Maya Indie Film series: The Best In Latino Themed Cinema


Maya Entertainment’s third edition of the Maya Indie Film Series (MIFS) The series, under the banner “Seven Films, Seven Days, Seven Cities”, features bring seven critically acclaimed, Latino-themed films. MIFS will run for
seven days in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago  (July 29 – August 4) San Antonio and opens in San Diego on August 5, Dallas on August 12, Miami on September 9 and San Francisco on September 16.

The series plays July 29-Aug 5 Check, at the Laemmle Sunset. Mark Ruffalo’s first feature “Sympathy for Delicious” is a fascinating film. Unlike anything you’re likely to see this year. For all it’s imperfections, you won’t be able to forget this grotty morality play set on Skid Row, the highlight of this year’s May Fest. Screenwriter/star Christopher Thornton, friends with Ruffalo since they both studied with Stella Adler was paralyzed form the waist down in a rock- climbing accident. It took the next en years for Ruffalo and Thornton to get the film green lighted.

Underground DJ Delicious D’s career died after a motorcycle accident left him a paraplegic. (The turntables are set up too high for wheelchair bound mixers.)  Delicious AKA Dean O’Dwyer (Thornton) lives in his car on LA’s Skid Row, befriended by Father Joe Roselli (Ruffalo).

Non-believer O’Dwyer discovers he has healing hands, the ability to heal the sick and injured. He cures Alzheimer’s with a touch. Father Roselli, a veteran of Rio’s favelas, arranges a temporary skid row clinic where O’Dwyer can heal the homeless. Roselli can’t help himself. He wants to improve conditions for his homeless flock. Putting O’Dwyer up at a SRO motel, Roselli stage manages O’Dwyer’s daily miraculous healing sessions. The irony is, he cannot help himself.

O’Dwyer taps Roselli for a mere $48.00 a day (most of it goes to the Mission). When a businessman pays Roselli  $250,000 to cure his daughter, O’Dwyer splits, in search of a musical career. Drugged out Rock bass player Ariel Lee (Juliette Lewis, in a protean, hilarious performance) recognizes the onetime “scratcher” DJ and introduces him to her band Burnt the Diplongs. (The multi-talented actors perform original material by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler.) He nails the audition and soon the band is attracting a devout Rock fan base as “the New Church.”  O’Dwyer’s healing on stage as part of their Metal-Punk extravaganza “Healapalooza.”

It’s a rich, ambitious brew of religious allegory, political satire and gritty redemption, filled with troubling memorable performances. The script is dense with incidents and a little short on character development (surprising in an actor directed film), but the performances are top notch.

Thornton’s O’Dwyer is a self-destructive man, angry  at God, who finds his way, with difficulty, towards a surprising redemption.  Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of him. Orlando Bloom is amusing as the narcissistic gothy rockstar “The Stain.” Laura Linney is convincing as the band’s greedy manager Nina who puts O’Dwyers “miracles” onstage to sell tickets, although her third act turn around comes out of left field.

Ruffalo (always marvelous) falls short of his best roles, sandbagged by inconsistencies in the script. Lewis steals every scene she’s given, as a drug demented diva of the dark side.

The script is flawed. It’s hard to accept that a celebrity healer winds up on a Rock stage and not under control of corporate handlers, but so be it. Ruffalo’s darkly handsome production keeps you interested. Kudos to DP Chris Norr, editor Pete Beaudreau, art director Michael Grasley, set decorator Gregory S. Webb and costume designer Erin Benach.

LA-based Singaporean woman director Yong Mun Chee’s “Where The Road Meets The Sun” premiered at The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2011. USC grad Mun Chee’s film follows a disparate group of immigrants, brought together at a seedy boho hotel in Los Angeles.

