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  Classic Mexican Movie Collection  
  These reviews and info are from the IMDb Web Site
If I find better reviews I'll post them below the IMDb material

English language films about Mexicans on or north of the border

-> Internet Internet Movie Database - IMDb <-

 

 

  
The Penitent (1988)
 
How an American film can challenge the European métier:    In many hamlets within southern Colorado, New Mexico and northern Mexico, a cult of Roman Catholic flagellants, Penitente, is active, its rites culminating each year just before Easter as one of the members from each village is chosen by lot to be crucified in the manner of Christ, and this exceptional film interlaces actions occurring from its scenario with this pious event. Raul Julia portrays Ramon Guerola, a devout penitent whose young bride Celia (Rona Freed) remains a virgin because of fear, but who is strongly attracted to Ramon's lifelong friend Juan Mateo (Armand Assante), newly released from prison and now visiting his compadre, and a romantic conflict which arises over Celia will be decided at last upon the cross. This is actor and acting teacher Cliff Osmond's only film as director, and it is simply splendid in every respect, with his screenplay spare and dramatically nuanced, and actors as strongly idiosyncratic as Julia and Assante being skillfully guided; a salutary score is contributed by Alex North and the work is deftly edited by Peter Taylor.
 
  The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
 

Plot Summary:  In Milagro, a small town in the American Southwest, Ladd Devine plans to build a major new resort development. While activist Ruby Archuleta and lawyer/newspaper editor Charlie Bloom realize that this will result in the eventual displacement of the local Hispanic farmers, they cannot arouse much opposition because of the short term opportunities offered by construction jobs. But when Joe Mondragon illegally diverts water to irrigate his bean field, the local people support him because of their resentment of water use laws that favor the rich like Devine. When the Governor sends in ruthless troubleshooter Kyril Montana to settle things quickly before the lucrative development is cancelled, a small war threatens to erupt.

Milagro Bean Field War is a truly great film, one of the must see list. Terrific casting and well filmed. It may have been neglected by viewers and critics because it is about a class of people and time and place we often do not take seriously, but it is a sincere and genuine story, well told. The use of the ghost and the pig as foils are delightful, and it is remarkable what a good movie can be like without gratuitous violence, nudity or foul language. However, it should not be assumed that is intended to say this is a bland movie, far from it. It is tasty and spiced well with action, language, and phrasing, not to mention filming. And it is funny, good fun all around. Enjoy!
 

 
  Mexico City (2000)
 

Plot Outline:  After divorce and the death of her two children, Mitch is headed for Oaxaca with her brother Sam, a photographer. During their one-day layover in Mexico City, Sam goes out for a night on the town and doesn't return. Mitch goes for help to the American embassy and starts her own search with the aid of Pedro, a cabbie. She finds the cantina where Sam was drinking and stands up to a gang leader to learn some of what happened that night. He gives her Sam's camera, and the photos on the last roll of film become the object of a hunt by some very determined criminals. Can Mitch find Sam, learn what he saw that night, and stay safe? Whom can she trust?

I almost didn't rent this one because the pre-visit to Blockbuster and the checks on IMdB indicated that this "new release" was only a 2 star offering. Now...sometimes I'm in the mood for low budget, brooding atmospherics with "indie-like" cinematography and no big stars that challenge my expectations and engage my unabated interest. Sometimes I'm in the mood for DeNiro playing Boris Badanov in Rocky & Bullwinkle (although not too often...once every year or two, maybe.) I enthusiastically recommend this sleeper. It hit me just right…the realistic mood, the gritty shots of Mexico City's underbelly, the briskly developing plot (not too knotty for head scratching but not a formula telegram either) …and I love seeing totally unknown actors act their asses off in a promotionally sleepy but alert screenplay! Jorge Robles [Pedro, the taxi driver with a moral compass on point throughout] was superb. Stacy Edwards was thoroughly believable as Mitch and I cheered as she emerged from her cocoon of bereavement into an `in-your-face-Ninja-warrior' woman who just wouldn't stay down for the count. Robert Patrick was OK but a bit wooden, as he always is in this type of G-man on a wire role, but maybe that's what G-men really act like after all. Anyhow…kudos…and see it. Do Not Be Deterred by the center-weighted 2 star average rating of the masses. After all, what do soccer moms and accountants who rent weekend new releases know about la vie noir?
 
 
  The Mexican (2001)

Plot Outline:  Jerry Welbach is given two ultimatums. His mob boss wants him to travel to Mexico to get a priceless antique pistol called "The Mexican" or he will suffer the consequences. The other ultimatum comes from his girlfriend Samantha, who wants him to end his association with the mob. Jerry figures that being alive, although in trouble with his girlfriend is the better alternative so he heads south of the border. Finding the pistol is easy but getting it home is a whole other matter. The pistol supposedly carries a curse - a curse Jerry is given every reason to believe, especially when Samantha is held hostage by the gay hit man Leroy to ensure the safe return of the pistol.

