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)

“Amalgama”

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.

Review: ‘Un Rescate de Huevitos,’ starring the voices of Bruno Bichir, Maite Perroni, Oliver Flores, Dione Riva Palacio Santacruz, Carlos Espejel, Angélica Vale and Mayra Rojas

September 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Toto (voiced by Bruno Bichir), Willy (played by Carlos Espejel), Toporocho (voiced by Claudio Herrera), Bacon, Di (voiced by Maite Perroni), Bibi (voiced by Angélica Vale) and Confi (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste) in “Un Rescate de Huevitos” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

“Un Rescate de Huevitos”

Directed by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste and Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and Congo, the animated film “Un Rescate de Huevitos” features a group of talking animals, as well as human Russians and Mexicans.

Culture Clash: A greedy villainess, who collects valuable eggs for a Russian baron, steals two young “golden eggs,” whose rooster father and hen mother go on the hunt to rescue their children.

Culture Audience: “Un Rescate de Huevitos” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-friendly animated adventure stories.

Duquesa (voiced by Mayra Rojas) in “Un Rescate de Huevitos” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

“Un Rescate de Huevitos” (which means “An Egg Rescue” in English) is a lightweight, fun-filled ride for people who enjoy animation with a predictable story arc that’s entertaining, thanks to the variety of characters and amusing situations. The movie might seem to be a little overstuffed with characters for very young viewers or for people with short attention spans. However, the adventurous plot of the movie is very easy to follow, which makes “Un Rescate de Huevitos” a crowd-pleasing film for many generations.

Directed by brothers Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste and Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste, “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is the fourth in Huevocartoon Producciones’ “Huevos” animated series of films that follows the life of a rooster chicken named Toto, beginning from when he was an egg in the first movie to now being a husband and father in this fourth film. The Alatriste brothers (who co-founded Huevocartoon Producciones) co-wrote the “Un Rescate de Huevitos” screenplay.

In “Un Rescate de Huevitos,” Toto (voiced by Bruno Bichir) and his wife Di (voiced by Maite Perroni) are living happily on Granjas el Pollon (El Pollon Farms) somewhere in Mexico. These two lovebirds have welcomed two golden eggs into their family: a boy named Max (voiced by Oliver Flores) and a girl named Uly (voiced by Dione Riva Palacio Santacruz).

These new parents (especially Toto) are very protective of their eggs and get some babysitting help from their egg friend Bibi (voiced by Angélica Vale), who is dating Toto’s egg best friend Willy (played by Carlos Espejel), a former military sergeant. Even though the eggs haven’t become chickens yet, they have minds of their own and want to be independent. Max is very resentful of his father Toto being overprotective, and they have disagreements about it.

The farm’s human owner La Abuelita (voiced by María Alicia Delgado) is so entranced with the eggs’ golden appearance that she enters the eggs into a contest for ranchers and farmers can show off their young animals. The eggs win the grand prize. La Abuelita is proud and delighted, but her joy won’t last long because the eggs are about to be stolen.

At this contest is a Russian egg collector named Duquesa (voiced by Mayra Rojas), a ruthless villain who wants eggs as treasures and as delicacies. She’s looking for chicken eggs to complete her collection. Duquesa (which means “duchess” in English; her real name is Guadalupe) works for Barón Roncovich (voiced by Humberto Vélez), who hosts a gala event in Africa for society’s elite from all over the world. At this event, rare eggs are served as delicacies.

Duquesa immediately wants the golden eggs for Barón Roncovich’s upcoming gala, so she offers to buy Max and Uly for $200, but La Abuelita declines the offer. But that doesn’t stop Duquesa, who orders two hired thugs who are bothers—Panzovich (voiced by Héctor Lee) and Gordimitri (voiced by Juan Frese)—to follow La Abuelita and her family back to the farm. The thug brothers send animal moles with mind-control helmets to the farm to steal Max and Uly.

Uly and Max’s loved ones are frantic when they find that out the two eggs are missing. They form a rescue group consisting of Toto, Di, Willy, Bibi, a goofy Cascarón egg named Confi (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste) and a mute bacon strip called Bacon. The thugs betray the moles by leaving the helmets on, and the moles can’t take them off without help.

Willy and Bibi find track down one of the moles, whose name is Toporocho (voiced by Claudio Herrera), and they free him from the helmet. In gratitude, Toporocho tells the rescue group that the eggs are on a plane headed to the African country of Congo. The rescuers hitch a ride on the plane, but a series of events get them thrown off the plane and into the jungles of Congo, where they have no idea where they are.

Meanwhile, Max and Uly have been placed in a collector’s jar. They are being held captive with other eggs who are in the same predicament: Torti, a slow-speaking turtle egg with powerful jaws. snake egg Serp (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); crocodile egg Coco (voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste); lizard egg Lagatijo (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); ostrich egg Manotas (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); iguana egg Iguano (also voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste); ostrich egg Huevo de Halcón (voiced by Armando González); eagle egg El Huevo de Águila Real (voiced by Mauricio Barrientos); famine quail egg Huevo de Codorniz (voiced by Ximena de Anda); and peacock egg Pavi (voiced by Mónica Santacruz).

Other characters that make appearances in the movie include chicken-eating opossums (and partners in crime) Tlacua (voiced by Fernando Meza) and Cuache (voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste). There are also two monkeys named El Chango Bananero (voiced by Freddy Ortega) and El Chango Petacón (voiced by German Ortega that are talent scouts for a “Congo’s Got Talent” show, with a lion named Rey León (voiced by Jesús Ochoa), also known as Leonidas I.

