Lucha Mexico


Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

(2015) Documentary (Self-Released) Shocker, Jon Strongman Andersen, Fabian El Gitano, Blue Demon Jr., Julio Cesar Rivera, Tony Salazar, Kemonito, Arkangel, Ultimo Guerrero, Faby Apache, Sexy Star, Arkangel, Damian 666, Halloween, El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, Gigante Bernard. Directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz

Professional wrestling here in the United States is essentially an entertainment spectacle. While the participants involved are indeed athletes of the highest caliber, the matches are scripted and the outcomes pre-determined to a storyline that matches up good guys versus bad guys. The same is true in Mexico, where wrestling is known as lucha libre  but South of the Border it is something of a national mania.

For eons, wrestlers – called luchadores in Mexico – mainly plied their trade in two different establishments, the CMLL and the AAA. Many would wear masks that gave them a kind of superhero mystique, as if they were protecting a secret identity. As time went by, the masks became more and more a part of their identity; luchadores wear them often up to 18 hours a day. Some almost never take them off, feeling more comfortable in the mask than without.

And make no mistake, those masks are money makers for both of the wrestling federations; sales of masks for the fans are a very significant portion of the merchandising income for the CMLL, the AAA and the wrestlers themselves. The luchadores are very careful to market their image properly as this is part of what keeps them viable as draws to the organizations they work for.

&This documentary goes behind the masks and the marketing to a certain extent, trying to illustrate and explain the absolute obsession that the Mexican people have for wrestling and the luchadores. For many, it is an escape from the economic upheaval, the political corruption, the drug violence and the desperate poverty that is a part of Mexican daily life. In the world of lucha libre, good triumphs over evil (most of the time) and honor and virtue are lauded above deceit and avarice.

One thing that has caught the sport by surprise is the rise of the Rudos. Rudos are the wrestlers who generally are rule-breakers, although some use the term to describe any who wrestle without masks, or use brute force as their primary wrestling technique. Tecnicos, or technicians, tend to be high-flyers, and generally are the heroic who fight with honor and sportsmanship. Because of the corruption in Mexico, the people have begun to see those who refuse to play by the rules as more heroic than those who do, mainly because every day they see those who play by the rules tend to be the ones who support a corrupt system.

This has given rise to the Perros Del Mal, an organization that is roughly equivalent to the ECW in the United States. Their matches tend towards the extreme and here the Rudos worship is more pronounced. Founded by wrestler El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, the PDM has taken off in popularity over the past five years and now rivals the established organizations for the imagination of the Mexican lucha fans.

The documentary, which was four years in the making, primarily focuses on Shocker, one of the most popular figures in the CMLL and Strongman, an American import in the same organization. Shocker comments on the loneliness of the luchador life and after suffering a severe knee injury that put him out of action for six months, saw him really having a hard time coming back to the level of competition he had been at previously. Strongman also suffers an elbow injury and is a devoted family man who lives in California, wrestling with a Japanese federation at the same time he labored for the CMLL, racking up the frequent flyer miles.

Injuries are a significant part of the wrestling game. Most wrestlers are injured at any given time, be it cracked ribs, fractured wrists, pulled muscles, and of course enough bruises to wallpaper a house. They gamely wrestle through the pain and perform in all sorts of venues, from the ancient but respected Arena Mexico in Mexico City to brand new sports palaces to tents at local ferias. They travel by bus, by plane and by personal car. They are often absent from families (if they have them) for weeks at a time.

The documentary has a good deal of information regarding the sport as it is performed in Mexico and the interviews are lively. We rarely see talking heads; people in this documentary are always in motion and always doing something, be it working out in the gym, walking down the street, signing autographs or preparing for their wrestling matches. The film is kinetic and colorful which makes it stand out among other documentaries. Even non-wrestling fans will find this entertaining and informative.

What the movie fails to do however is address corruption within the sport itself, of problems with wrestlers who are less well-known going unpaid by unscrupulous promoters who also sometimes abscond with the gate of a live show, or wrestlers being dropped by promotions after getting injured. It’s a vicious industry and we don’t get a sense of that, which may have been in order for the filmmakers to secure access to the stars of the CMLL and the AAA whose Blue Demon Jr. is, like many wrestlers in the sport, sons and grandsons of legendary stars of the sport.

We also get little context as to what about wrestling appeals to the Mexican soul, although that is discussed somewhat. It is a fascinating topic and I think would have served the film better if we had gotten the point of view of wrestling fans rather than just those involved with the industry. A little context and perspective might have made this a better movie.

