, while the taxi driver gets both of them into all sorts of trouble. That’s essentially the entire plot of this vapid garbage. The wife at the center of the love triangle shows up on screen occasionally, almost as an afterthought.

That’s because “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” is just a pathetic excuse to promote sexist beliefs that men who commit adultery by sleeping with married women are just giving in to their male sex drives, while married women who commit adultery are doing it to punish their husbands. One of the movie’s two main characters—a selfish and misogynistic cretin named Jero (played by Omar Chaparro)—literally uses it as an awful excuse for why he’s promiscuous and doesn’t care if the women he sleeps with are married or not.

Jero says in the movie that husbands cheat on their wives because they can, while women cheat on their husbands for revenge. In other words, this sexist fool thinks that husbands should be more offended if their wives cheat on them than wives should be offended if their husbands cheat on them. Women literally don’t have much to say in this very outdated and male-dominated movie, whose lead actress has less than 15 minutes of dialogue.

Directed by Ariel Winograd and written by Paul Fruchbom, “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” (which takes place in Mexico) is based on the 2007 South Korean movie “Driving With My Wife’s Lover,” which was a dark comedy and a far superior movie. “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” (which translates to “And How Is He?” in English) takes all the edge out of the original movie and turns it into watered-down junk that just re-uses the same tired formula of dozens of other forgettable movies about two opposite people who find themselves on a long trip together. Every possible road trip cliché is used in this film, with results that are irritating and unamusing.

In the beginning of “¿Y Cómo Es Él?,” cuckolded husband Tomás Segura (played by Mauricio Ochmann) is on a plane to Puerto Vallarta. He’s on this trip because he knows that his wife Marcia (played by Zuria Vega) and her lover Jero (short for Jeronimo) are in Puerto Vallarta for an adulterous rendezvous. Tomás also knows what Jero looks like because he stares jealously at a photo of Jero that Tomás has on his phone.

At this point in the story, Tomás thinks that Jero is a rich and successful businessman, based on the photos that Jero has of himself on social media. Meanwhile, Tomás is unemployed. Tomás has lied to Marcia by telling her that he’s taking this trip to go to Monterrey for a job interview.

On the plane, a woman sitting next to Tomás asks him if the photo he’s looking at is Tomás’ boyfriend. He says no. The woman doesn’t believe him and says that she’s open-minded about gay people. Just to get her to stop pestering him, Tomás blurts out that the photo is of the man who’s having sex with his wife. This scene is supposed to be funny, but it just comes across as awkwardly performed.

Upon arriving in Puerto Vallarta, Tomás secretly stalks Marcia and Jero at the resort where the two lovers have been staying. Tomás sees for himself that they are indeed acting like lovers in public. Tomás then furthers his mission to get revenge. Marcia works at a data company, so when the rendezvous is over, she goes back to where she and Tomás live, while Tomás stays behind in Puerto Vallarta and follows Jero.

That’s when Tomás finds out that Jero isn’t rich but works as a taxi driver. Throughout this mindless movie, Tomás keeps in touch by phone with a friend named Lucas (played by Mauricio Barrientos) to give updates to Lucas on what’s happening and to get advice. Lucas encourages Tomás to rough up Jero, and Lucas wants to hear all the details if it happens.

Tomás has fantasies of harming Jero in various ways. He follows Jero to a dumpy outdoor fast-food restaurant. Tomás has a taser that he looks like he’s going to use on Jero when he sneaks up behind Jero. There are plenty of other people nearby who could witness the assault that Tomás plans to inflict on Jero. But at the last moment, Tomás changes his mind and runs away.

Instead of tasing Jero, Tomás decides to do some damage to Jero’s taxi that’s parked outside the restaurant. Tomás takes a knife and cuts a deep, long scratch on the driver’s side of the car. And then, Tomás repeatedly stabs the left front tire while he’s standing up, but he’s such klutz that he accidentally stabs himself in the leg.