One of the best things about “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is that it keeps the adventurous spirit consistent throughout the entire movie, whose pace doesn’t lag. The captured eggs are transported a refrigerator, where they face near-freezing temperatures due to a mishap and almost face death. There’s also some sly commentary about humans, such when the “king of the jungle” lion says, “No one can beat humans. They are the worst predators.”

As the chief villain, Duquesa is a over-the-top character, as expected. In terms of visual style, she seems to be greatly inspired by the Disney character Cruella. And her snarls and cackles are hit all the right beats, but she’s more campy than scary.

The animation for “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is very above-average, but not outstanding. The best visual scenes are in the jungle during the “Congo’s Got Talent” contest. What keeps this movie engaging is the way that the jokes flow well and stay true to the characters.

There are no heavy-handed and preachy messages in “Un Rescate de Huevitos.” It’s simply a breezy escapist movie about family and the appreciation of loved ones. Sometimes that’s all you need if you’re looking for a movie that children and adults can enjoy.

Pantelion Films released “Un Rescate de Huevitos” in select U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021. The movie was released in Mexico on August 12, 2021.

Review: ‘499,’ starring Eduardo San Juan Breña

September 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eduardo San Juan Breña in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC/Cinema Guild)

“499”

Directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Spanish and Nahuatl with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, the docudrama “499” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A ghostly Spanish conquistador from the 1500s experiences culture shock when he finds himself in Mexico in the early 2020s. 

Culture Audience: “499” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that blend scripted content and non-fiction content to offer a social commentary on the effects of colonialism.

Eduardo San Juan Breña (third from right) with Honduran migrants in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC/Cinema Guild)

The docudrama “499” offers a bold satirical look at what would happen if a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s suddenly had to live in modern-day Mexico. The movie cleverly shows actor Eduardo San Juan Breña (also known as Eduardo San Juan) in the role of a ghostly, time-traveling conquistador who interacts with non-actors in Mexico. Various people, including this mysterious conquistador, provide voiceover narration. Needless to say, he can’t quite get over the shock that Spain is still not in control of Mexico.

This film won’t be appealing to everyone. And it could’ve easily veered into the type of “the joke’s on you” tone that’s seen in Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” movies. However, “499” puts a unique spin on a story of colonialism and how colonialism’s effects still linger today.

The movie opens with a brief caption giving a history lesson for viewers who are unfamiliar with Spain’s takeover of the Aztec Empire in the land that is now known as Mexico. The caption reads: “In 1521, [Spanish conquistador Hernán] Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire. With a few hundred soldiers and thousands of native allies, he marched from the coast of Veracruz to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.”

In “499,” it’s almost 500 years later after 1521. And the time-traveling, unnamed conquistador who becomes shipwrecked in Mexico is supposed to be some kind of ghost, but he can be seen by people. This conquistador was a soldier in Cortés’ army, and he has no idea how he ended up in modern-day Mexico. Get used to seeing several scenes where he reacts with shock to things such as cars, telephones and modern clothing.

The conquistador’s journey in the movie follows the same path that Cortés took in his invasion of the Aztec Nation. On the coast of Mexico, the conquistador washes up on the beach and is mystified by the sight of plastic cup and a motorcycle. He gets stared at by people on the beach who have no idea why this person is dressed as a conquistador.

The conquistador sees a water gourd, grabs it, and drinks it, as if he’s been thirsty for hours. In a daze and still trying tor figure out what happened and where he is, he then wanders into an elementary school. He collapses from exhaustion and confusion.

He’s next seen by himself outdoors, wondering to himself if he’s dead or in purgatory. Eventually, he meets a young man who says that the corrupt Mexican government abducted and killed the young man’s father for being an activist and a journalist. The father’s body parts were found in a bag.

As a parting gift, the son with this tragic story gives the conquistador a blank journal. The conquistador says in a voiceover, “Cortés would cry with rage to see the savages in charge again … I discovered they were the children of the devil.”

In other words, this isn’t going to be a cute and cuddly time-traveling story about a conquistador who overcomes his racial prejudice and adapts quickly to his new environment. He literally has an “old school” mentality that Spaniards are superior to the indigenous people of this area.

In the city of Veracruz, the conquistador encounters more evidence that Mexico has an epidemic of missing and murdered people. He meets a mother whose 24-year-old son is missing. And he walks through a protest where people are angry that the government isn’t doing enough to find the men who’ve gone missing in the area. In Veracruz, he also goes to a strip club, and his reaction is what you might expect it to be.

In the Sierra, he’s captured by men for trespassing in their wooded area, but he’s released to continue his journey. He also marvels at some pole acrobats. It’s a scene that makes him look like an awestruck tourist. The movie has touches of this type of comedy, but “499” doesn’t let people forget that this is a conquistador who is very unhappy at that the Spaniards are no longer in charge of the land that he and other Spanish soldiers invaded with Cortés.

In the Highlands, the conquistador ends up on the street with some young male Honduran migrants who are looking for work. One man tells the story of how he had to leave home because he was getting gang threats. The migrants also talk about the dangers of crossing the border into Mexico, such as people extorting bribes and train hopping that could lead to injuries or death.

The conquistador is not very pleased to be in the company of these poverty-stricken and desperate men. But this stranger doesn’t know how else he can find work to support himself. It’s not as if there are employment ads looking for a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s.

The conquistador mutters to himself about the Honduran migrants: “These miserable migrants chase after the promise of glory. They remind me of us.” It’s the first indication that this displaced conquistador begins to see that a Spanish soldier in Cortés’ army might have something in common with these Honduran migrants: being at the mercy of a system where only an elite group of people get most of the power, money and glory.

What works so well about “499” is that it shows how this unnamed conquistador gradually begins to understand the damage that was inflicted in the name of colonialism. And even when a country such as Mexico is independent from a colonial country, he learns that brutality and corruption are timeless plagues on any society. The movie intends to make viewers think about how much humanity has really progressed (or not) when certain atrocities still exist today.

