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Review: The Book of Life

Oct 20 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218468:41901:0[/embed] The Book of LifeDirector: Jorge GutierrezRelease Date: October 17, 2014 Rating: PG The Book of Life is the story of three childhood friends in the small town of San Angel. Two of which, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), are in love with the third child, Maria (Zoe Saldana). Seeing the two boys compete for Maria's love, two gods La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, place a bet on which of the two boys will end up marrying Maria in the end. After Maria is sent to live in a convent to become a proper Mexican woman (yes, really), the three grow up in far different fashions. Manolo is trained to become a bullfighter like the rest of his Sanchez relatives (but really wants to be a musician), and Joaquin becomes a decorated war hero thanks to help from Xibalba's magic. All while the super bandit Chakal is threatening the town from a distance.  Book of Life's story is incredibly simplistic. While this makes the film easy to digest, and also gives the film a nice fairy tale/fable vibe (and thus is more appealing to children), it means it has to cram quite a bit into a short amount of time. For example one of the film's best locales, the Land of the Remembered, is filled with vibrant colors and the most fanciful visuals of the entire film, but it's swept away through a brief two minute scene. I'm sure it's a weird criticism to make, but I liked the look of Book of Life's environments so much, I wanted to spend more time in them. There just isn't enough development in most areas. It's like eating a sugar skull. Looks good, but entirely hollow when you bite into it. But even still, the film is just great to look at.  Book of Life is a gorgeous film. It's got a distinct, eye catching character design that works wonders within the nature of its story (it's framed as a tale told to children). Using both influences from both Dia de Muertos decorations (mostly the puppetry and wooden carvings) and Gutierrez's own line of work, each character is built with a blocky, flat outline that blends well with the CG world. It's like you're seeing a puppeteer move the characters along (a quirky little touch gives most of the characters visible metal joints that hold their wooden parts together). Their toy like appearance also makes the fantastical nature of their world far more acceptable as the whole "story within a story" comes together. But unfortunately, this fantastical world also has some troubling real life implications.  While the film makes sure to highlight Mexican culture's better attributes (family togetherness, bravery, music and such), it also critiques some of the darker aspects of the culture. Whether it's a result of the self deprecating humor (the film makes sure to note that Mexico is "the center of the universe" and has plenty of jokes about mustaches) or a consequence of the story, it's pretty nasty toward women. While La Muerte and Manolo's mom have autonomy, Maria doesn't. She's the main woman in the story, yet her ending has to be wrapped around Manolo or Joaquin. Maria is developed as a strong woman who's well versed in all sorts of things (as she openly says she doesn't belong to anyone) yet is still enveloped in the ideals of the "perfect" Mexican woman: kind, listens to her father, and most importantly, virginal.  Despite the film fighting this, the three main characters are still wrapped in their parents' wishes. It's a tragic layer that emphasizes how much control parents have in Mexican families. Book of Life does try to point out that they're finally breaking the cycle, but the ending of the film completely denies all movement forward. It's an odd mash of tones that probably would've worked out well, but Book of Life never gives enough time to develop this idea or find a balance between a congratulatory pat on the back and a stern wag of the finger.  But what if you aren't as engrossed with Mexican culture as I am? Book of Life is still a hearty experience. The cast is well placed (with Channing Tatum and Diego Luna anchoring with great performances), some of the jokes are far too on the nose but work well with kids, the soundtrack is lovely as it's full of anachronistic song choices (American pop music infused with Spanish flair) that help widen its appeal, and is a feast for the eyes.  So, I'm conflicted. I do like The Book of Life quite a bit, but am troubled by what it implies as it never follows through with its criticisms. Like it's whispering weird things in the corner but goes silent when confronted directly. Oh well, vive la vida. 
Book of Life Review photo
Que lindo
Although advertisements for The Book of Life really didn't kick in until a few months before its release, I've been eagerly anticipating the film for a bevy of reasons. It's produced by Guillermo Del Toro (thus giving it a pe...