Tomás passes out from the pain, and then he wakes up to find himself in the back seat of Jero’s taxi while Jero is driving. Jero mistakenly thinks that Tomás was attacked by the person who damaged Jero’s taxi and that Tomás scared off this vandal. Tomás goes along with this wrong assumption. Tomás asks Jero if he can drive him to Mexico City, and Jero says yes.

Tomás still wants to get revenge on Jero, but the movie’s excuse for why Tomás has decided to go on this long road trip with Jero is because Tomás wants to get to know Jero, in order to find out what Marcia sees in Jero. And what do you know: In one of the movie’s very phony-looking scenes, while Jero and Tomás have their first conversation together, Marcia ends up talking to both of them on the phone at the same time without knowing it.

Not surprisingly, Tomás spends a lot of time in the movie desperately trying to hide his true identity from Jero. However, Jero notices how distressed Tomás looks on this trip, so Jero gets Tomás to admit that Tomás is upset because he found out that his wife is cheating on him. Jero, who thinks of himself as a desirable playboy, then brags to Tomás that he can seduce and have sex with practically any willing woman, and Jero doesn’t care if they’re married or not.

Not once does dimwitted Jero think that maybe a jealous husband might come after him for revenge. And one of those jealous husbands could be the same person who just admitted to Jero that he’s angry about his wife cheating on him. Instead, clueless Jero advises Tomás to beat up the lover of Tomás’ wife. This is what’s supposed to pass as comedy in this witless drivel of a movie.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers of “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” try to make the audience feel sympathy for lecherous Jero when he eventually tells Tomás that he’s divorced. Jero blames the collapse of the marriage on his ex-wife. According to Jero, when they were married, she cheated on him with Jero’s then-business partner, who owned a mattress company with Jero. It’s a lousy excuse for why Jero has no guilt or qualms about committing adultery by having sexual flings with married women. Jero is the last person who should be giving marriage advice, but there he is stinking up much of the movie by giving unsolicited and irresponsible marital counseling to Tomás.

This is one of the odious comments about marriage that Jero says to Tomás: “Women forgive adultery. Men don’t.” Jero also says that by the time a married woman commits adultery, her marriage is already dead. But according to Jero, a married man who commits adultery just sees it as a physical act that’s meaningless and separate from love. With this women-hating mindset, it’s no wonder that Jero can’t find true love with a woman.

Tomás isn’t much better than Jero when it comes to being a backwards-thinking dolt. During the course of the movie, Tomás wants to prove how macho he is by trying to inflict serious physical harm on people. In one scene, Tomás tries to poison Jero with antifreeze. In another scene, Tomás punches a doctor in the face when he’s taken to a hospital to treat his self-inflicted stab wound. These slapstick scenes aren’t funny, and they look utterly stupid.

When Tomás and Jero go to a brothel, because Jero says Tomás deserves to cheat on Tomás’ wife, Tomás is reluctant to commit adultery. But Tomás weirdly wants to impress Jero, so when he’s in the bedroom with the hired sex worker (played by Consuelo Duval), Tomás asks her to assault him into unconsciousness and do whatever she wants with him, so it will look like they’ve had sex. Tomás also gives her the option to do nothing, so they can just talk.

In an idiotic movie like “¿Y Cómo Es Él?,” you already know which option she’s going to take, because this movie is filled with ill-conceived scenarios where Tomás and Jero get banged-up, bloodied and bruised. (The prostitute ends up hitting Tomás on the head with one of her high-heeled shoes.) And why should Tomás care so much about what Jero thinks Tomás might be doing in a room with a sex worker? So much of “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” expects viewers to be as dumb as the movie’s characters.

Jero is a big talker who tells Tomás that he’s invested in several business, including a fleet of taxis. Tomás is too simple-minded to ask Jero why Jero is doing regular taxi driver duties if Jero is such a successful business owner. What Tomás finds out the hard way is that Jero owes money to a ruthless investor named Francisco “Frank” Estevez (also known as El Cuate), who has sent some of his goons to track down Jero and get the money back by any means necessary. You know what happens next: generic chase scenes and shootouts. All of the action scenes in “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” are terribly edited.