In Paso de Cortés, the conquistador goes on a car ride with a military soldier-turned-drug runner, who hides his identity with face coverings. In Tenochtitlan, he meets another person grieving over a loved one: a mother named Lorena Gutiérrez, whose 12-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered, mostlikely by criminals involved with drug deal and/or sex trafficking.

The conquistador doesn’t talk much, but “499” is able to convey a detailed story without a lot of dialogue. His interactions with the non-actors in the movie might look too staged at time, which is expected since they knew they were being filmed for a movie. However, their conversations don’t look scripted. Viewers will get the impression that the people who had conversations with the “conquistador” were told about the concept of the film and were asked to tell their unscripted stories on camera.

Non-actors listed in the movie credits are Jorge Sánchez, Martha González and Sixto Cabrera, but it isn’t made clear who they are in the movie. San Juan Breña, who makes his feature-film debut in “499,” fully commits to his role, by moving and reacting as if he’s really from a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s. At times, it looks like he’s doing a comedy sketch, but he never strays too far from the movie’s generally serious tone.

Pablo Mondragón’s musical score for “499” perfectly captures the mood for each scene. And “499” director Reyes brings the right amount of light-hearted flair so that the movie’s tone doesn’t get too dark. The unnamed conquistador isn’t supposed to be a hero or a villain but someone who is a product of a certain environment at a particular point in time.

The end of the movie shows what happened to the conquistador. It’s enough to say that he doesn’t have a time travel machine that will take him back to the 1500s. How the movie concludes is a commentary on what can happen when people open their minds up to different perspectives.

Cinema Guild released “499” in New York City on August 20, 2021. The movie’s release expanded to Los Angeles on August 27, 2021, and San Francisco on September 3, 2021, with more U.S. cities in subsequent weeks.

Review: ‘I Carry You With Me,’ starring Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Arcelia Ramírez and Michelle González

July 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Armando Espitia and Christian Vázquez in “I Carry You With Me” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“I Carry You With Me”

Directed by Heidi Ewing

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and New York City, the dramatic film “I Carry With You With Me” features a cast of predominantly Latino characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two Mexican men in a gay love affair reach a crossroads in the relationship when one of the men wants to move to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a chef.

Culture Audience: “I Carry You With Me” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies about Mexican culture, the LGBTQ community and immigrant experiences in the United States.

Michelle Rodríguez and Armando Espitia in “I Carry You With Me” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

The emotionally stirring drama “I Carry You With Me” tells a real-life epic love story between two Mexican men who have different struggles over their sexuality, immigration and what it means to follow a dream. It’s also a poignant story about what it means to sacrifice for love and for personal ambition. And it’s a tale of self-discovery and identity that tests the old adage, “Home is where the heart is.”

“I Carry You With Me” is the first narrative feature film from Heidi Ewing, a filmmaker who’s mostly known for her documentaries, such as the Oscar-nominated 2006 film “Jesus Camp” and the 2012 film “Detropia.” Ewing didn’t completely leave her non-fiction filmmaking behind for “I Carry You With Me,” because Iván Garcia and Gerardo Zabaletae—the real-life men who became a couple in this story—portray themselves as middle-aged men in the unscripted scenes, which are a small but important part of the movie. The majority of the movie’s scenes are scripted, with actors portraying Garcia and Zabaletae as their younger selves. “I Carry You With Me” takes place and was filmed in Mexico and in New York City.

Ewing co-wrote the “I Carry You With Me” screenplay with Alan Page Arriaga. And the idea for the movie came by chance, when Garcia and Zabaletae (who are longtime friends of Ewing) told Ewing their very personal story of how they met, fell in love, and faced immense challenges in their relationship. These difficulties included hiding their romance from homophobic family members, as well as the threat of being torn apart when Garcia moved from Mexico to New York City to pursue his dream of becoming a chef.

According to the “I Carry You With Me” production notes, Garcia and Zabaletae revealed the detailed history of their relationship to Ewing in 2012, when they were all at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Garcia and Zabaletae had no idea at the time that their story would be made into a movie. Ewing says in the production notes: “We had been friends for so long, since before any of our careers took off, but I just didn’t know the details of all they had experienced. So on the plane ride home from Sundance, I wrote everything down that I could remember and sent myself an email called ‘The Mexican Love Story.’ A seed had been planted in my head and I was like, ‘Uh oh, this isn’t going to leave me.'”

Although scenes in “I Carry You With Me” take place in multiple decades, most of the film takes place in the 1990s, during the first few years of Garcia and Zabaletae’s relationship, when they were in their 20s. They met in Puebla, Mexico, in 1994, when Iván (played by Armando Espitia) was a dishwasher at a local restaurant but dreaming of one day becoming a chef. Although this story is about a couple, it’s told mainly from Iván’s perspective.

At this point in his life, Iván is still mostly “in the closet” about his sexuality. He’s a single father to a son named Ricky (played by Paco Luna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old. Iván is a devoted and loving father to Ricky, but Iván is embarrassed that he can barely pay child support. Iván is also terrified that he would lose visitation rights if Ricky’s mother Paola (played by Michelle González) found out that Iván is gay. Paola already has a tense relationship with Iván because he doesn’t make enough money to buy the things that she wants for Ricky.

One of the few people in Iván’s life who knows about his true sexuality is his best friend Sandra (played by Michelle Rodríguez), who has been his closest confidant since they were children. There are flashbacks to their childhood, when Sandra (played by Alexia Morales) and Iván (played by Yael Tadeo), at about 9 or 10 years old, would play dress-up in women’s clothing and wear makeup. Iván’s mother Rosa Maria (played by Ángeles Cruz) is a dressmaker, so Iván has easy access to the gowns that she makes as part of her work.