The Book of Life Trailer photo
The Book of Life Trailer

Trailer for The Book of Life continues to look bueno

Aug 08
// Nick Valdez
The Book of Life, produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by Jorge Gutierrez (who once created one of my favorite cartoons ever, El Tigre), looks absolutely stunning. I've completely fallen for this Die de Muertos film s...
Book of Life Trailer photo
Book of Life Trailer

First official trailer for the Del Toro produced animated film, The Book of Life

May 30
// Nick Valdez
The Book of Life is definitely on my list of films to keep an eye out for. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez (who created one of my favorite past Nickelodeon cartoons, El Tigre, which Book of ...

SXSW Review: Que Caramba es la Vida

Mar 14 // Nick Valdez
Que Caramba es la VidaDirector: Doris DörrieRated: NRRelease Date: TBD Que Caramba es la Vida is a documentary detailing the lives of several female musicians in Mexico struggling to make a name for themselves within an already packed Mariachi music genre. As the film begins, you see several hundreds of Mariachi men littering the streets of Mexico as they earn a measly ten or twenty Pesos per song (that's less than two American dollars) in order to live their dream as a musician. The documentary follows Maria Del Carmen (or Wendy, as her mother refers to her), a single mother who earns her living each day by singing at the plaza, a mecca of Mariachi music and has to compete for her earnings with chauvinistic men who refuse to let her sing with them.  One of the more interesting facets of Que Caramba is it takes account of different generations of Mariachi women and their different philosophies of the profession. While some of the newer ones notably earn their living off of the music (like Maria, it's the only money they can to count on), a few of the older women label the younger generations as vain and money hungry. It's an interesting dynamic in the film which sheds light that not only do women have to struggle against the men in their culture, but other women as well. While there's a true unity between members of a single group, there is a harshness toward outside groups. To add on to all of this pressure to succeed, some of the Mariachi have to deal with unaccepting parents.  But you see, the genius of Que Caramba is that the Mariachi aren't the only ones given attention. As the narrative expands to later include performers of all types, Que Caramba questions the very necessity of artistry within Mexico's bleak landscape. Throughout the film, we actually get a better picture of Mexico City's faith culture. It's ultimately depressing since each individual believes death is constantly above them, but there's a certain integrity and hope that comes from uniting with that depression and fear to fuel a performance. When each Mariachi performs a folk song, you realize how sad each song is. There's one about bird singing that's especially dark since one of the translated lyrics is "Please wait until I die before you sing again, Little Bird." The stark contrast between dark lyrics and moving, soulful music creates an odd blend of happiness.  These artists perform to accept their lives. All they can do is live day by day, and push forward in their music as a way of both accepting their struggle and mocking it. Each performer, each Mariachi understands that their life choice was a tough one, but they remain in their profession with grace. It's really all they can do when faced with terrible surroundings. And the women who chose to fight an additional layer of darkness are the strongest of all. They do it because that's what they love to do.  Que Caramba es la Vida made me see Mariachi in a way I never have before. My only qualm with the film may be its length and skewed demographic, but hopefully others witness this cultural marvel. It's a universally translated fight to maintain artistry and craft. In order to provide others with happiness, the Mariachi must accept and constantly battle against their bleak world. I'm sure that's a message many can understand. 
Que Caramba Review photo
"Bien es mal. Excelente es bien."
Growing up as a young Latino boy in San Antonio, Texas, I've had quite a few experiences with Mariachi groups. There was a Mariachi club in my high school, and on several occasions, my great uncle would hire groups to sing at...

Cesar Chavez photo
Cesar Chavez

First trailer for Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Pena

Si se puede.
Jan 22
// Nick Valdez
Latinos don't have a lot of widely accepted historical icons. While we have our own, few have their names reach outside the Latino community. For example, Cesar Chavez was a farm worker in the 60s who organized a strike. Whe...
PA: The Marked Ones photo
PA: The Marked Ones

First Paranormal Activity: Marked Ones trailer Mexican't

Actividad Paranormal
Oct 17
// Nick Valdez
A Latin flavored Paranormal Activity spin off has been in the works for some time now, and every time more news of it broke, we at Flixist made fun guessing how many stereotypes were going to be exploited in the final produc...