Still, this is better than most documentaries I’ve seen this year, although the subject matter may be less urgent. This isn’t a movie that is going to change your life or alter your view of the world. It may just give you a further appreciation of the sport/entertainment/spectacle that is professional wrestling. While there are a lot of similarities of Mexican wrestling to the American version (i.e. storylines and character development), there are a lot of differences; there are more interactions between wrestlers and fans and the wrestlers themselves seem to be less egotistical and down-to-earth, even if they do spend an enormous time at the gym. I don’t know if Vince McMahon will be seeing this film, but he should; he might get a few ideas for his own promotion, the WWE. Even the most popular wrestling promotion in the world can learn something new, after all.

REASONS TO GO: Informative and appealing even to non-fans. Avoids talking heads syndrome.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks context. Doesn’t address corruption in the sport.
FAMILY VALUES: Wrestling violence, some profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Four of the people who appear in the film have since passed away, including two who died during filming (and whose passing is covered in the film).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beyond the Mat
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Spectre

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Rudo Y Cursi


Rudo Y Cursi

Hee Haw was never like this.

(Sony Classics) Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Fracella, Dolores Heredia, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas, Salvador Zerboni. Directed by Carlos Cuaron

When you have nothing, it follows you have nothing to lose. That’s not the way life really works, however – there is always something to lose.

Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Luna) Verdusco are a pair of brothers living in the small impoverished Mexican village of Tlachatlan, whose economy revolves mainly around the banana plantation. Their mother has had a succession of husbands, each one a loser in some way shape or form. Tato dreams of becoming rich and famous as a singer; Beto is more of a realist, having a wife (Paz) and child that he must support, which he is content to do as the assistant to the assistant foreman on the banana plantation.

They are both gifted soccer players and play on the local team on weekends. One fateful day, the expensive sports car of Batuta (Fracella), the best talent scout in Mexican soccer, breaks down in Tlachatlan on the day of a local game. Unable to get the local repair shop to move faster than the average snail, Batuta and the first in a series of gorgeous girlfriends decide to watch the game to alleviate the boredom.

He’s pleasantly surprised at the play of the brothers, each of whom has the talent to be a big star in the Mexican First Division of soccer. Unfortunately, Batuta can only take one of the brothers with him. As to which one he brings with him, it all boils down to a penalty kick.

It turns out the lucky brother is Tato, a forward with a scoring touch, leaving Beto angry and frustrated – pro soccer had been his dream, not Tato’s and Beto can’t help feeling cheated  by life. His wife Tona (Paz) is trying to help make ends meet by becoming a salesperson for a dietary supplement whose befits are murky at best. However, eventually when a club needs a goaltender, Batuta is able to bring Beto up for his own shot at the brass ring.

Both boys want to build a beachside home for their mother, but a is usually the case when those in abject poverty come into wealth, the money gets squandered, Beto on high stakes poker games, Tato on Maya (Mas), the beautiful supermodel and television personality that Tato is dating.

The two brothers wind up on rival teams, each brother having been given a nickname – Tato is Cursi (which can be translated as corny) and Beto is Rudo, which critics have translated as tough; that’s not quite the case. The word in Spanish implies a certain lack of manners or temprament. It’s not quite “Rude” which you might think it is, but it’s pretty close.

Over the past decade, Mexican cinema has really started to take off thanks to directors like Cuaron, whose brother directed the stunning Y Tu Mama Tambien (which Carlos wrote and Luna and Bernal starred in). Rather than playing rich kids exploring rural Mexico as was the case in the prior film, this time Bernal and Luna – who are actual childhood friends, part of the reason that their chemistry works so well together – are from a rural background, exploring the bright lights of the big city.

While soccer is a central theme to the movie, it remains a bit of a metaphor. The Beautiful Game is a ticket out of poverty, just as pro sports are here in the States. There, as here, there is a mystique to the lifestyle of the pro athlete. The fans in Mexico are a bit more rabid than you can imagine, however. For example, when Cursi goes on an extended scoring slump, he is given death threats by zealous fans – just before they ask him for his autograph.

Luna and Bernal have an uncommon chemistry that only comes from being close friends for a good long time. They have an easygoing rapport that descends into verbal shorthand from time to time; like any pair of brothers, their fights are more vicious than those between strangers and yet when push comes to shove, they are there for each other.

There is a lot of quirky humor here. When Cursi gets the big singing break he’s looking for, he chooses to do a norteno version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” which would lead anyone to tell him not to quit his day job. The music video he makes for his song borders on the surreal.