And where is Marcia during all these shenanigans? She’s seen mostly on the phone with Tomás, who keeps lying to her about where he is and what he’s doing. It all just leads to a very formulaic and unoriginal conclusion that’s easy to predict within the first 10 minutes of the movie or by watching the movie’s trailer. The acting in the film isn’t as bad as the screenplay and direction, but there’s no cast member in this movie who gives an admirable performance. Watching “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” is like eating junk food that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Pantelion Films released “¿Y Cómo Es Él?” in select U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022. The movie was released in Mexico on April 7, 2022, and in Australia in 2020.

Review: ‘Sundown’ (2022), starring Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Iazua Larios

February 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Albertine Kotting McMillan and Tim Roth in “Sundown” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Sundown” (2022)

Directed by Michel Franco

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico (in Acapulco and Mexico City), the dramatic film “Sundown” features a cast of white and Latino characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After a British heir to a business fortune goes on a family vacation in Mexico with his sister and her two adult children, he makes some choices that upset his family and have serious repercussions when tragedy strikes. 

Culture Audience: “Sundown” will appeal primarily to people interested in a story that is intriguing and well-acted, but viewers have to be tolerant of the often-meandering way that the story is told.

Tim Roth and Iazua Larios in “Sundown” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Sundown” is one of those movies where the protagonist’s intentions aren’t very clear until the last third of the film, but the movie’s ending is still open to interpretation. It’s a drama with uneven pacing, but the movie’s shocking moments and solid performances make up for the dull moments. “Sundown” is best appreciated by people who have patience and curiosity to find out how the movie is going to end.

Written and directed by Michel Franco, “Sundown” is his follow-up to 2021’s “New Order,” which also focused on a wealthy family in Mexico. That’s where the similarity ends between the two movies. “New Order” was a gruesomely violent film about a home invasion and street riots that affected a family living in Mexico City. “Sundown” has a much more leisurely pace, and it centers on a vacationing British family in Acapulco.

The family consists of Neil Bennett (played by Tim Roth), his sister Alice Bennett (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Alice’s children Colin Bennett (played by Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa Bennett (played by Albertine Kotting McMillan), who are all together at a luxury beachside resort. Colin is about 19 or 20 years old, while Alexa is about 18 or 19 years old. The father of Colin and Alexa is not seen or mentioned.

Based on conversations in the movie, the movie, Alice has been raising her kids as a single parent for quite some time, and the father is no longer in their lives. Neil is a bachelor with no children. He later tells a few people that he loves his niece and nephew as if they were his own children.

It’s revealed later in the movie that the Bennetts’ fortune comes from the family-owned meat-processing business. Alice is the hard-driving leader of the business. Technically, Neil co-leads company with Alice, but she’s the one who’s really making the decisions, and he goes along with whatever she decides. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in being in charge of the business. The siblings’ company titles aren’t mentioned in the movie. Neil and Alice inherited the company from their father, who is now deceased.

“Sundown” starts off with the Bennetts having a relaxing family vacation. They lounge by the resort swimming pool or at the nearby beach. They have meals together, including a dinner at restaurant/bar, where a young female singer (played by Ely Guerra), who’s performing, openly flirts with Colin. After her performance, she sits down at a nearby table and raises a glass to Colin, who reacts with some combination of amusement and embarrassment when his family members tease him about this flirtatious attention.

It isn’t long before things take a serious turn. Alice gets a phone call from the family attorney named Richard (played by Henry Goodman) that Alice’s mother is seriously ill and has been taken to a hospital. This family vacation then gets cut short, as Alice, Neil, Colin and Alexa rush to the airport to catch the next plane back to England. Neil is concerned, but as time goes on, it becomes obvious that he’s emotionally disconnected from this family drama.

