Search results for 'South of the Border'

Holy Rollers and South of the Border

20 Nov

I’ll review two movies here to make up for lost time. Also, as a disclaimer: If I did this for a living, (viewing and reviewing movies), I would certainly ensure that only awesome movies would ever make their way to my reviews, but unfortunately my several jobs keep me from constantly screening movies for my critiquing pleasure. Here are two movies worth a looksee.

Holy Rollers (2010)
Here we find yet another drug trafficking movie in which an unlikely protagonist finds himself in the center of an international drug ring. What makes this film different from the others? Said protagonist is Sam Gold (left), a Hasidic Jewish young gentleman played by Jesse Eisenberg who abandons the innocent life to become a drug mule, smuggling Ecstasy from Amsterdam to New York. Falling in love with the fast-paced world of beautiful women, international travel, and above all else, financial prosperity, Sam becomes a key player and right-hand man to his neighbor and “friend,” Yosef, who also falls from the graces of the conservative New York Hasidic Jewish community as he becomes more and more involved with the drug trade as well. Their operation burgeons thanks to Sam’s know-how, and he and Yosef begin recruiting more and more from their conservative Hasidic community. I suppose this film is unique compared to other drug-smuggling movies in that the drug-of-focus is not cocaine (Blow, Scarface), heroin (Maria Full of Grace) or marijuana/hash (Blow, Midnight Express). But for being all about ecstasy trafficking, this film sure is tame on the sex side of things. In addition, the obligatory love story feels unnaturally injected and somewhat unbelievable (though I still enjoyed it). I love Jesse Eisenberg because of The Squid and the Whale, and the premise was enough to keep me entertained, but it definitely didn’t blow my mind or even get all-too-exciting. When it comes to drug-trafficking films, the aforementioned ones are not to be dethroned by this 2010 feature, although it is worth checking out.

South of the Border (2009)
This Oliver Stone doc is short enough that you don’t really have an excuse not to check it out. As a “Latinamericanist,” I have always been interested in the politics and history surrounding Venezuela, so perhaps I am a little biased. For die-hards who are interested in Latin America, Hugo Chavez Frias, Venezuela or US foreign policy abroad, The Revolution Will Not be Televised is a little more bang for your buck. But if you know little to nothing about Venezuela’s 1989 Caracazo, the 1992 failed coup attempt or Hugo Chavez’s current presidency, this documentary does a good job at bringing you up to speed and exposing the ways in which the US and Venezuelan media along with the elite of Venezuela and the US government are constantly manipulating facts, footage and more in order to paint Hugo Chavez as an undeserving and cruel dictator. The film demonstrates why these actors would be interested in overthrowing the democratically-elected leader of VZ, (hint: oil), and how media outlets from all points of the political spectrum have had a hand in painting a negative picture of Chavez. It is an elementary film about the topic, but it covers a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. It is arguably biased, but it is necessarily so in order to counteract all of the misinformation that the world has been fed about Venezuelan politics in the past few decades. I wouldn’t say that I am pro-Chavez, especially in light of recent developments. However, it is refreshing to see “fair and balanced reporting” exposed for what it truly is much of the time: a vehicle for the political agenda of the rich and powerful elite.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)

8 Mar

VZ movie posterI have a particular interest in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary movements of Latin America, as you may already know if you read my review on South of the Border, an Oliver Stone documentary on the topic of Chávez and Venezuela. In that review I also mentioned that there is a better doc out there that gets a little more down and dirty into the details of Chávez’s rise to power, from the 1989 Caracazo (Chávez’s failed military coup) to the 2002 political and media climate surrounding the now-deceased Hugo Chávez Frías. That documentary is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (a.k.a. Chavez: Inside the Coup). This movie is a must-see for novices and experts alike, especially in light of Chávez’s death, and the inevitable turmoil that will come of this.

I would like to do something a little different in this post. It is less of a movie review and more of a reflection on Hugo Chávez. Just know that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is, in my opinion, the best documentary out there on Hugo Chávez, and it is available online for free (link below), so there is absolutely no excuse not to see it. Of course as the holder of a Latin American Studies MA, I am somewhat partial to keeping yourself informed with Latin American politics. But Hugo Chávez has reached throughout Latin America and beyond, right to the US and George W. Bush’s dumb face to deliver a bitch slap. His death spells uncertainty for the future of not only Venezuela.

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

I traveled to Venezuela on a Witness for Peace delegation. That short, 10-day trip, was an eye-opener and, dare I say, life-changer. We spoke to Venezuelans from both ends of the political spectrum, to Chávez supporters and dissenters. My overwhelming conclusion was that Chávez has done much more for Venezuela than any other president ever has or could. I will try to keep this brief, but I want to throw my two cents in on an on-going and heated debate between the pro- and anti-Chávez masses…

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. The political elites of the nation had enjoyed the profits of this wealth for decades, leaving the majority of the marginalized poor in the mire of poverty. For the most part, these old school elites are the ones who speak out against Chávez because he messed with their money, and they didn’t like that. What he did was use this oil revenue to help bring the poor out of their horrific conditions. This money was filtered into Chávez many “Misiones” or Missions, social programs that were benefactors of the Venezuelan poor. These

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

missions have provided free education to children, the illiterate, and college students. They have reforested areas of the country, built and re-built ramshackle settlements in the mountains of Caracas, and brought FREE healthcare to anyone and everyone in the nation. One sight that will stay with me forever was the in-progress mission involving the lighting up of the poor hillside neighborhoods of Caracas. We landed in Caracas at night, and on our trip to our hotel we could see these communities in the distance. They started out as a speckle of yellow lights nestled in the hills. As we approached the city center, the lights became bluer and denser. The government had been providing free compact fluorescent bulbs to these communities, and along with that, electricity to many houses that did not have it previously. It was a beautiful sight that summed up the changes happening because of Chávez.