Like most good cinema, there’s an element of the morality play here but the filmmakers choose not to hit you over the head with it. The movie pokes gentle fun at obsessions and dreams, and on the difference between the rural and the urban. The humor breaks down in places and descends from zaniness into silliness (the difference between the two is subtle yet profound), but has its heart in the right place. This is the kind of movie that could only be made in Mexico and it captures the sensibility and humor that seems to be in the DNA of the Mexican people.

WHY RENT THIS: A slice of Mexican life, well directed and with a wry sense of humor that permeates it like a good mole sauce.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Descends into silliness in some places.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of foul language as well as some sexuality and drug use. Not that your kids are itching to see subtitled films, but you should probably think twice before showing it to them – this isn’t Goal.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All the soccer teams and their players that appear in the movie are fictional, although some of the action is filmed in actual Mexican Division I soccer stadiums.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a karaoke version of Cursi’s hit single on the Blu-Ray edition if you want to sing along.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Life is Hot in Cracktown

Duck Season


Duck Season

A lazy Sunday afternoon, and there's nothing to do.

(Warner Independent) Enrique Arreola, Daniel Miranda, Diego Cantano, Danny Perea, Carolina Politi. Directed by Fernando Eimbcke

When you are 14 years old, a single day can stretch out into an eternity of boredom, particularly on a Sunday afternoon with nothing in particular to do. Sometimes, a day can define you in ways you cannot conceive of.

Flama (Miranda) and his best friend Moko (Cantano) are stuck in the high-rise apartment in Mexico City where Flama lives with his mother (Politi). She is going out for the day and has left the two of them with a gallon of soda and enough money for a pizza. They proceed to divvy up the soda into two huge glasses and set about playing a soccer game on the X-Box.

The door knocks and it is Rita (Perea), the 16-year-old neighbor girl who needs to use their oven to bake a cake. The two boys are at first a bit reluctant but Rita pushes past their objections with the acerbic sharpness that only a 16-year-old girl can muster. The boys order their pizza, but when Ulises (Arreola) shows up at the door with their food, there is a dispute over whether he arrived in the allotted window of time before the pizza is free. He refuses to leave until he gets paid. The boys offer to play him at the X-Box game they’ve been playing with the winner getting the pizza money but the ending to even that wind up in dispute.

Rita’s cake is a disaster and she sensibly decides to bake brownies instead because they’re much easier. She adds a little extra something and away the quartet goes, flying high.

Flama’s mother is in the process of divorcing Flama’s father and Flama is unsure if he will remain with his mother in the apartment. In fact, the one thing that Flama is quite sure of is that his parents are far concerned with the distribution of their possessions than with Flama himself.

Reading the synopsis of the movie’s plot sounds like an exercise in boredom and to a certain extent, that’s what the movie is all about. Director Eimbcke, filming his first feature-length film, chooses to shoot in drab black and white which perfectly augments the mood and creates a tone of desperate boredom in the way that 14-year-olds get bored. This is very low key, which actually is part of what captures your attention.

The actors, mostly juveniles, do a marvelous job. All of them feel authentic for their age and social circumstance. These are upper middle class kids who have most of the comforts that middle class kids here in the States have, although conspicuous by its absence is the Internet. Still, despite the location and the language differences, this could easily have taken place in any big city in the United States as well. Sure, there are no action sequences and there really is no resolution to the movie. It’s just a day in the life and not a particularly interesting one, but all the same it is an important day, one that gives us a good deal of insight into not only Flama, Moko, Rita and Ulises but also into ourselves as well.

If I were reading this review, I’d probably choose to give this movie a pass which is more a function of my limited skills rather than of the merits of the movie. I’m not sure I adequately captured how enjoyable this movie is and how appealing the performances are. It has the right lilt of a Sunday afternoon at a time of life when you’re on the cusp of the best time of your life. It’s bittersweet, charming and ultimately gives you a glimpse back at your own adolescence. That’s a pretty good special effect right there.

WHY RENT THIS: Those who like slice of life movies will be thrilled with this one. The relationships and the characters feel very authentic. The black and white photography enhances the mood and the subject very nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There isn’t a great deal of action and the movie lacks inertia which I believe is the point – however, the attention span-challenged might find this difficult to watch.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of foul language, an unnerving but not graphic scene at a dog pound and some drug usage. I’m not sure why this got an “R” rating but quite frankly it didn’t deserve it. This is perfectly suitable for the young teens that are the subject of this movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 11 Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars. No other movie had won that many prior to Duck Season.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The International