Review: Machete Kills

Oct 11 // Nick Valdez
[embed]216615:40773:0[/embed] Machete Kills is the story of Machete (Danny Trejo), an ex-federale who gets roped into a mission into Mexico by United States President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen Carlos Estevez ), as he tries to get over the loss of a loved one by killing lots of bad guys. As Mendez (Demian Bichir) and Voz (Mel Gibson) threaten both the United States and Mexico with a fleet of nuclear warheads, Machete has to put aside himself and fight for justice.  As you can most likely tell from the summary (and by the first few minutes of the film itself), this film is not meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, a lot of effort put into the film can be mistakenly brushed off to the side as "exploitative schlock." It's important to decide on the kind of film Machete Kills wants to be. Is Machete Kills an intentional Grade B Movie or an unintentional one? The difference between the two is that when a film is intentionally trying to be as goofy and Grade B as possible, there is a greater potential to fall flat on its face as neither its humor or seriousness hits the mark. Thankfully, that isn't a problem here. Machete Kills joyously shreds through convention and becomes a wonderful parody of exploitation and send-up to fans of Robert Rodriguez's line of films. Robert Rodriguez has mastered the art of goofy grit. Through his years of experience in the "Mexploitation" genre, he's found the perfect balance of violence and hilarity. Think using an intestine to rappel through a hospital window was the best kill you'd see in the Machete series? Machete Kills upps that ante tenfold. There're helicopters, boat motors, space rifles, and even triple bladed, electrified machetes. If none of that sounds interesting to you in any way, you're not going to like this movie. In fact, that's Machete Kills's main problem. It carves such a niche for itself, it's nearly impossible to reach in from the outside (especially if you're a woman). At times Machete Kills has so much going on, its convoluted story struggles to make sense. Sure you can write off its story problems or bad dialogue as part of its intentional Grade B charm, but unfortunately so much of the film is spent setting up a sequel that may never happen or ogling women's breasts (In retrospect, Machete Kills will be far better as a Grade B film if Machete Kills Space never comes to be), it tends to forget to explain what's going on at any moment.  While the story can get confusing and goes on about 20 minutes too long, thankfully everyone involved with the film knows exactly what kind of film they're in. Amber Heard (as Miss San Antonio) and Demian Bichir (as Mendez) deliciously chew through the scenery and own their personas. Bichir's Mendez wields multiple personalities and is the main reason the rough second act (where Machete has to take Mendez to America for reasons I won't spoil here) is bearable. Heard's Miss San Antonio is deadly sexy and has some of the best lines (and Planet Terror paralleled sequences) in the entire film. Sofia Vergara gets some points as well as she uses her horribly sexist caricature to its full potential, elevating her terrible, terrible lines. Honestly, her character wouldn't have worked ("man-eating dominatrix") if it were anyone else.  As for Danny Trejo? Unfortunately, he still can't anchor a movie. He's certainly gotten better in the past few years thanks to starring in whatever Grade B or C film that offered him money, but there's only so much a stone faced man could do when confronted by folks who can actually act. It's a big strike against the exploitation genre when you're boring big hero is upstaged by the villains.  Speaking of villains, Mel Gibson is such an excellent exploitative villain (and a cut above Steven Seagal's goofiness from Machete) I'm sad he hasn't been used this way before. He just gels into the role and becomes such a wonderfully despicable, yet humorous person who loves Star Wars. Every other cast member in the film brings their B-game to the script and Kills's use of stunt casting will certainly get both laughs and eyebrow raises (there's one cast member who wasn't spoiled through the advertising that's just wonderful in her bit part). Don't like how Sofia Vergara or Lady Gaga acts? Don't like Alexa Vega's gratuitous outfit? Don't worry, they'll be gone after a few minutes. It's a brilliant use of their famous names.  All in all, Machete Kills certainly kills it. Sure it's not all gummi bears and rainbows (rougher than rough plot, overbearing sexualization of women and cleavage despite its attempts at strong female characters, intentionally bad dialogue falls flat a lot of the time), but Machete Kills somehow holds it together and manages to accomplish quite a bit for what it is. A sequel to a movie branched off of a joke trailer.  If you enjoyed the first Machete, if you've ever enjoyed anything made by Robert Rodriguez (and love the idea of a Sex Machine shout out), and if you understand what kind of film it is trying to be, you're going to have so much fun with Machete Kills. For everyone else, maybe a rental. 
Machete Kills Review photo
Bigger budget, bigger kills...bigger boobs.
It's a miracle Machete Kills even exists. It's a sequel to a film originally based on a joke trailer before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse. With that in mind, it was easy to forgive potential flaws i...