It’s not said outright, but it’s implied that Neil and Alice have different mothers, because there are constant references to the mother in the hospital as being Alice’s mother. Neil’s mother appears to be deceased. When the four Bennetts get to the airport, Neil says he left his passport behind at the resort and he has to go back for it. He tells Alice, Colin and Alexa to go on without him and that he’ll catch up to them later.

Soon enough, it’s revealed that Neil lied about his passport. He had it with him the entire time. He checks into a somewhat run-down motel and hangs out by himself and with some of the working-class locals whom he meets on the beach. And when Alice calls and texts him updates, he keeps lying by telling her that the passport has gone missing and he’s still looking for it. She suggests that he go to the nearest consulate to get an emergency passport, but he keeps stalling about that too.

Why is Neil lying? Why does he want to stay in Mexico? Why does he appear to be hiding from his family? And does Alice eventually find out where he is? Most of those questions are answered in the movie, which has a long stretch showing what Neil does when he’s away from his family. He meets a woman about 20 to 25 years younger than he is named Berenice (played by Iazua Larios), who works at a gift shop, and they quickly become lovers. Much of “Sundown” has a meandering quality to it that shows how the relationship between Neil and Berenice develops.

But an underlying sense of menace becomes apparent in a scene where Neil and Berenice are relaxing at a crowded public beach, when a speedboat with two men suddenly drives up from the ocean, and one of the men gets out and cold-bloodedly shoots a middle-aged man on the beach and kills him. The two men then flee on the speedboat before they can be caught. It’s an obvious planned execution. As many people on the beach either run away or react with horror, Neil and Berenice calmly look at the bloody, dead body and say nothing.

It’s an indication of how desensitized or numb they are to seeing this type of shocking death. Franco’s movies often make reference to the criminal violence in Mexico that disrupts what seem to be tranquil environments of the wealthy and elite who think they’re above any of this violence. Berenice might be accustomed to seeing or hearing about tourist areas in Mexico getting these violent attacks, but why does Neil seem so emotionally detached from witnessing this death? The answer becomes clearer toward the end of the movie.

Roth gives an intriguing performance as the mysterious Neil, whose character is the lynchpin that holds this entire story together. Neil’s reactions and what happens to him are what make “Sundown” the most interesting. The other cast members’ performances get the job done just fine. Neil’s journey in “Sundown” might be perplexing, but it’s never predictable.

Bleecker Street released “Sundown” in select U.S. cinemas on January 28, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on February 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Son of Monarchs,’ starring Tenoch Huerta

November 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tenoch Huerta in “Son of Monarchs” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/WarnerMedia 150)

“Son of Monarchs”

Directed by Alexis Gambis

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2019 in the Mexican city of Angangueo and in New York City (with some flashbacks to Angangueo in the late 1980s), the dramatic film “Son of Monarchs” features predominantly Latino cast of characters (with some white people and a few Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Mexican biologist, who is living in New York City and has a fascination with monarch butterflies, goes back to his hometown for his grandmother’s funeral and confronts trauma and secrets from his past.

Culture Audience: “Son of Monarchs” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in contemplative character studies about immigrants who come to America and are conflicted about how much of their lives in their native country they should leave behind.

Kaarlo Isaacs in “Son of Monarchs” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/WarnerMedia 150)

The well-acted drama “Son of Monarchs” (written and directed by Alexis Gambis) draws interesting parallels between butterfly transformations and what can happen when immigrants start a new life in another country. The movie is also about family, dealing with trauma, and coming to terms with having the experience of living in more than one country in a lifetime. Should you give preference and allegiance to one nation of over another in order to maintain a certain identity? Or is it possible to give equal importance to each national identity?

These are issues and dilemmas facing a biologist named Mendel (played by Tenoch Huerta, also known as Tenoch Huerta Mejía), a Mexican immigrant in his late 30s who has been living in New York City for an untold number of years. Mendel is originally from a working-class municipality in Mexico called Angangueo, which has had a long history of mining as its top industry. The movie, which takes place in 2019, and flashes back about 30 years earlier, never shows Mendel’s immigrant journey or explains why he decided to leave his entire family behind to live in the United States.