The movie shows what happens when Iván’s father Marcos (played by Raúl Briones) comes home one day and sees Iván and Sandra during one of their “dress-up” play sessions. He’s surprised and disgusted at seeing his son in drag, but Marcos stops short of physically abusing Iván over it. As for Iván’s mother Rosa Maria, if she ever suspected that Iván was gay, she chooses to be in denial over it, because even into his adulthood, she believes Iván’s claims that he has been dating only women.

The movie doesn’t go into details about Iván and Paola’s failed relationship. But by the time that Iván meets Gerardo, it’s obvious that Iván and Paola will not be getting back together. Iván and Paola are only in each other’s lives because they’re co-parenting Ricky. Paola is portayed as someone who is constantly stressed-out over her finances and disappointed in Iván for not being a better provider for Ricky. However, Paola has a good relationship with Iván’s mother Rosa Maria, who is very present in her grandson Ricky’s life.

Iván and Gerardo meet at a gay nightclub, where Iván has gone with Sandra, and Gerardo is by himself. Gerardo and Iván lock eyes with each other, in the way that people do when they’re immediately attracted to each other. Gerardo makes it clear from the beginning that he’s very interested in Iván because he gets Iván’s attention by shining a red pen light on him.

It isn’t long before Iván and Gerardo make their way to each other and start having a flirtatious and easygoing conversation at the nightclub. The romantic sparks between them are immediate, and they end up kissing the first night that they meet. On the night that they meet, Gerardo is very open about being gay and says that he “escaped” from his hometown of Chiapas, thereby implying that he has a homophobic family too.

Iván isn’t as forthcoming about his own family background. For example, Iván doesn’t tell Gerardo right away that Iván is the father of a child. Gerardo finds out another way, which causes the first big conflict in Iván and Gerardo’s relationship. By this time, Iván and Gerardo have become lovers, and Gerardo is aware that Iván is “in the closet” to almost everyone, but Gerardo doesn’t know to the extent why Iván is so paranoid about it.

By contrast, Gerardo isn’t afraid to live openly as a gay man while he’s been in Puebla. One of Gerardo’s closest friends is a drag queen named Cucusa Minelly (played by Luis Alberti), who is concerned about Gerardo getting his heart broken by the closeted Iván. Gerardo goes to see Cucusa’s drag queen act in a nightclub, and he walks down the street with Cucusa while Cucusa wears heavy makeup. It’s something that Iván would never do at this point in his life.

Gerardo works as a teaching assistant at the University of Puebla. He owns an apartment. And it’s later revealed that he comes from a somewhat well-to-do rancher family in Chiapas. Gerardo’s mother Magda (played by Arcelia Ramírez) and Gerardo’s father César (played by Pascacio López) know that Gerardo is gay, but they don’t like to talk about it. It’s evident when Gerardo takes Iván home to Chiapas to meet his family (Gerardo’s parents, his two younger sisters and younger brother), during the family’s birthday celebration for Gerardo. Iván is described as Gerardo’s “best friend” to the family.

Over dinner in the family home, tensions begin to rise when Gerardo’s father César asks Iván what he does for a living. Gerardo lies and says that Iván is a chef. However, Iván corrects him and says that he’s a dishwasher in a restaurant, while César reacts with a disapproving look on his face. It’s the first time that Iván sees that his sexuality wouldn’t be the only reason why he wouldn’t be completely accepted by Gerardo’s family.

Although Iván hides his sexuality from most of the people he knows, he refuses to lie about his social class, whereas Gerardo seems self-conscious with his family about being close to someone who has a menial, working-class job. Because Gerardo wanted to lie to his family about what Iván does for a living, it hurts Iván’s feelings that Gerardo seems to be ashamed of Iván’s social class. It won’t be the last time their social class differences will cause tension in Gerardo and Iván’s relationship.

The movie also has a harrowing flashback scene of Gerardo at about 8 or 9 years old being bullied by his father, who yells at Gerardo to stop acting like a girl. César is so angry about it that he drives Gerardo to a deserted farm field at night, abandons a frightened Gerardo there, and orders Gerardo not to come home until he can act like a boy. Gerardo ends up walking home by himself at night, in tears. It’s a very traumatic experience that is an example of what Gerardo had to endure until he was old enough to move away from his family.

Iván has become increasingly frustrated with his restaurant job. He had been patiently waiting for a year to get a promotion to become a line cook. But when that job opening occurs, the manager ends up hiring a nephew instead. Iván’s boss also dismissively tells Iván that Iván is lucky to have the dishwasher job and that it sometimes takes years to be promoted to a cook position.

Observant viewers will notice that Iván’s American Dream ambition is largely fueled by wanting to get out of his working-class rut. Meanwhile, Gerardo is more used to being in a comfortable financial situation, so he doesn’t have the same motivation as Iván does to start over and re-invent himself in another country. Something happens later in the movie that hastens Ivan’s plan to go to America, where Iván believes that he will have better opportunities to become a chef.

Iván’s decision to move to the United States as an undocumented immigrant is a turning point in his relationship with Gerardo. Sandra decides to go with Iván (their border crossing is one of the most tension-filled parts of the movie), but will Gerardo go too? That question is answered in the movie, which shows what happened after Iván moved to New York City. Iván’s decision to leave his son Ricky is something that haunts Iván and gives him a lot of guilt.