Machete Kills photo
Machete Kills

Machete Kills poster and huge batch of images are killer

Featuring sexy Michelle Rodriguez, sexy Amber Heard, sexy Mel Gibson and Sex Machine (!!!!)
Sep 09
// Nick Valdez
I'm stupidly hyped for Machete Kills. Sure the last trailer had some wonkiness which tempered my expectations a bit, but I'm on the edge of my seat nonetheless. In the gallery you'll find the poster for Machete Kills (which j...
Machete Kills Trailer photo
Machete Kills Trailer

Second Machete Kills trailer certainly kills

"Machete don't Tweet"
Aug 05
// Nick Valdez
Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills is gearing up to be a splendidly cheesetastic sequel to 2010's Machete. It amps up the Mexican pride, hilarious deaths, and number of beautiful women. With this second trailer, we get more of...
Machete Kills photo
Machete Kills

This Machete Kills poster has Michelle Rodriguez on it

Jun 03
// Nick Valdez
Michelle Rodriguez, known as "Tanktop Jesus" round these parts for her glorious ability to die in almost every movie she's been in and somehow is revived several sequels later, graces the newest poster (as She) for Robert Rod...
Machete Kills Trailer photo
Machete Kills Trailer

Trailer: Machete Kills

First trailer for Machete Kills, um, kills.
May 30
// Nick Valdez
Update: An English version of this trailer was released. You can watch that below. Despite the narration and most of the trailer being in Spanish (well, because Machete), there's plenty of stuff to hook you to the first trai...
Machete Kills photo
Machete Kills

Charlie Sheen finally goes Estevez for Machete Kills

This is pretty big news...since it's currently 2010.
May 29
// Nick Valdez
Until the elusive first trailer for Machete Kills pops up online officially, we'll have to survive with juicy tidbits. Like the rest of Robert Rodriguez's madcap casting, Charlie Sheen was cast as the President of the United ...
Disney and them Mexicans photo
Disney and them Mexicans

Disney nearly trademarked a Mexican holiday

Before deciding offending an entire race and culture was a bad idea.
May 08
// Nick Valdez
For the two of you who aren't aware, I'm a 6'3 Spanish-Mexican-American Indian. I've been waiting forever for a Disney film to explore any part of that culture. I would've preferred a Spanish Disney Princess that isn't Sophia...

SXSW Review: Diario a Tres Voces (Three Voices)

Mar 20 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215042:39829:0[/embed] Diario a Tres Voces (Three Voices)Director: Otilia Portillo PaduaRating: N/ARelease Date: March 8, 2013 (SXSW)  The documentary centers on three women in Mexico: the teenager Monserrat, a middle-aged divorcee Nora, and a 90 year old great-grandmother Aldegunda. Padua films them as they reflect on their past loves and discuss their current feelings about relationships. As each person reminisces about their shared heartaches, they oftentimes find themselves speaking highly of the memory, with each story becoming more poetic in nature. Diario a Tres Voces is like a love letter to love from the perspective of three women in vastly different stages of their lives. At times, their stories sometimes parallel one another's, despite no immediate direct link among the three. The poetic nature of nostalgia in the documentary helped move the flow of the documentary along despite the non-existence of a "narrative," so to speak. Then again, the relaxed nature of Diario a Tres Voces and its lack of an introduction explaining why it was made help make the documentary and the women's stories feel more natural. The best way to describe Diario a Tres Voces is to liken it to three women reciting three different verses of the same poem. There's a shared feeling of hope for the future, contentment for the present, and a nostalgic longing for the past. There's a beauty in the documentary's simplicity, one which anybody can appreciate.
Diario a Tres Voces photo
A nostalgic reflection on love from three different generations.
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] Love ...


New Machete Kills poster shows off Sophia Vergara's guns

Mar 07
// Nick Valdez
We've known for awhile that Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills is going to filled to the brim with sexy chicas and dangerous levels of cheese, but we just didn't know how far it would get. By the looks of this new poster featur...
Broken Lizard says it's going to happen, it's just a matter of when
A sequel to 2001's Super Troopers looks like it's good to go. Kevin Heffernan (Car Ramrod!) revealed that Super Troopers 2 was ready to Guy Speed: There will be a Super Troopers sequel. We put it off for a while and then cam...