What is known—because it’s constantly shown and it’s the basis of this movie’s title—is that Mendel has been obsessed with monarch butterflies, ever since he was a child. The movie’s opening scene shows Mendel at about 5 or 6 years old (played by Kaarlo Isaacs) and his brother Simón (played by Ángel Adrián Flores) at about 7 or 8 years old, while they are playing in the woods in Angangueo. The two brothers look at a cluster of butterflies hanging from a plant formation on a tree. Mendel says the cluster looks like a bear, while Simón says the cluster looks like body of a dead person.

It’s the first indication of how different these two brothers are: Mendel is more of an optimist, while Simón is more of a pessimist. Later at night, when the two bothers are in their shared bedroom, Mendel asks Simón many questions about what happens when people die. Simón says that people’s spirits go up to heaven in a ladder that can be found in the clouds.

Simón just wants to go to sleep, so with each question that Mendel asks, Simón gets a little more impatient and annoyed. The last question that Mendel asks is if their parents are in heaven. Simón answers yes with a sad expression on his face. It’s how viewers find out that these two brothers are orphans. They are living with their Uncle Gabino and have a beloved grandmother (Gabino’s mother) named Rosa Maria Martinez De Guerrero.

Not much information is given about Mendel and Simón’s parents, such as how long ago they died or their cause of death. There are no flashbacks of the parents either. However, there was a huge mining accident in Angangueo that killed several people when the brothers were around the ages that are shown in the movie’s flashbacks. This accident is why Mendel has some repressed memories about his childhood and why he keeps having a nightmare that he’s drowning.

The movie fast-forwards to 2019. Mendel is now a bachelor with a low-key personality and routine lifestyle. He lives alone in New York City, he’s never been married, and he has no children. Mendel is well-respected in his job, where his supervisor Bob (played by William Mapother) seems to admire Mendel’s analytical nature and his professionalism. Mendel is still fascinated with insects, especially monarch butterflies. According to the Mexican folklore he learned as a child, these butterflies represent visiting ancestors and are considered miraculous.

Life seems to be going fairly smoothly for Mendel. But then, he gets a phone call from his Uncle Gabino (played by Ignacio Guadalupe) telling him that Mendel’s grandmother Rosa (played by Angelina Peláez) has passed away. Mendel goes back to Angangueo for the funeral, where he sees people whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years. And one of them is his estranged brother Simón (played by Noé Hernández), who is now a parent of teenagers.

Why are Simón and Mendel estranged? It comes out later in an argument that Simón thinks that Mendel moved to the United States to become a hotshot scientist, with little regard for loved ones left behind in Mexico. While Mendel was living in the United States, Simón went through some hardships (including being unemployed for two years), and he felt that Mendel should have been more caring and supportive during these tough times. At the funeral wake held in the family home, Simón practically snarls at Mendel that this is Simón’s house, as if Mendel is trying to be some type of interloper.

Mendel is a non-confrontational type of person, so it might be easy for viewers to speculate about any number of reasons why he avoided keeping in touch with Simón. However, the movie doesn’t give straightforward answers, except to indicate that Simón and Mendel have very different memories about what happened on the night of the mining accident. It’s an unspoken trauma that has caused some emotional damage to the two brothers. More is revealed when Mendel and Simón finally talk about that night for the first time since their estrangement.

Other people whom Mendel sees during this hometown visit include two of his friends from childhood. Vicente (played by Gabino Rodríguez) and Brisa (played by Paulina Gaitan), who (unlike Simón) are very happy to see Mendel. (In flashbacks to their childhood, Pablo Salmerón plays Vicente, and Natalia Téllez plays Brisa. ) In conversations with Vicente, viewers find out that Mendel had a mischievous side to him as a child. Mendel and Vicente have a laugh over remembering how they played some pranks, including lighting something on fire where fortunately no one got hurt.