“I Carry You With Me” inevitably has tearjearking moments, but the movie is also filled with a lot of hope and realistic portrayals of a romance that is far from a fairy tale. There are layers to the story that authentically address the fear, loneliness and resentment that result from decisions made by Iván and Gerardo. The movie is also a keen observation of the American Dream from two different perspectives: one that sees the American Dream as a worthy goal, and one that sees the American Dream as the reason why loved ones are torn apart. And the movie doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of bigotry experienced by undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who aren’t white and who don’t have English as their first language.

All of the main actors give convincing performances, but Espitia’s portrayal of Iván is the one that will stay with viewers the most. Espitia has a wonderfully expressive face that can convey so much without saying a word. Gerardo has also gone through his share of trials and tribulations in this relationship and as a gay man, but Iván’s journey is more complicated because he has a child who will be forever affected by his decisions. “I Carry You With Me” is one couple’s real-life love story, but it has an outstanding way of speaking to larger issues of what people will do in the name of love and to make better lives for themselves.

Sony Pictures Classics and Stage 6 Films released “I Carry You With Me” in select U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘Half Brothers,’ starring Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio

December 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio in “Half Brothers” (Photo by John Golden Britt/Focus Features)

“Half Brothers”

Directed by Luke Greenfield

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and the United States, the comedy film “Half Brothers” features a cast of Latino and white characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two half-brothers—one who’s Mexican and the other who’s American—have conflicts with each other when they’re forced to go on a road trip together as part of their father’s dying wish.

Culture Audience: “Half Brothers” will appeal primarily to people who like dumb comedies with obnoxious main characters.

Juan Pablo Espinosa and Ian Inigo in “Half Brothers” (Photo by John Golden Britt/Focus Features)

What does it say about a movie when a goat is the most appealing character in the film? A goat is used as a “cute pet” gimmick in the awful and dimwitted comedy film “Half Brothers,” which takes a very unoriginal comedy concept (two opposite people who don’t get along are forced to spend time together) and shoves it in viewers’ faces in extremely annoying levels. The movie is also filled with hateful stereotypes about Mexican and American cultures without any sense of witty irony. And the movie becomes so repetitious that many viewers will be bored enough to fall asleep.

“Half Brothers” (directed by Luke Greenfield and written by Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman) is the type of movie that seems like it could’ve been a made in a previous century when people were more accepting of stupid comedies that rely too heavily on broad ethnic stereotypes. What’s worse is that “Half Brothers” is one of those movies that thinks it’s funny but it’s not, so it uses the same type of ethnic jokes for the entire movie. That’s not to say that racial and nationality differences can’t be used in comedy, but there has to be some intelligence behind it or something that will make people think about race and nationality in a more important context, instead of just spewing hate.

Everything about “Half Brothers” reeks of toxic masculinity and the misguided idea that being loud-mouthed or a jerk automatically means that you’re funny. And this is one of those movies where almost all of the women with speaking roles are literally only in the movie to play characters who either marry the men, work for the men, or be nuns. It’s just such a disgusting display of small-minded, outdated and idiotic sexism.

There’s supposed to be a big “treasure hunt” aspect to the story that has an outcome that is incredibly predictable to anyone smart enough to notice the obvious recurring theme about the father/son relationships in this movie. The beginning of the film takes place in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. Viewers see a father named Flavio Murguía (played by Juan Pablo Espinosa) watching while his son Renato (played by Ian Inigo), who looks like he’s about 10 or 11 years old, is flying a remote-controlled toy plane.

Flavio (who is an aviation engineer) and Renato both love planes, and Flavio promises Renato that one day, he will build a real plane for Renato. However, Renato is quite the little brat because he likes to fly his toy plane as a way for it to pester people, scare unsuspecting victims, or do property damage. Flavio thinks it’s hilarious that Renato uses the remote-controlled plane to cause mischief, and he encourages his son to irritate people with pranks. Sometimes Flavio gets in on the pranks too. Flavio also lets his underage child drink beer with him. It’s all Flavio’s way of bonding with Renato, who is Flavio’s only child at this point.

Renato is too young to know that any parent who acts this irresponsibly is going to end up hurting people emotionally. And that’s exactly what happens to Renato, as well as Flavio’s wife Rene (played by Bianca Marroquin), who is Renato’s mother. She’s one of those passive wives who has a “boys will be boys” attitude when she sees how her husband is teaching their son some questionable morals.

San Miguel De Allende is hit hard by an economic depression. Businesses in the area are shut down, and unemployment is high. The Murguía family sees a news report on TV that the demand for the U.S. dollar is much greater than the Mexican peso. Flavio ends up reluctantly leaving his family to travel to the United States with a group of other Mexicans to try and find work.

When Flavio arrives in the U.S., life is tough for him because he doesn’t speak English at first. In the movie, it’s implied that he’s an undocumented immigrant. Therefore, he can’t get a job in his chosen profession. He has to do menial jobs with other Mexican immigrants.

There’s a scene where Flavio is in a group of Mexican immigrants who are hired on a farm as cheap labor to replace the American workers. The scene literally shows the Mexican immigrants walking past the laid-off American workers, who stare at the Mexicans with hatred. This movie is not subtle at all about its intentions to fan the flames of bigotry in many of its scenes.

It’s not shown right away in the movie, but it’s eventually revealed that Flavio has learned English and gotten a job working for an American aviation company in Chicago. Because he’s supposed to be “brilliant,” according to this movie, Flavio comes up with some clever engineering ideas that catches the eye of a woman whose family owns the company. Her name is Katherine (played by Ashley Poole), and she and Flavio end up having an affair.

Flavio has feelings of guilt about the affair and plans to go back to Mexico to his family. But Katherine gets pregnant (Flavio is the father) and gives birth to a boy named Asher. Through a serious of circumstances, Flavio never goes back to Mexico, and he essentially abandons his first family to start a new life with Katherine and Asher. Flavio also becomes a successful executive at the airplane company.