Flixistentialism 10 - Poop Taco

Geoffrey really outdoes himself on this one
Feb 28
// Andres Bolivar
On this weeks episode of Flixistentialism, Nick becomes the new new old Nick, we swear to pineapples, Geoffrey purchases a questionable taco, we discuss The Oscars, and we uncover a dark dark secret about Geoffrey that drives Nick to the brink of insanity (Hint: it involves Gabriel Iglesias).

The Cult Club: El Mariachi (1992)

Feb 11 // Nick Valdez
Now I'm now the most aware "cult movie" guy, so I'm not really sure what qualifies a film as a "cult" film. As far as I've known, a film achieves cult status when it turns out to be really good, but is widely ignored for some reason or another. Whether or not that definition holds true, it's what I'm going to reference with Mariachi. Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi is a Western film through and through. It just happens to have a few Mexican herbs and spices. It starts off with a man with no name, simply referred to as "Mariachi" (Carlos Gallardo, who has sadly become a member of "I'm here too you guys!" club) who wanders into the small town of Acuña, Mexico and quickly finds himself caught inbetween a rivalry between a drug lord, Moco (which hilariously translates to "Booger" in English), and Azul, the hitman with a guitar case full of weapons. With that synopsis, the film should sound familiar. Guitar case full of weapons? Where else has that happened?  If you're unaware of El Mariachi, you might at least know its spiritual successors Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Those two feature the same Mariachi character, but greatly differ from the original film. For one, the Mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas (probably because money), and the tones for the two films greatly emphasized absurdity over Mariachi's mysterious, subdued characterization. And it's important to note that before Rodriguez became obsessed with fantastical levels of gore and camp (leading to lines like, "Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can't?"), he wanted to tell a great story with as much heart as possible. It's like Mariachi's low budget forced it to get the greatest return from as little investment as possible.  El Mariachi is deceptively simple, with its simplicity ultimately becoming its greatest asset. To once again get back to the "Western" thing, no one in the story has a last name or "true" name. Each character, from Mariachi to his love interest Domino, has a nickname that's meant to give them the tabula rasa characterization. This works most of the time (someone like "Domino" could have both a light and dark side), but ultimately serves a greater purpose. To be a truly great legend and form a mythic hero, a story that bypasses concrete definitions in any media, you have to be able to retell it. It's much more interesting to say "some Mariachi came in and shot some dudes" than "Fred shot some dudes." Now which one of the two sounds like a better story? The one with the mariachi (and if you answered with "Fred's" I hate you).  Beyond the names, the film evokes a Western image. Nameless man with a single characteristic (the Mariachi/the Cowboy/the Fastest Gun in the West) wanders into a town run by a single corrupt White man (which is odd in a Mexican inspired film, but says a lot when the White man's abuse of the Spanish language is far more noticeable than it should be), is mistaken for another due to his visual characteristics (there is a mix-up when "a man in black" is all the bad guys define him by), and then leaves the town at the end of the film as both the town and the hero change in its wake. And most of all, the Mariachi himself is a genuine badass.  As I've mentioned earlier, El Mariachi helped re-inspire me. It's ultimately what set me on my academic path. El Mariachi is a traditional hero's journey though and through. But the difference is that it's not an average man who becomes a hero, it's the hero who becomes a myth. Even though the Mariachi equates himself to a turtle in the beginning of the story, he possesses certain skills. Despite fighting for his life in a haphazard fashion, he manages to kill four of Moco's men. He demonstrates a hero's skill, and since we know so little about him (and because of the initial confusion that likened him to the hitman Azul), there's no true way to define him one way or the other. When he finally drives off into the sunset, with  nothing but a bulldog, the memory of his love, and his guitar to keep him company, he becomes a legend.  El Mariachi's hero's journey, and it's deceptively simple mythic quality, motivated my once dead dream. I wanted to tell a story just like this. I wanted a character that could inspire others, I wanted to use a low budget to my advantage, I wanted to make a film that isn't an embarrassment to Mexican culture, and I wanted my own El Mariachi.  It's a shame that no one else did.  Next Month... Are you a marijuano? Do you like to partake in the occasional herb brownie every now and then? Alec Kubas-Meyer tells you why that's a bad idea with Reefer Madness (1936). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB January: Six-String Samurai (1998) December: The Warriors (1979) November: Funky Forest: First Contact (2005) October: Casino Royale (1967) September: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
The Cult Club photo
"Lo que quería era solamente ser un mariachi como mis antepasados..."
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...