And in talking to Vicente, viewers also find out how Mendel feels about Donald Trump. Vicente asks Mendel, “What’s the deal with your [U.S.] president?” Mendel replies, “He’s not my president. Do I look orange to you?” Vicente laughs but then says in all seriousness, “Is it okay over there?” Mendel says, “I don’t know.”

There are hints that Mendel is lonely but he doesn’t really want to admit it to anyone. When he talks to Brisa, it becomes clear that they had some kind of romance as a teenagers, but it never really led to anything serious. Brisa is now happily married with kids. When she asks Mendel why he hasn’t gotten married, he dismissively makes a vague comment that marriage has never been a hugely important to him.

But that doesn’t mean that Mendel doesn’t have a love life. He has a love interest named Sarah (played by Alexia Rasmussen), a social worker who interacts with undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been separated at the border from family members. Sarah is learning trapeze skills, so there are scenes of her get trapeze lessons. There’s also a part of the movie showing how obsessed Mendel is with butterflies. It has to do with a large tattoo that he gets, what he uses later for tattoo ink, and how it all ties into Mendel being a proponent of CRISPR technology that can edit genes.

“Son of Monarchs” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, which is given to an outstanding feature film about science or technology. It’s not a fast-paced movie or a story with a lot of melodrama. “Son of Monarchs” takes on the personality of protagonist Mendel, by being sincere but often not revealing deep emotions right away.

It seems as if writer/director Gambis wanted to give viewers a sense that Mendel is someone who would prefer to be analytical rather than emotional in making life decisions. It’s why Mendel finds more comfort in studying insects in labs instead of having meaningful personal connections with people. However, Mendel cannot hide from his emotions, especially when his hometown visit brings back a flood of memories and feelings that he thought he had long since buried.

Huerta gives a compelling performance as someone who is caught between two cultures and having mixed emotions about which one he should identify with more. He clings to his fascination with butterflies because they represent the one constant he can count on in his life. “Son of Monarchs” has plenty of beautiful imagery of butterflies, which serve as this story’s metaphor for personal transformations and resilience. After seeing this movie, viewers might come away with a new appreciation for monarch butterflies and what they can teach people about thriving in a world that is sometimes hostile and dangerous.

WarnerMedia 150 released “Son of Monarchs” in select U.S. cimemas on October 15, 2021. The movie’s HBO Max premiere is on November 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Cry Macho,’ starring Clint Eastwood

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett in “Cry Macho” (Photo by Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Cry Macho”

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1979 in Mexico and briefly in Texas, the dramatic film “Cry Macho” has a cast of white and Latino characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: At the request of his former boss, a has-been horse breeder travels from Texas to Mexico to retrieve the boss’ 13-year-old son to live with the boss in Texas, even though the son doesn’t know his father.

Culture Audience: “Cry Macho” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in dull and old-fashioned Western dramas with some hokey dialogue and corny scenarios.

Clint Eastwood and Dwight Yoakam in “Cry Macho” (Photo by Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Western drama “Cry Macho” is set in 1979, but that doesn’t excuse why this monotonous and outdated movie seems like it was written for a moldy TV Western from 1979. It’s got corny scenarios galore and a story filled with banal clichés. Clint Eastwood is the director and star of “Cry Macho,” where he seems to be going through the motions, giving the impression that he’s gotten tired of trying to do something uniquely creative with his talent. This lethargic type of filmmaking might put people to sleep if they try to watch “Cry Macho.”

The “Cry Macho” screenplay is written by N. Richard Nash and Nick Schenk, who both adapted the screenplay from Nash’s novel of the same name. In the production notes for “Cry Macho,” the filmmakers seem to be very proud that “Cry Macho” is Eastwood’s first movie since his 1991 Oscar-winning Western drama “Unforgiven” where he’s seen riding a horse. But just because Eastwood is riding a horse in a movie doesn’t automatically make it a good movie.

