24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Latino culture

Oscar nominations 2012: Life keeps getting 'Better' for Demián Bichir

January 24, 2012 | 12:02 pm


Demian bichir

For Demián Bichir, star of "A Better Life," life keeps getting better and better.

The Mexican actor, best known to U.S. audiences as the wily Tijuana sheriff Esteban Reyes on Showtime's "Weeds," on Tuesday received an Oscar lead actor nomination to match the Screen Actors Guild nomination in the same category that he picked up several weeks ago.

"It was a great sign, and I think it was a gift," Bichir said of the SAG recognition. The Oscar nod, he said, "is really beyond any imagination."

PHOTOS: Oscar top nominees

In Chris Weitz's drama, Bichir plays a hard-working East L.A. gardener, an undocumented immigrant who’s doggedly pursuing the American dream while struggling to raise his teenage son. Bichir himself  immigrated to the United States some 20 years ago to pursue English-language roles. He already was an established Mexican film and television leading man when he crossed the border to work in New York and Hollywood.

Bichir is one of only a handful of Mexican actors and actresses to have scored Oscar nominations, including Anthony Quinn for "Zorba the Greek" (1964) and Salma Hayek for Julie Taymor's 2002 bio-pic "Frida" about painter Frida Kahlo.

"There always are good roles for Latinos. Unfortunately, most of them are part cliche and characters that are just too obvious for any Latino actor to play," such as gangsters, drug dealers, thieves and prostitutes, Bichir said.

Despite the obvious relevancy of its subject matter to Mexican audiences, "A Better Life" has not been widely distributed in Mexico. "As weird as it sounds, a lot of people don't know about the film in Mexico," he said. 

But Tuesday morning, the Mexican media were on the phone en masse besieging Bichir. Could it get any better?


A playful spirit

Movie Review: 'A Better Life'

SAG Awards: Demian Bichir on his surprise nomination

 -- Reed Johnson

Photo: Demián Bichir in "A Better Life." Credit: Summit Entertainment

Will Ferrell to star in Spanish-language film 'Casa de mi Padre'

November 3, 2011 |  1:21 pm

Will Ferrell

In the culturally open-minded tradition of Steve Martin and Chevy Chase in "¡Three Amigos!" and Jack Black in "Nacho Libre," Will Ferrell looks to become the latest Hollywood comic star to take a swipe at the Spanish language.

Variety reports Thursday that Ferrell will star in "Casa de mi Padre" as a ranch owner's son who's trying to settle his father's debts while struggling with a feared narco overlord played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. According to Variety, rights to the film have been obtained by Lionsgate's Latino label, Pantelion Films.

Diego Luna, who played opposite Bernal in Alfonso Cuarón's coming-of-age drama "Y Tu Mamá También" (2001), a landmark of modern Mexican cinema, as well as the dark comedy "Rudo y Cursi" (2008), also will appear in "Casa."

Matt Piedmont, who'll direct, wisecracks to Variety that his and Ferrell's "collective knowledge of the Spanish language amounts to what we learned during a half-hour Learning Annex class taken the night before production of the film began."

But the project has promise. Spanish-language comedies with cross-border casting could play well with Latinos, who are among the fast-growing segment of U.S. theater audiences. Not to mention the marketing possibilities throughout Latin America, a part of the world where many movie theater chains are compelled to show disproportionate numbers of Hollywood films.

So who will laugh last? Vamos a ver.


Mexican culture in a sweaty headlock

Mexican stars chase the Hollywood dream

Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal reunite for 'Rudo y Cursi' 

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Will Ferrell in "Old School." Credit: DreamWorks


Raul Ruiz, Chilean filmmaker, dead at 70

August 19, 2011 |  9:06 pm

Raoul Ruiz 

Raul Ruiz, the Chilean-born director of scores of films that showcased his painterly eye and literary sensibility -- including the recent 4 1/2-hour period melodrama "Mysteries of Lisbon" -- is dead at 70. He died of a pulmonary infection in Paris, where he had lived after fleeing his homeland in the early 1970s following the violent coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

In his movies, Ruiz demonstrated a currently unfashionable affinity for leisurely, densely embroidered storytelling that reflected his lifelong love of literature and his interest in critical theory (he taught for a time at Harvard University). Not surprisingly, several of his best-known movies were adapted from or inspired by books, including "Mysteries of Lisbon," which was based on a novella by the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco.