Alejandro Inarritu directing a comedy called Birdman

Dec 10
// Hubert Vigilla
Though Alejando González Iñárritu is best known for films the films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, now he's going to try his hand at comedy with the film Birdman. Co-written with Nicolas Giacobone, A...

Trailer: The Girl

Dec 07
// Nick Valdez
The Girl (which unfortunately shares a name with an upcoming Hitchcock film on HBO) stars Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch) as she loses her child to Social Services. To earn some extra money she becomes a Coyote, someone who is ...

New photo of Alexa Vega spices up Machete Kills

Nov 08
// Nick Valdez
Right now, I'm not sure how to feel. While the first Machete was amazingly badass, Machete Kills looks to take what was great about the first and put the "exploit" in exploitation. I hope I didn't make it sound like that's a ...

CIFF Review: A Secret World

Oct 18 // Geoff Henao
Trailer for A Secret World A Secret World (Un Mundo Secreto)Director: Gabriel MariñoRating: TBDCountry: Mexico Following her high school graduation, Maria (Lucia Uribe Bracho) decides to leave her hometown of Mexico City behind for something better. It's easy, after all, as she's a loner with a strained relationship with her Mother. More importantly, she's racked with guilt over her sexual deviances. Will escaping from her hometown help her find what it is she's looking for? A Secret World is a road film, which allows the film to explore Maria's internal conflict while also presenting new, fundamentally different characters along her journey. However, despite how different each character Maria comes across, she ultimately ends up concluding each encounter the same way: hitting it and quitting it (with the exception of the young Mother, of course). Maria turns to sex as a means to communicate with people around her, yet writes self-deprecating messages to/about herself. By the end of the film, nothing is resolved. The last scene of the film closes on Uribe Bracho looking directly at the camera and smiling (which may or may not be the first instance of her smiling in the entire film). The lack of tying up the loose ends would normally bug me, but I felt at ease with it in this film. The ending leaves everything open for Maria and her social whims, which is a reflection of how life is (as cheesy as that sounds). Cinematically, the film is mostly quiet with only a few minutes of dialogue stretched throughout the film. Further exemplifying Maria's loneliness are a lot of wide angle shots to highlight her figure. The sex scenes are tastefully shot with little to no real skin showing. I don't know what it is about this year's festival, but a majority of the films I've screened have had ample sex in them. Sex sells, right guys? A Secret World is what you'd expect from a coming of age road film... just with more sex than you'd expect. It could have expanded on the self-deprecation/discovery of its protagonist, but it instead decided to basically shuffle true character arc away for gorgeous shots. Like I said earlier, not every film has to answer or "fix" its character's problems, but a little more in terms of character development wouldn't have hurt.

[Flixist will be attending the 48th Chicago International Film Festival over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow along as we bring you coverage from the longest-running competitive international film festival in the country...


Watch Sofia Vergara get sexy on the set of Machete Kills

Jul 06
// Liz Rugg
Sofia Vergara is one of numerous sexy ladies who will be starring alongside Danny Trejo in Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills, which is the sequel to 2010's Machete. Vergara's son Manolo hosts his own online reality series cal...

Lee Unkrich's next Pixar movie about Dia de los Muertos

Apr 25
// Jenika Katz
Taking a brief hiatus after Toy Story 3, director Lee Unkrich has announced his next project for Pixar: a movie about Dia de los Muertos. Unkrich says on his Twitter that the movie will be set in the world of the Day of the D...