The beautifully produced ensemble piece may be seen as a continuation of Mun Chee’s short “9:30” (about a back packer escaping a lost love on a tip to LA) which screened at Cannes “Tous les Cinémas du Monde” and won a special jury award at South by Southwest (SXSW),

Japanese hitman Takashi (Will Yun Lee) “What’s Cooking?”) recently recovered from an accident-induced coma, has forgotten most of his past.

The manager of the hotel where he washes up Blake (Eric Mabius “ugly Betty?”) is trying to reboot his life after a painful divorce. Ilegal alien Julio (Fernando Noriega) needs to send his pay home to his family in Mexico City. Womanizing Guy (Luke Brandon Field), a brit with an attitude and an expired visa, just can’t keep out of trouble. Each of the man is haunted by an absent woman.

The four men bond in this episodic meditation on what gives meaning to men’s lives. The nuanced filled script capitalizes on Chee’s own expatriate experiences.

Attempting to help Blake overcome his depression, Takashi confronts his own disturbing memories. Leslie Cheung’s nihilistic Cantopop hit “The Wind Blows On” figures as an ironic statement (Cheung suicides at 46.)

Chee pulls off a magical realist coda to her well-played tale.

William Wedig’s bleak, gritty actioner “Forged”, set in the cold and rusty steel mill town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, follows Chuco (Manny Perez) on his quest to redeem himself after committing a horrific sin against his son, Machito (David Castro). Chuco killed his wife in front of her young son. Released from prison, he tries to go straight. Foremost in his mind is reconnecting with his 13-year old estranged son Machito. Criminally abused by his foster family, Machito fled and lives on the street, surviving turning tricks.  A harrowing sex scene, servicing a pedophile in the back of a truck will stick to your mind. Blaming Chuco for his nightmarish life, Machito’s aching for revenge. “You killed my mother. Now I kill you,” he tells his father when they finally meet.

Chuco rejoins his old gang, lured by sex and drugs. After a muffed drug deal, Chuco steals money from the gang to bankroll a new start for his family. An extended chase scene ends in a truly bloody gunfight.
Wedig’s unflinching realism shows what a bullet actually does to a body, as in the close up when Chuco shoots off his own toes.  Manny Perez has never been better.

Jose Joffily’s redemptive drama “Blue Eyes” (Olhos Azuis) on immigraton, intolerance and the egregious racial profiling that has spiked in American society, since 9/11.

One of Joffily’s friends, detained at a NY airport, then deported, shared his experience with Jofily, who used many of the details in his screenplay.
Joffily was inspired by a video of Jane Elliott’s “BLUE-EYED” diversity workshops. Elliot demonstrates the sold destroying effects of discrimination in workshops conducted with an interracial group of police, social workers and teachers.

Jose Joffily’s “Two Lost In A Dirty Town” also dealt with immigrations issues. Joffily wrote Jorge Durán’s award-winning drama “The Color of Your Destiny,” which followed a family of Chileans, exiled during the Pinochet coup, who dreamed of returning to Chile, where their oldest son, a radical, had been “disappeared.” Durán worked with Joffily, on an early version of “Blue Eyes” before Melanie Dimantas and Paulo Halm’s draft.

It’s the final day at work for prejudiced Marshall (David Rasche), the head of immigration at JFK airport.  Marshalll’s bitter about his mandatory retirement. Bob Estevez (Frank Grillo) and Sandra (Erica Gimpel) are his two best officers. Sandra is loyal to Marshall, grateful that he treated her as another officer, not a black woman. Bob’s his chosen successor

Marshall’s team is responsible for interviewing immigrants and deciding whether or not they can enter the country. Among the travelers swelling the waiting room on Marshall’s last day are a Brazilian (now an American resident), a Cuban ballerina Calypso (Branca Messina), two Argentine poets and group of Hondurian martial artists.

Martin (Pablo Uranga) the fighter’s “capitan” speaks for his team, who don’t speak English. Poet Assumpta (Valeria Lorca) speaks for her nervous husband Augustin (Hector Bordoni) who took a pill for the flight.