Stars with exceptional credentials can sometimes be wasted in an over ambitious project. This is a prime example. An inept criminal (Brad Pitt) promises his girlfriend (Julia Roberts )that he will change his ways after one last job. While he goes to Mexico to retrieve an ancient pistol, "The Mexican", his demanding sweetheart is kidnapped. Gene Hackman and James Gandolfini support the toothsome twins Pitt and Roberts. The attempts at comedy are not all that humorous. The story line is not the easiest to follow. The finale is different and pretty neat. Just look for the smoke. Beware of the lack of entertainment.
 
 
 
Traffic (2000)
 

Plot Outline:  A modern day look at America's war on drugs told through four separate stories that are connected in one way or another. A conservative politician who's just been appointed as the US drug czar learns that his daughter is a drug addict. A trophy wife struggles to save her husband's drug business, while two DEA agents protect a witness with inside knowledge of the spouse's business. In Mexico, a corrupt, yet dedicated cop struggles with his conscience when he learns that his new boss may not be the anti-drug official he made himself out to be.

The film more than delivers on every level and is certainly a lock for Best Picture of the year. Soderbergh has been on an astonishing roll, demonstrating exceptional versatility in his choice of genres and tremendous agility in balancing artistry with entertainment. He's been America's most consistently brilliant and unpredictable filmmaker for the last decade, and Traffic is the culminating work of his career. First and foremost, it's a richly entertaining epic that recalls the great works of the 1970s, when directors like Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola engaged mass audiences with works of genuine substance. Soderbergh works on a larger canvass than he's ever done before, bouncing several characters and plot-lines against and off each other, so that images and themes rhyme and echo. Although the subject matter is drug trafficking, this is not an "issues" movie per se. Instead, it's a profoundly affecting dramatic thriller where the destructive forces of drugs cut across different sections of society. What's most impressive about the direction is how Soderbergh manages to avoid both sentimentalizing and moralizing about drugs. As with Erin Brockovich, there's a graceful absence of self-importance and bombast in the presentation. However, this doesn't mean the film lacks a strong point of view.

Stylistically, this film represents a major breakthrough. Soderbergh shot the film himself (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) and Traffic takes all of his past experiments with color, available light, and hand-held work light-years beyond The Limey and Out of Sight. He has created a brilliant style that could best characterized as expressionistic naturalism. His loose hand-held style lends the film an extremely spontaneous realistic tone, but the modifications of color amplify the drama. Each storyline has its own distinct look that accentuates the emotions underlining the film. (The Mexico story involving Benicio Del Toro is told in earthy saturated yellows, the story of Michael Douglas and his daughter Erika Christensen is told in an aquarium blue, while the Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman-Don Cheadle story gets a natural available light look). In addition to being visually striking and cool in a completely unpretentious manner, Soderbergh's camera technique transcends mere virtuosity and actually becomes another character in the film. As usual with Soderbergh, the film is edited with musical verve and skill, where time is collapsed and expanded, and characters are seen reflecting on past actions.

I've been remiss in not discussing the acting earlier. This film has an amazing ensemble cast where everybody is working at the top of their game. However, Benicio Del Toro definitely stands out with the breakthrough performance. I don't think it's accidental that the movie begins and ends with shots of him. He plays Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican police officer caught in a futile and corrupt system, and it's as compelling of a character as Michael Corleone. Del Toro is exceptionally relaxed and subtle, keeping his thoughts and feelings private from the other characters in the films, but sharing it with the camera. Del Toro navigates the audience through a world of impossible choices and moral corruption, quietly simmering with intense conflict just beneath the surface. Benicio's been an indie stalwart for years, but this film should shoot his stock through the roof. If there's justice in this world, he'll be rewarded with Best Actor Awards aplenty.

Michael Douglas is also terrific, adding another strong performance to his gallery of flawed men in power. He shows genuine fear and vulnerability in a harrowing scene in which he searches for his daughter in a drug dealer's den. I've never seen Erika Christensen before, but she makes an impressive debut. Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman (they should star as a team in every movie!) are as loose, limber and spontaneous as ever, providing plenty of comic relief as well as keeping it real. Catherine Zeta-Jones takes a complete 180 from her past roles and admirably plays against her looks, appearing very pregnant while thrown into gritty surroundings. Dennis Quaid is appropriately slimy as a corrupt lawyer.

Anyway, film geeks and anybody else starved for a genuine piece of filmmaking should breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks that Soderbergh has come to save the day.
 