The Cult Club: Santa Sangre (1989)

Apr 10 // Hubert Vigilla
Technically my first encounter with Alejandro Jodorowsky came by way of Eddie Murphy. A line from Santa Sangre appeared in the song "Whatzupwitu," a 1993 duet with Michael Jackson. "The elephant is dying," says a sad clown, and in thumps that 90s bassline groove. In the Jodorowsky film, the line is one of many potent declarations of childhood's end. In the Murphy song, it's just a bit of preface to a hackneyed declaration of earth's renewal. ("Party All the Time" this is not.) There's also a shot in Pulp Fiction that's very similar to one in Santa Sangre, and it was probably intentional. It's all so fitting. There's the poison of Jodorowsky's rusty knife working its way into various veins, sure, but there's also this play of disparate ideas and how they influence each other. A lot of what's going on in Santa Sangre is a series of collisions and references. The Boston Globe likened the movie to Luis Buñuel remaking Psycho. There's a moment in which James Whale's The Invisible Man is recreated while it plays in the background. There's a murder scene that perfectly evokes the work of Dario Argento, from the stark colors to the shots of the killer's hands. (Claudio Argento, Dario's brother and frequent collaborator, produced Santa Sangre.) The movie's soundtrack is a mix of mambo hits, organ grinders, and synthetic orchestras. It's an Italian production filmed in the seediest parts of Mexico City, dubbed into English mostly by Italian voice actors faking Mexican accents. The film itself was born from a run-in with a notorious Mexican criminal. While in a cafe in Mexico, a man named Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández went up to Jodorowsky to tell him he was a fan of the weekly comic strips he was doing in a local paper. Hernández was a real-life serial killer who murdered four women, including his girlfriend. He had been successfully rehabilitated by the Mexican prison system, which made him a bit of a celebrity. It's the idea of murder and forgiveness that's at the heart of Santa Sangre, easily Jodorowsky's most coherent film. But Jodorowsky gives the story his own stamp, creating a madcap a circus of the deadly and surreal. You will get your fix of freaks, deformities, sex, derring-do, and spirit. The film centers on a shell-shocked man named Fenix, played by Jodorowsky's son Axel. At the beginning, he's perched naked atop a tree inside a large room in an asylum. He eats a raw fish and spaces out. What follows in the next 40 minutes is a remarkable flashback. It's not as crazy as the introductory section of The Holy Mountain (few things are), but it's emotionally wrought and filled with compelling weirdness. We learn about Fenix's childhood in the circus, where he's played by Axel's younger brother Adan. His mother (Blanca Guerra) was a trapeze artist and religious fanatic who worshiped a blasphemous armless saint. His father (Guy Stockwell), a knife thrower and drunk, owned the circus and fled from America after killing a woman. When he's not waddling in a daze, he's ogling the tattooed lady (the imposing and stunning Thelma Tixou), who is eager to bend over and present to him like a dog in heat. One night, Fenix watches his parents murder each other in a fit of rage and jealousy. It's the sulfuric acid and arm cutting scene I mentioned earlier. His young mind breaks from the violence. We're back in the asylum again. Fenix hears his mother's voice out the window. She's somehow alive. She stands there on the street, armless like her saint. Fenix escapes and becomes her arms. She's completely domineering, controlling every aspect of his life, even accessing all of his thoughts. (Whenever Fenix stood behind his mother in the film, Guerra had her arms behind her back with her hands gripping Axel's testicles. Perfect!) [embed]208538:38046:0[/embed] Rest assured, I haven't really spoiled anything. I think that's one of the great appeals of Jodorowsky's films for me. I'm never quite sure what will happen next, but whatever it is, it will usually blow me away. In The Holy Mountain, for instance, we watch a woman bring a giant robot to orgasm with a seven-foot dildo. There are plenty of weird detours and alleys in the story of Santa Sangre, and like Mexico City, the side streets are dark, sketchy, sometimes nightmarish and always dreamlike. One such unexpected street is the elephant funeral. It's one of the most unforgettable things I have ever seen in a film. (And clearly Eddie Murphy thought so too.) There's a procession comprised of the entire circus. Even the clowns are dressed in somber black, some of them with powerful streams of tears shooting from heir eyes like novelty squirting flowers. There's a massive coffin hauled by a truck, and a black and white American flag. This is capped by a moment so cartoon-like and unexpected that it goes from mere oddness to something like poetry, albeit dusty, brutal, desperate poetry. Following this funeral for childhood, there's a bloody initiation into the world of man. It really needs to be seen rather than described. And then there's the tandem pantomime between