Flavio dumps his wife Rene over the phone. She and Renato are devastated to find out that Flavio is not coming home as promised. Rene and Flavio eventually get divorced. Flavio marries Katherine and spends the rest of his life in Chicago with her and their son Asher, who is the only child they have together. However, Asher is a strange and hyper kid, and Flavio isn’t that great of a father to him either. Flavio doesn’t really emotionally connect with Asher, who grows up feeling doubts that his father truly accepts him.

Years later, Renato (played by Luis Gerardo Méndez) is now a 35-year-old ambitious and aggressive entrepreneur who has started his own successful aviation company in Mexico. He is engaged to be married to a single mother named Pamela (played by Pia Watson), whose son Emilio (played by Mikey Salazar), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, is someone Renato feels uncomfortable being around because he thinks Emilio is too weird. Emilio does things like walk around wearing gory Halloween masks, and he uses squirt guns filled with green goo on Pamela and Renato. It’s an obvious cry for attention, but Renato just treats the kid like a pest.

The adult Renato is also extremely prejudiced against Americans. He hates America so much that he refuses to expand his company into the United States. In an early scene in the movie with the adult Renato, he’s doing an interview with an American female reporter (played by Shira Scott Astrof), and Renato spews a lot of hateful rhetoric about Americans. Renato’s publicist Perla (played by Nohelia Sosa Crisafulli), who is there during the interview, nervously tries to change the subject.

Renato’s rant includes him telling the reporter his list of reasons for why he despises Americans: “They’re entitled, they’re ignorant, they think Mexico is just a bunch of drug cartels and Cancún. They’re idiots. And you know what else? They’re fat!”

Even after this incredibly xenophobic tirade, this movie excuses Renato’s ignorant mindset by having the two women laugh it off. It makes all of them look stupid. And it’s a gross display of how the filmmakers think it’s funny too.

At home, Renato is just as insufferable as he is at work. While going over the guest list for their wedding, his fiancée Pamela points out to Renato that he only has three guests, while she has 60 guests. She half-teasingly comments that Renato has no friends. It’s one of the few things in this movie that makes sense, because Renato is a self-centered and arrogant bigot.

Meanwhile, when Pamela mentions to Renato that her son Emilio is being bullied at his school, she asks Renato to give Emilio a pep talk to make Emilio feel better. Renato reluctantly talks to Emilio, and Pamela notices that Renato makes only half-hearted and awkward efforts to bond with her son. Pamela wonders out loud to Renato if she should marry someone who can’t really love her son like a father should.

The wedding is five days away when Renato gets an unexpected call from Katherine, his father’s second wife. Katherine tells Renato that Flavio is dying (she never says what kind of illness he has), and she asks Renato to come to Chicago to see Flavio before he passes away. Renato’s immediate reaction is to say no, but Pamela talks him into going on the trip.

When he arrives in Chicago, Renato’s rideshare driver Irene (played by Mona Malec), who picks him up at the airport, is his worst nightmare because she’s every stereotype that he thinks about Americans: She’s overweight and ignorant about Mexican culture. Upon hearing that Renato is from Mexico, Irene starts speaking to him louder and slower (as if he can’t understand English) and then asks him what Cancún is like. Irene is also shocked to hear that Renato has never ziplined in his life, because she thinks that ziplining is the main leisure activity in Mexico.

At a coffee shop, Renato is standing in line when he sees a loudmouthed red-haired man doing a livestream on his phone, as if he’s some kind of social-media star. After he finishes his livestream, the man gets behind Renato in line and asks him for money to buy a donut. A disgusted Renato says no, but the man keeps pestering Renato to give him money.

The motormouth redhead notices that the barista behind the counter has a nametag with the name Beatrice, but he insists on pronouncing her name as Beat Rice. When Renato gets to the counter, he tells the barista Beatrice (played by Teresa Decher) that he wants to buy all the donuts in the shop, and he wants her to immediately throw the donuts away. He flashes a wad of cash to make it happen, while the pesky redhead behind him tells Renato that what he just did is cruel. Renato just smirks.

But is this the last time that Renato will see this irritating loser? Of course not. When Renato goes to the hospital to visit Flavio on his death bed, who walks in the room just a few minutes later? The redhead from the coffee shop. And it should come as no surprise to anyone but Renato that this guy is his half-brother Asher (played by Connor Del Rio), who becomes more and more obnoxious as the story goes on.

After Flavio very awkwardly introduces the brothers to each other, he tells them that he has a gift for them. It’s an envelope with a message that leads to some clues for a hunt to what Flavio hints is a big treasure. They have to find someone or something named Eloise at the end of the trip. And Flavio insists that the only way they can get the treasure is if they do the hunt together.

And of course, it’s a cross-country trip because there would be no “Half Brothers” movie without a contrivance of these two cretins being stuck together for days during this road trip. The brothers are too greedy not to find out what this treasure is. And there’s a “race against time” because Renato needs to get back to Mexico in time for his wedding.

Keep in mind that Renato met Asher just five days before his wedding. Flavio dies very soon after Renato and Asher meet each other. But somehow, this moronic movie crams in Flavio’s funeral too, even though it would take at least a few days for the funeral to be prepared, thereby taking time away from the road trip. Therefore, the timeline of the road trip doesn’t add up. But the “Half Brothers” filmmakers think people watching this movie are too stupid to notice a big stinking plot hole like this one.

During the road trip, Renato takes on the role of the “smart” brother, who is condescending to “dumb” brother Asher, whose job experience includes being a “brand ambassador” (someone who hands out flyers) and a failed waiter at Chili’s. Renato likes meticulous planning. Asher is impulsive. You get the idea of how the rest of the movie is going to go.