In “Cry Macho,” Eastwood depicts Mike Milo, yet another in Eastwood’s long list of grouchy loner characters that he’s been doing in his most recent films. Mike is a widower who used to be a rodeo star until a rodeo injury decades ago left him with a broken back that led to addictions to painkiller pills and alcohol. Mike has been spending the past several years working as a horse breeder/trainer on a ranch in an unnamed city in Texas. However, he’s way past his prime, and his addictions have negatively affected his ability to do his work well. He’s also past the age when most people have retired.

The movie opens with Mike getting fired from his job. His now-former boss Howard Polk (played by Dwight Yoakam) tells Mike that there used to be a time when Howard was afraid of losing Mike to another employer. Howard bluntly tells Mike when firing him: “I’m not afraid of losing you to anybody now. You’re a loss to no one. It’s time for new blood.”

Mike has some choice words for his ex-boss as Mike leaves the ranch: “I’ve always thought of you as a small, weak and gutless man. But you know what? There’s no reason to be rude.” This is the kind of dialogue that litters “Cry Macho.” It’s like something out of the TV soap opera “Dallas,” which was a popular show around the time that this story takes place. Unfortunately, there’s no one in “Cry Macho” who’s as compelling to watch as “Dallas” villain J.R. Ewing. Even the most secondary characters in “Dallas” had more charisma than anyone in “Cry Macho.”

A few days after Mike gets fired, Howard shows up unannounced in Mike’s home. Howard tells Mike that he wants Mike to do a big favor for him. Howard explains that he has a 13-year-old son named Rafael, nicknamed Rafo, whom he doesn’t know and who lives in Mexico. Rafo’s mother Leta, who is Howard’s ex-wife, has custody of Rafo, but Howard describes Rafo’s living situation as “abusive.” Howard and Leta split up when Rafo was too young to remember Howard, who has not been involved in raising Rafo.

Howard says that Leta is a “nutcase” and a “mess” who used to be fun to party with, and he wants Mike to go to Mexico to take Rafo to come live with Howard in Texas. Howard calls it a “rescue,” but it’s really a kidnapping. Howard says that he can’t do it himself because he has “legal issues” that prevent him from going back to Mexico.

As a way to convince Mike to take on this heavy task, Howard tries to appeal to Mike’s ego. Howard tells Mike that when Mike sees Rafo, “He’ll listen to you. You’re a real cowboy … Tell him he’ll have his own horse. It’s every boy’s dream.”

Mike immediately says no to this request to take Rafo to Texas, but Howard puts Mike on a guilt trip, by reminding him that he could’ve fired Mike years ago when people advised Howard to get rid of Mike. Howard says that he kept Mike employed and therefore helped him out financially for a lot longer than most bosses would. Howard essentially tells Mike that Mike owes it to Howard to do this favor, so Mike reluctantly agrees. Howard gives two things to Mike to help in this mission: Leta’s address and a photo of a 6-year-old Rafo, which is the most recent photo that Howard has of his son.

And the next thing you know, Mike has driven his truck to Mexico and shows up at Leta’s mansion, where she’s having a big party. Based on Howard’s description of his legal problems, his party-fueled past relationship with Leta (played by Fernanda Urrejola), and the dysfunctional living situation that Rafo is in, it should come as no surprise when Mike quickly figures out that Leta is involved in drug trafficking. She also has bodyguard goons to do what she tells them to do.

Mike finds Leta at the party and is up front in telling her that he’s there to take Rafo back to Texas to live with Howard. She says she’s not surprised because it’s not the first time that Howard has tried to get Rafo to live with Howard. Leta has this to say to Mike about Rafo: “My son is wild—an animal who lives in the gutter—gambling, fighting, cock fighting. Take him if you can find him. He’s a monster … He’s like his father. He runs away. He hates his father. He hates me.”