Fenix and his mother. Jodorowsky was a student of Marcel Marceau, and wrote this routine for him to perform. Axel was also a student of Marceau, and his hands undulate like ribbons caught in the wind. It's a moment of memorably strange beauty, part of Jodorowsky's attempt to make images that cannot be disregarded. Again, maybe it's silly at first, but there is such a poetry to it. It speaks to me in this odd way that isn't intellectual. Watching Santa Sangre for the first time as a teenager, I experienced the kind of perplexed awe that you get from watching a magic show. With each odd trick, I thought both "How did he do that?" and also "You can do that?" Jodorowosky called Santa Sangre his first emotional picture. He's claims to have always made films with his testicles, but he considers El Topo and The Holy Mountain heady. They're steeped in the tarot, mythic ideas, and religious/spiritual symbols. He feels Santa Sangre is a heart movie by comparison. It's still heady, of course. There's some blatant Freud in there and the usual spiritual concerns, but it's a film tied to memory and childhood. Jodorowsky's own father worked in the circus, and bits of autobiography likely slipped in, even if veiled in metaphors. All the torment of growing up is fuel for the 40-minute flashback. It also provides direction for the remainder of the film, which is all about repression, revenge, and the possibility of redemption. Santa Sangre is also a movie about family relationships and his bond to his children. Four of Jodorowsky's own sons appear in the film. In addition to Axel and Adan, there's Brontis in a small role as an asylum doctor. As a boy, Brontis played the title character's son in El Topo, which mostly involved him walking through the desert with his dad, naked except for a hat. There's also Teo Jodorowsky as a pimp. It was Teo's only film role. He died not long after the making of Santa Sangre, and the pain of the loss made Jodorowsky avoid any viewings of the film for years. It's Jodorowsky's most personal film in another way. In numerous interviews, he's said that making Santa Sangre made him less of a narcissist and less of a misogynist. I wonder if any of it had to do with his practice of psychomagic. Psychomagic is a type of surrealist psychotherapy that states that the unconscious mind takes metaphorical acts as a factual ones. At a lecture Jodorowsky gave in New York City, he said that if you had issues with your father, one therapeutic approach would be to stomp on a watermelon and send him the mushy remains. It's a blend of convulsive art and emotional sublimation, which is maybe just another way of describing what Jodorowsky has been doing his entire career. Though I don't subscribe to the idea of psychomagic, I can at least understand its potency on some level. (It sounds silly, but, you know, silly things have the potential to become poetic.) Images are extremely important to us, as are various kinds of symbols. To see such resonant things play out on screen or on in a book or in a song moves us in an uncanny way. We get a little chill of recognition, like something inside has been stoked. It's not like we're just receiving stimuli, but we're in this silent conversation with the work which reflects something of ourselves back to us. I mentioned that watching Santa Sangre for the first time was like watching a magic trick. I tend to feel that way about any work that speaks to my own sensibilities. It just happens that those sensibilities involve things that are strange but genuine, because that's what our winding, unpredictable emotional and intellectual lives are like. Watching Santa Sangre all those years ago, I felt the same feeling I did when I started reading Clive Barker in middle school or Italo Calvino in college -- that I wasn't quite so alone in the world, and that an act of creation can bring a sense of personal relief. That's a little bit of psychomagic, maybe. And while making me feel reassured, Jodorowsky was simultaneously planting new obsessions in my mind that have metastasized over time: elephants, magicians, circuses, flexible women built like Raquel Welch, and so on. Watching the film again and again, I find more of his fingerprints on my imagination, as if he's some kind of surrogate creative father. It's like he'd enfolded me into some great paternal hug and ushered me out of high school into adulthood, and only as I'd pulled away did I notice that the son of a bitch had stabbed me repeatedly. But that's what happens when you wander at night through the Mexico City of the mind. [embed]208538:38050:0[/embed] Next Month... We'll have a look at The Apple (1980), the Citizen Kane of kitschy, future-dystopia rock musicals. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB March: Tideland (2005) February: House (1977) January: They Live (1988) December: Jingle All the Way (1996) November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-1965)
The rusty blade of Alejandro Jodorowsky's imagination
[The Cult Club is where Flixist's writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pa...


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