Cocky Marshall baits Calypso with “Fidel” the man with the black beard. He makes the martial artists demonstrate their chops, and unsatisfied, deports them.

Nonato (Irandhir Santos) a small business owner, who’s lived in the United States for ten years, presents his legal documents to prove he is returning to the United States after visiting her daughter in Brazil. The abusive Marshall spouts racial epithets, tears up Nonato’s “fake” papers and pulls a gun. Nonato becomes unhinged under Marshall’s abuse, leading to the situation’s tragic ending.

Marshall is arrested. When he is released years later, diagnosed with a terminal kidney tumor, he travels to Recife, in the northeast of Brazil, to search for Nonato’s daughter Luiza. He meets a young prostitute, Bia (Cristina Lago) who travels with him to Petrolina, where Luiza lives, in his quest for redemption.  An elliptical script, with performances and dialogue in English, Spanish and Portuguese keeps the audience on its toes.

Gabriela Tagliavini’s “Without Men” which played the penultimate night at the 15h anniversary edition of LALIFF, is a lively comedy that takes on sexual politics head-on. Eva Langoria “Desperate Housewives” and Christian Slater star. Langoria is at her best as Rosalba, the abused mayor’s wife, who becomes the mayor of the democratic Utopian town of Maraquita, once guerillas force their men folk into the rebel army.  Kate del Castillo (“La Misma Luna”) plays the sassy, butch Cleotilde, who becomes Rosalba’s true love. Oscar Nunes (“The Office”) plays the Father Raphael, the priest who sacrifices his chastity so the men hungry women of Marquita can procreate. The comely Yvette Yates and Maria Conchita Alonso are funny as the now out of work Madam Lucretia and her star hooker Virgelina, another couple who find love between the sheets.

Amy Wendel’s “All She Can” (“Benavides Born”) starring Corina Calderon, Jeremy Ray Valdez and Joseph Julina Soria. The film tells the story of a high school senior in a small Texas town with serious ambitious in life whose only shot to afford a scholarship to go to college is to compete in the State Powerlifting Championship. (Apparently, the top 8% of any Texas high school class is accepted to the University of Texas if they have the money to pay for tuition.)

Luz, a high-school power lifter. hopes to earn a scholarship to U. of Texas.
Supportive Coach Chapa (Julio Cesar Cedillo) instructs her to work u to her weight limits, but her boy friend Ray (Jeremy Ray Valdez) provokes her to use performance-enhancing steroids. Some bad choices on the part of the angry young woman seem to block her way.

Spanish is the “first “language in her largely Latino Texas border town of Benavides. Shot n Super 16mm, DP who and Director who shoot at the juvenile detention facility, oil fields and power lifting events in and around Benavides, giving the film a boost over it’s sometimes clichéd script.

Bigas Luna’s glossy “Didi Hollywood”, which also played at this year’s LALIFF, as part of a three-film slate presented by Maya Films, stars Elsa Pataky (“Mancora”) and Peter Coyote.

Cocktail waitress Diana Diaz (Elsa Pataky) leaves Madrid for Miami then, Hollywood, set on a movie career. She trods the typical soul destroying path to fame recognizable from “A Star is Born” and “The Barefoot Contessa.” Spanish TV star Luis Hacha plays her new boy friend. Paul Sculfor plays Steve Richards, her gay leading man. Super agent Michael McLean (Peter Coyote), changes her name and creates a press garnering celebrity romance between “Didi” and Steve.

Production values are high, featuring beautiful work by DP Albert Pascual, editors Jaume Marti & Regino Hernandez, costumes by Ana Herce, and stunning art direction by Rafa Jannone.

Luna, who began as a designer, founder of Studio Gris, became an international festival darling with the 1992 release of “Jamon, Jamon”, part of the Ibericon Trilogy (* Huevos de oro”, “La teta y la luna.”)


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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