After that cheery little family pep talk, it doesn’t take long for Mike to find Rafo. The teenager is at a cock fight, where Rafo is handling his cock-fighting rooster named Macho. Before things get vicious in the cock fight, Mike pulls Rafo aside and tells Rafo why he’s there. Rafo is immediately suspicious, but Mike is able to prove that he knows Howard. Mike also assures Rafo that Howard is ready and willing to be an attentive father to Rafo.

Rafo is also intrigued by Mike’s promise that Rafo will get to live on a big Texas ranch with his own horse. Rafo’s biggest fear, which frequently comes up in the movie, is that his father Howard will change his mind about wanting Rafo to live with him. Rafo obviously doesn’t like living with his mother Leta, so it doesn’t take long for Rafo to go with Mike to see if he can have a better life with his father Howard. And so, Rafo and his rooster Macho go on a road trip with Mike back to Texas. (“Cry Macho” was actually filmed in New Mexico.)

Rafo actually isn’t the “monster” that his mother described him as. He’s a troubled kid with abandonment issues, and he has a hard time trusting people. However, once someone gains Rafo’s trust, he opens up and shows a friendly side to himself. Part of the movie is predictably about Mike being a temporary father figure to Rafo during this road trip. The movie’s obvious theme is what it means to have a masculine identity.

But since this is a movie, things can’t be as simple as a “teaching this boy to be a man” type of story. After Leta and Mike met for the first time at the party and he left, Leta told one of her henchman named Aurelio (played by Horacio Garcia Rojas) to follow Mike. And you know what that means: Leta doesn’t want to let Rafo go as easily as she says she does.

Because it’s already been established that Howard is a shady character, it’s also not surprising that he has an ulterior motive for wanting Rafo to live with him. That secret (which Howard eventually reveals to Mike) becomes another source of conflict. And the biggest cliché in a road trip movie happens in “Cry Macho”: The car breaks down in a small town, so they’re stuck in an unfamiliar place while waiting to get the car repaired. It’s all just a way to stretch and pad out the already thin plot.

One good thing that “Cry Macho” has going for it is that the story is uncomplicated and easy to understand. The problem is that the movie is almost like a children’s elementary reading book in how it doesn’t go beyond the most basic of plots. The characters are predictable and quite two-dimensional.

A road trip like this one should be filled with more insight and self-discovery. But in this movie, there’s a tedious stretch of the movie where Mike teaches Rafo how to ride horses. Among the movie’s many other Western movie clichés, there’s a bumbling police deputy named Diaz (played by Jorge-Luis Pallo), who likes to pretend that he’s the sheriff of the town.

The word gets out that Mike is good with animals. And suddenly, the townspeople go to him with their sick animals, as if Mike is the friendly neighborhood veterinarian. Mike even quips that they must think he’s Dr. Dolittle. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

And what do you know, here comes another Western movie cliché: What’s a lonely cowboy to do when he’s stuck in a small town? He meets a woman who runs the local eating/drinking establishment, which in “Cry Macho’s” case is not a saloon but a diner. Mike’s love interest is a widowed grandmother named Marta (played by Natalia Traven), who is very hospitable and generous to Mike and Rafo, but she is ultimately a generic character.

“Cry Macho” isn’t an atrocious movie, but it’s very disappointing in how little it does with what could have been an intriguing story and instead churns out a hack movie that has very little imagination. Eastwood does absolutely nothing new or interesting with the Mike Milo character. He can do this type of character in his sleep. And it shows, because at times it looks like you’re watching someone who’s sleepwalking through a performance.

And although it’s great that Eastwood cast a relative newcomer in the role of Rafo (“Cry Macho” is Minett’s second feature film), this casting decision could’ve been better because Minett unfortunately does not have the acting skills that his more experienced co-stars have. There are moments when he’s too stiff, and other moments when he’s too melodramatic. “Cry Macho” is like an old show horse that plods along when it’s put out to pasture because it’s lost its vibrancy and just doesn’t seem to care anymore.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Cry Macho” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on September 17, 2021.

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