Among his other films were "Tres Tristes Tigres" (1968), an adaptation of the book by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a darkly humorous, montage-like novel set in pre-revolutionary Havana that has been compared to James Joyce's "Ulysses"; "Marcel Proust's Time Regained" (1999); "Three Lives and Only One Death" (1996), with Marcello Mastroianni, based on the short fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne; and "Klimt" (2006), with John Malkovich starring as the Austrian Symbolist painter renowned for his sensual, Byzantine-influenced paintings, typically of beautiful semi-nude women.

The themes that haunted these movies -- memory lost and retrieved, the seductions of art, the disjunctions of modern urban life -- were to resurface continually in Ruiz's films. Yet his movies seldom sagged under their high-brow aspirations, because Ruiz was foremost a committed entertainer. He loved improbable plot twists, overheated emotions, scandalous revelations -- three staples of Mexican telenovelas (soap operas), which he also directed at one point in his peripatetic career.

All these qualities came together in "Mysteries of Lisbon." In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden wrote: "Through every twist of the kaleidoscope, the delight in storytelling is primary.... Ruiz is as uninterested in solutions as he is in hitting Hollywood-style beats. He constructs a memory palace from an endlessly unfolding paper fortuneteller, choreographing his troupe of note-carrying go-betweens, eavesdropping servants, lovers bent on revenge and those locked in unhappiness."

In a Spanish-language Twitter message today, Chile's president, Sebastián Piñera, wrote that the country was hurt by Ruiz's death, and praised his movies for having "opened the world to us." One of Chile's current crop of young directors, Andrés Wood, told a Chilean newspaper that Ruiz's "inspiration and genius" helped move him to become a director."

"I don't know if it can be said that he is the greatest director of all Chilean filmmakers, because I believe that he goes with others like Miguel Littin," Wood told El Mercurio. "But Ruiz is among the most important, without a doubt."


Movie review: 'Mysteries of Lisbon'

Ruiz's 'Only One Death' a Complex, Delicious Fable

Photo: Raul Ruiz. Credit: Ricardo De Luca / Associated Press

Diego Luna to Obama: Keep guns out of Mexico

August 11, 2011 |  4:55 pm

Diego Luna
This post has been corrected. Please see note at the bottom for details.

Diego Luna, the heartthrob Mexican star who reportedly now makes his home part-time in Los Angeles, has a message for President Obama and the National Rifle Assn.: Stop letting guns bought in the U.S. into Mexico.

According to a post by Cecilia Sánchez on our sister blog, La Plaza, Luna is urging Obama to curb sales of guns that could end up in the hands of Mexican narcotics traffickers and other criminals tied to Mexico's rampant drug-related violence, which has claimed some 40,000 lives since 2006. Mexican gun laws are far stricter than those stateside, and leaders south of the border complain that many weapons used by hit men are smuggled from the United States.  

Luna, the star of such films as "Y Tu Mamá También"and the upcoming "Contraband" with Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale, joined activists Thursday in Mexico City to launch a cross-border petition drive asking Obama to use existing presidential authority to toughen gun rules without having to ask Congress. Among other things, the petition calls for expanding the “regulatory capacity” of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in areas along the Mexican border.

Political activism is practically a second career for Luna. Along with his friend and fellow actor Gael García Bernal, he has worked on behalf of indigenous people's rights. The two stars also reportedly have committed their film production company, Canana, to help produce a series of documentaries about the hundreds of unsolved slayings of women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

[For the record, 7:56 p.m. Aug. 11: An earlier version of this post stated that the petition Luna supports includes a demand for "reinstating an assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004." That information, supplied by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights and social justice organization, to our sister blog La Plaza, was incorrect. The petition doesn't specifically reference the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a renewal of which would need to be passed by Congress, a WOLA spokesperson said. Instead, the petition calls for Obama to enforce the prohibition against the importation of assault weapons and parts manufactured in other countries into the United States -- to prevent such weapons from being bought in the United States and illegally trafficked into Mexico. The spokesperson said that the petition also calls for ordering weapons dealers to report to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the sale of multiple assault rifles to the same person over a period of five days. And it calls for increasing the regulatory capacity of the ATF in those regions of the United States that supply the weapons contraband to Mexico, especially in border states.]


Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal reunite for 'Rudo y Cursi'

Los Angeles Film Festival: 'Revolucion' directors muse on a Mexico in revolt

There's no denying the power of a star

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Diego Luna. Credit: Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times


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