The goat comes into the picture early on in the road trip, when Renato makes the mistake of falling asleep while letting Asher drive the bright orange Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbodiesel that they take on the trip. When Renato wakes up, he sees Asher running away from a farm with a young goat in his arms. Some angry farm employees are chasing after Asher, but he’s able to put the goat in the car and drive away before he can get caught.

Asher stole the goat because he thought the goat was silently speaking to him to free it from the farm. And why did Asher stop at the farm in the first place? He saw a road sign advertising that the farm was open to visitors. Renato is furious when he finds out that Asher took a detour of more than 100 miles to go to the farm. The goat is really the only adorable thing about this terrible movie.

“Half Brothers” is a series of these not-very-funny scenarios that usually involve Asher doing something idiotic that causes a setback, and Renato getting angry at him and trying the fix the mess that Asher made. The brothers get into predictable fist fights too. And as for Eloise, this movie can’t even come up with a good mystery in this treasure hunt because it’s so obvious what the “treasure” is, if you think about what a guilt-ridden Flavio would give as his final gift for his sons to find.

Aside from the terrible jokes in “Half Brothers,” the movie’s road trip is very unimaginative and doesn’t show much appreciation for the different locales that are visited. The personalities of these two louts don’t get better as the trip goes on. They get worse, until the movie tries to cram in some phony sentimentality at the end that anyone with a brain can see coming. It’s enough to say that the ending of “Half Brothers” is as creatively bankrupt as the rest of the movie.

Focus Features released “Half Brothers” in U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020.

Review: ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,’ starring Diana Kennedy

June 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy”

Directed by Elizabeth Carroll

Culture Representation: Taking primarily place in Mexico and the United States, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Diana Kennedy (a white British woman whose specialty is Mexican cuisine) features interviews with white and Latino people representing the wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Kennedy became a leading expert in Mexican cuisine, but she’s always at some risk of being accused of cultural appropriation.

Culture Audience: “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” will appeal primarily to foodies and people who like biographies of celebrity chefs.

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a lot like the woman who is the subject of the documentary: matter-of-fact yet self-congratulatory and entrenched in tradition rather than experimentation. Born in 1923, British native Diana Kennedy (who participated in this film) is considered a leading expert in Mexican cuisine. This documentary that tells her life story follows the expected format of new interviews mixed with archival footage. If it weren’t for Kennedy’s sassy personality, the movie (which is the feature-film debut of director Elizabeth Carroll) would actually be pretty dull.

This is one of those laudatory celebrity documentaries where talking heads do nothing but praise the star of the movie. Celebrity chefs José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Gabriela Cámara, Pati Jinich, Alice Waters and Nick Zukin all gush about Kennedy in their separate soundbites featured the film. (Andrés and Zukin are two of the documentary’s executive producers.) The only real criticism of Kennedy actually comes from Kennedy herself, who describes herself as often being cranky, impatient and stubborn.

Cámara says about Kennedy: “I think she’s a legend. Many Mexicans are against admitting that she knows more than they do about their food.” Andrés comments, “You have to be Diana, to have the character she has, to achieve what she has achieved.”

Waters says of Kennedy’s influence on teaching Mexican cuisine: “She taught us the traditional ways and was not doing her own variation.” Bayless adds, “She’s the first person in the English-speaking world who first really mined the richness of regional Mexican cooking.”

Zukin gives this over-the-top compliment about Kennedy: “She’s a high prophet for Mexican food. Diana doesn’t care if people like her. She cares if Mexican food is evangelized … She’s going to tell you the truth.”

Jinich (the host of the PBS cooking show “Pati’s Mexican Table) has this to say: “I think Mexico as a country will be eternally indebted to her efforts.” Abigail Mendoza, a chef and native of Mexico who has been a close friend of Kennedy’s since the 1980s, “Thanks to Diana, Mexican cuisine is where it is … And she’s very Mexican in her soul and heart.”

You get the idea. Fortunately, the documentary keeps these effusive soundbites to a minimum. “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (which is named after one of her cookbooks) is at its best when it just lets the camera roll to show Kennedy living her life. As she says in the film: “I’ve had a funny life. Let’s face it.”

Although Kennedy undoubtedly has immense talent to earn all of this praise and respect, her cookbook editor Frances McCollough asks a question that this documentary attempts to answer: “How can it be that a white British woman knows more about Mexican food than anyone else?”

It’s pretty clear from watching the film that Kennedy is certainly an expert in her field, but she also had the privilege and connections to be handed a massive platform through the media and book deals. Perhaps equally talented native Mexican chefs haven’t reached the same level of success because of racial barriers in the culinary industry. Kennedy tells her version of her life story, which is edited in between scenes of her in the present day.

Born as Diana Southwood in Loughton, England, she doesn’t really talk about her childhood in the film. Instead, the documentary skips right to her tales of joining the Women’s Timber Corps during World War II. While in the Women’s Timber Corps, she learned to plant trees and developed her lifelong passion for the environment.

After World War II, she was invited to go to Jamaica. Kennedy comments on her decision to live in the Caribbean: “I was propelled by a lot of hormones.” She says that while she was in Jamaica, she was nearly kidnapped.

And then she moved on to Haiti, where she had a fateful stay at Hotel Olafsson in 1957. She checked into the hotel on the same day as a handsome stranger named Paul P. Kennedy, an older man who was a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico. Diana moved to Mexico to be with Paul, and she says she fell in love with him just as she fell in love with Mexico. She says in the documentary that Paul will always be the love of her life.

She eventually married Paul, whom she describes as someone who was the life of the party and a person who had a warm and humorous personality that naturally drew other people to him. In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana  developed a habit that she has continued throughout her life: She would go to village marketplaces to sample the local cuisine, find out how it was made, and ask the local merchants what kinds of food that they and their families were eating.