We spoke to those who had been helped by Chávez, many of them in La Bombilla, one

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

of the poorest communities in Caracas (much like the favelas of Brazil). Many of these people had framed and hung photos of the President in their homes because they loved him so much. They spoke of him as if he were family. They showed us the parts of their house that used to be made of cardboard, homes that just recently received plumbing and electricity. We visited the schools and health clinics in these neighborhoods which helped keep the community healthy and children off of the streets and put them into the classroom. I heard them sing the praises of Chávez with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Compared to the elites who spoke out against Chávez, these people seemed so much more thankful for their happiness, for what little they had all thanks to government assistance.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

Conclusion: Critics of Chávez were (and still are) afraid of him NOT because he is a heartless dictator who stole elections and power in Venezuela. They fear him because he took away their access to oil wealth and reallocated these riches to the nation’s poor. The US fears him because he refused to be a third world puppet to their demands. They fear him because he is not afraid of them, not afraid to call them out. I will conclude with some of my favorite Chávez quotations. Que descanse en paz, Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.

In a 2006 speech at the UN, he said the following of George W. Bush:

“The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house. And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world”

On Condoleeza Rice in 2005:

“She is sexually frustrated. I could invite her on a date to see what happens between us”

The Kids Are All Right

1 Aug

Once again, my movie review is going to contain spoilers, so if you have not seen the film and don’t want anything revealed ahead of time, read no more! I just will always put this kind of disclaimer up because one time I went to a friend’s house while he was watching Fight Club, walked in around the time of the big Tyler Durden plot twist, and he knowingly let me ruin the entire movie before I got to watch it from the beginning.

Last night I saw director Lisa Cholodenko’s newest film, The Kids Are All Right. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a lesbian couple living in Southern California with their two children, Laser and Joni. Fifteen year old Laser decides he wants to contact the sperm donor responsible for bringing him and his sister into the world. Legally, eighteen year old Joni has to make the contact with donor Paul. Paul is a smooth-talking 30-something organic farmer/restaurateur whose hyper-masculine persona and irresponsible behavior first gains the love and admiration of the family, then their disgust and anger.

Rather than to regurgitate the plot here further, I want to talk about the way the movie addresses sexuality. I do not want to overstep my bounds here, after all, Cholodenko is, herself, a lesbian, and thus I trust that as the director she portrayed the lives of Jules and Nic in a way that was similar to her own experiences. After all, Cholodenko herself had a child with her life partner through an anonymous sperm donor. That being said, I was mostly pleased with the way sexuality and gender were portrayed in The Kids Are All Right.

To begin, I liked that this was a film that did not fall into the typical trap of needing to characterize the lesbian couple as a copy of a male and female couple. I wouldn’t say there was a butch or a femme role assumed by either Nic or Jules, which was refreshing to see, as I feel that lesbians are often portrayed as one hyper-masculine and one hyper-feminine partner. Sure, there was masculine and feminine performativity carried out by both characters, you can’t strip away the fact that gender is inherent, or at least deeply associated with many different traits. According to US or Western social standards, Nic’s short pixie haircut and no-nonsense attitude may be seen as a more masculine performance, while her sensitivity and maternal protectiveness is typically associated more with femininity. I don’t try to fall into these generalizations, of course men can be family-oriented and women cut their hair short all of the time. But there are gendered associations with behaviors and appearances in every culture, and I doubt you can argue that the associations I just laid down there don’t ring true, at least in the US. Thankfully, the film doesn’t portray these characteristics and behaviors as dichotomous.

I also like the way that sexuality was interpreted as a more fluid and complicated matter than simply hetero or homo. Nic and Jules get their kicks in the bedroom while watching all male porn. In fact, Jules goes quite in depth about the fluidity and convolutedness of sexuality when Laser asks why she and Nic watch “gay man porn.” Definitely a funny part of the movie as the hippie-esque Jules tries to be honestly explicit when explaining herself to her fifteen year old.

Jules does not turn out to follow an explicitly homosexual path as well, when she eventually comes to cheat on Nic with sperm donor Paul. I think this is where those who identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual (i.e. 0 and 6 on the Kinsey scale) might have problems. I might be assuming here, but I have a feeling that many people thought, or even whispered to a fellow movie-goer “but I thought she was gay,” at the onset of Jules and Paul’s affair. And indeed, when Paul proposes that he and Jules move their relationship to an even more serious level after their affair is discovered by Nic, Jules says into the phone “I’m gay,” maybe even further confusing many audience members. But I think this was a realistic exhibition of human sexuality, especially under the conditions that the family and Jules was under. Namely, Joni is an emotional 18-year old preparing to leave for college, Nic is stressed out about Paul’s arrival and is downing more wine than ever, Laser is experimenting with drugs and hanging out with a sociopath, and Jules is trying to start a business and productive working lifestyle for the third time. Paul comes along and becomes Jules’ first customer at her new upstart landscape design business, and this galvanizes the whole sexual escapade.

Although I delved into the sexuality of the film, The Kids Are All Right is a movie that really tackles family, growing up, infidelity and other issues that many mainstream or heterocentric films cover, but it shows how these same issues are present in nontraditional (in typical Western culture) family structures. Any of the problems that come up are neither further exacerbated nor smoothed over by the fact that Jules and Nic are in a homosexual relationship, and I think that is such a good step in a society where many still think that shows like the L-Word are the Last Word (heh) in lesbian relationship representation.