  Salt of the Earth (1954)
 

Plot Summary:  Based on an actual strike against the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico, the film deals with the prejudice against the Mexican-American workers, who struck to attain wage parity with Anglo workers in other mines and to be treated with dignity by the bosses. The film is an early treatment of feminism, because the wives of the miners play a pivotal role in the strike, against their husbands wishes. In the end, the greatest victory for the workers and their families is the realization that prejudice and poor treatment are conditions that are not always imposed by outside forces. This film was written, directed and produced by members of the original "Hollywood Ten," who were blacklisted for refusing to answer Congressional inquiries on First Amendment grounds.

Because blacklisted people were among those who made the movie, the production was fraught with outside interference. The entire cast and crew were met by a citizens' committee in Central, New Mexico, where they had planned to film, and were ordered to leave town. The following day they moved the production to Silver City, NM, and were warned to "get out of town... or go out in black boxes."

Trivia:
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.

Because the producers feared both sabotage and destruction of the film, the exposed footage had to be developed in secret, and at night, by a sympathetic lab technician, with the film delivered in unmarked canisters.

This movie was the only blacklisted film ever in American film history. It was blacklisted during the 1950s during the height of the Cold War scare.

Rosaura Revueltas, who played Esperanza Quintero, was a noted screen actress in her native Mexico. After this film was distributed, she was accused of being a Communist and deported. While she continued to appear in Mexican cinema, she never made another film in the US.

Members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 890, who were part of the original strike upon which this story is based, appear in this film as either extras or supporting cast
 

 
  One of the Hollywood Ten (2000) -  The making of - Salt of the Earth

Plot Outline: Herbert Biberman struggles as a Hollywood writer and director blacklisted as one of The Hollywood Ten in the 1950s.

I thought this film did a fine job of portraying the ugliness of the US government in the repressive McCarthy era. Goldblum is excellent in his depiction of the courage it took to stand up to this tyranny and I found it very inspirational. In particular his attempt to confront the panel during the hearings in Washington was very well handled and it made me deeply consider how I would hold up in similar circumstances. I also appreciated the tenderness and commitment the he and his wife showed to each other. A mature portrayal. I recommend it. 7 stars out of 10.

 

 
     
 

Bread and Roses (2000)

Plot Outline:  Maya is a quick-witted young woman who comes over the Mexican border without papers and makes her way to the LA home of her older sister Rosa. Rosa gets Maya a job as a janitor: a non-union janitorial service has the contract, the foul-mouthed supervisor can fire workers on a whim, and the service-workers' union has assigned organizer Sam Shapiro to bring its "justice for janitors" campaign to the building. Sam finds Maya a willing listener, she's also attracted to him. Rosa resists, she has an ailing husband to consider. The workers try for public support; management intimidates workers to divide and conquer. Rosa and Maya as well as workers and management may be set to collide
 

As the daughter of hard-working Mexican immigrant parents and having been raised in one of Los Angeles' poorest barrios, I often saw the story of Rosa and Maya being played out in real life within my family and amongst my neighbors. The authenticity with which this story is told is astounding, showing a deep respect for those who in search of a way to make an honest living, subject themselves to countless humiliations and are relegated to live outside the margins of mainstream America.

Kudos to the writers!! This is the first time I have ever seen an American film in which the dialogue in Spanish was written by someone who actually speaks the language and can grasp the nuances and feeling of the language so perfectly. Richard Hicks is to be commended for casting both Elpidia Carrillo and Pilar Padilla in the roles of Rosa and Maya, respectively. They deliver their dialogue, especially in Spanish, with an emotion and passion that is rarely seen on the Hollywood silver screen. Needless to say, Bread and Roses is now on my list of must-have-films to add to my DVD library.
 
 
  A Street of Memory (1937)

Short Film:  A production in Trucolor about Olvera Street and the old Mexican quarter in Los Angeles, California
 

 
  Why Braceros? (ca. 1959)

Short Film:  Produced to justify the bracero farm labor program to the general public, especially American citizens in California who felt threatened by the influx of workers over the border from Mexico.
 

 
 

Journey to Banana Land (1950) - Latin America

Short Film:  This film tells the story of bananas -- a "modern treasure" -- as they make their way from the tropics to your breakfast table. It takes great pains to point out that people like the Conquistadors merely took things from Central America, while people like the United Fruit Company "bring 20th century living" and "greater purchasing power" to the jungle wilderness. This film has the look and feel of a travelogue, which was obviously intentional. It had its premier showing aboard the S.S. Talamanca of United Fruit's "Great White Fleet." (KS)
 
 
  About Bananas (1935) - Silent

Short Film: Complete presentation of the banana industry from the clearing of the jungle and the planting to the shipment of the fruit to the American markets.