Diana says that most chefs who study other cultures’ cuisines don’t take the time to interview local people to find out what their families are eating. She gives herself a lot of praise in the film for taking that extra step, and she says that’s probably why she has more credibility in Mexican cuisine than other chefs of Mexican cuisine who aren’t natives of Mexico.

In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana says she didn’t have a car, so she would take a “third-class bus” (the type that lets chickens and other animals on board) to make these excursions to various marketplaces. She definitely has a car now. Some of the funniest scenes in the documentary are of Diana nimbly driving her Nissan SUV and showing mild signs of road rage, as she impatiently curses other drivers underneath her breath. Diana has a real fondness for the car, which she says has taken her through every imaginable terrain and weather.

Diana and Paul had a happy life in Mexico, and she says she was lucky that he accepted her for being “crazy.” She worked at the British Council, while he continued to work for The New York Times. Diana says, “I certainly wasn’t the traditional housewife. I never wanted children.” (Paul already had two daughters from a previous marriage. Diana’s stepdaughters are not seen or mentioned in the film.)

But then, tragedy struck when Paul was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1965. Diana and Paul moved to New York City so that he could get medical treatment. But by 1967, he was dead. The following years that Diana spent as a widow in New York City were some of the loneliest and saddest in her life, she says. Diana never remarried.

But when one door closes, another one opens. After Paul died, Craig Claiborne—who was The New York Times food editor from 1957 to 1986—set Diana on a path to become a world-renowned chef whose specialty is Mexican cuisine. Diana had always loved cooking, but she didn’t see herself as becoming a professional chef until she got the motivation and help from Claiborne.

Diana says that she once offered to get a Mexican cookbook for Claiborne, and his response was that he didn’t want a Mexican cookbook unless she wrote it herself. At the time, Diana had been giving private cooking classes in her home to privileged society women in New York. Thanks to Claiborne, The New York Times gave Diana a prominent feature article about her cooking classes. This media coverage led to other opportunities, and the rest is history.

Diana eventually moved back to Mexico, where she still teaches small, private cooking classes in her home, which is a spacious villa called Quinta Diana, in Michoacán, Mexico. The documentary includes footage of her teaching a class of a diverse group of people, ranging from experienced chefs who have multiple restaurants to a relative novice who’s only been cooking for three years.

There’s also archival footage of Diana on her TLC series “The Art of Mexican Cooking With Diana Kennedy,” which was on the air in the early 1990s. And there’s a clip of Diana as a guest on “The Martha Stewart Show,” with Diana making traditional Mexican tamales with Martha Stewart.

The documentary also shows Diana at industry events, such as when she was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame at the 2014 James Beard Awards, or when she was a panelist at The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl in 2018. During a Food Bowl studio photo session separately and together with fellow chef Cámara, the photographer comments to Diana about how feisty Diana is. At one point during the photo session, Diana jokes, “Thank God my black panties don’t show.”

The documentary takes such a reverential approach to Diana Kennedy that it doesn’t really have her reflect on all the opportunities that came her way because of her privileged situation. Yes, she’s undoubtedly talented, and she has many fans who are native Mexican chefs. But Diana came up at a time when white people were almost exclusively given the best opportunities for chefs to reach a worldwide audience through the media and book deals.

Diana says in the documentary that perhaps her biggest influence was Mexican cookbook author Josefina Velázquez de León. However, Velázquez de León would never have been given the same glamorous opportunities for fame and fortune that were given to Diana Kennedy. A lot more people know who Diana Kennedy is rather than the Mexican chef/author who was Diana Kennedy’s biggest influence.

Nowadays, culinary audiences are more attuned to giving cultural credit where credit is due. Cultural appropriation is not as acceptable as it was before the 21st century. Although the documentary hints that some very talented native Mexican chefs might have been overshadowed by Diana Kennedy, there is no further exploration of that subject, since the filmmakers only seem concerned with portraying Diana Kennedy as the best thing that ever happened to Mexican cuisine. It’s a “fan worship” mentality that’s a little off-putting to people who expect documentaries to have a more objective approach.

One thing that the documentary captures well is Diana’s tireless work ethic, since there are many scenes in the film that make it obvious that she has no intentions of retiring. Diana says, “One is never satisfied. There is so much more I’d like to do.” She also says, “You’ve got to realize that cooking is the biggest comeuppance.”

Diana is also very outspoken about her concerns about the environment and where the world is headed. She gives this rant in the documentary: “I think it’s shocking that the more we are connected electronically, the less we are united.”

She continues: “And then, in certain parts of the world, machos come along like [Vladimir] Putin and [Donald] Trump and all the rest of it and want to change it. They don’t see the beauty of this world. We’re destroying our planet. We’re destroying our environment, and it’s such a loss for young people today.”

Diana also shares her philosophy on life. “You can’t win them all.” She adds, “How horrible it is for people to go around wanting to be loved and liked. You just go on doing what you know what you want to do. And at some point, the tide will turn and you make your mark—or you may not.”

Although Diana is extremely confident about her abilities and accomplishments, she shows some humility when she says, “I’m very honored the way so many people look at my books and appreciate what I’ve done. That’s all you can do—and cook for them.”

The cooking scenes in the documentary are fairly good, but not outstanding. What’s actually more impressive is the documentary’s cinematography of Mexico’s gorgeous landscape. Some of the aerial shots are breathtaking. (Paul Mailman and Andrei Zakow are credited as the film’s cinematographers.)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is not a bad documentary. It’s just not a very insightful or revealing film. It’s the documentary equivalent of a Wikipedia page instead of an illuminating biography.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 22, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is June 19, 2020, and the DVD release date is June 23, 2020.

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