Linda and the Mockingbirds


For some, the border wall is more than just a barrier.

(2020) Music Documentary (Shout!) Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Eugene Rodriguez, James Keach, Lucina Rodriguez, Fabiola Trujillo, Marie-Astrid Do Rodriguez. Directed by James Keach

 

It is no secret that the current President made border security, specifically on our Southern border, a campaign issue, one which has carried over into his administration. The building of the Wall is much more than symbolic, particularly to those who have emigrated to the United States from Mexico and Central America to make a better life for their families – just as Irish immigrants did during the potato famine, as Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe did during the programs, as Vietnamese immigrants did after the fall of Saigon and as any number of immigrants did from all over the world over the past two and a half centuries.

It is also no secret that Linda Ronstadt was one of the most powerful voices and popular singers of the 70s into the 80s. Of Mexican descent, she remembered fondly singing traditional songs with her family, particularly her beloved grandfather who hailed from a small village in Sonora. After making an album of the music that she so loved as a child, she became aware of the Los Cenzontles Cultural Center (cenzontles is Spanish for mockingbird), founded by guitar virtuoso Eugene Rodriguez, dedicated to teaching youth of the San Francisco Bay Area music and dance forms that are largely dying out in Mexico. He was putting together a tour in Mexico for the kids to study with masters in Mexico and Ronstadt agreed to fund them and added a date to her tour to benefit the center. She has been a patron for them ever since.

As filmmaker James Keach was putting together the documentary of Ronstadt’s life, he found the artist – now unable to sing due to Parkinson’s disease – reluctant to do an interview for her own documentary. She suggested that they do the interview in Mexico, in the village where her grandfather grew up. Keach agreed, but was surprised to find that the reason for the trip wasn’t his film, but rather for the youth of Los Cenzontles to put on a concert for the village in the public square. Along for the ride was longtime Ronstadt friend Jackson Browne, who had been introduced to the cultural center by Ronstadt, and who was inspired to rewrite his song The Dreamer about the experiences of Lucina Rodriguez (one of the two main singers of the vocal group put together by the center).

The movie is about much more than a performance. It is about the modern immigrant experience, about the fear and disquiet many of them feel as they have been demonized by the current administration. Certainly, we are shown the frustration and even rage – but this isn’t an angry film. Rather, it is about the beauty of discovering one’s own culture, of how the music, dance and traditions of our past can help us find out who we are so that we may navigate the future. It’s a powerful message and one delivered over and over again in the film.

Ronstadt does on-camera interviews here, and in some ways they are disarming. She comes off at times like an ordinary Midwestern housewife, a sleeping two-year-old grandniece at her side, but there is also pride in her background and talking about the songs of her culture clearly energizes her. Of her medical condition not one word is spoken, not one word mentioned and if the only hint of its devastating effect on her life is a wistful “I wish I could sing with those kids” as some break into song on the bus ride into Mexico, you would never know she has Parkinson’s unless you already knew – and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t find out unless you read a review like this. Ronstadt has chosen not to become a poster child for her disease and while Michael J. Fox has elected to become a spokesperson for further research into a cure for it, Ronstadt prefers not to go that route, directing her energy into Los Cenzontles instead.

The movie is heartwarming and hopeful and full of amazing music, colorful handmade costumes and lovely dancing. It is a peek into the richness of Mexico’s (and Sonora’s specifically) cultural heritage, a very worthwhile endeavor particularly if your only exposure to it has been the occasional Tijuana Brass album or mariachi night at your local Chevy’s. At just under an hour long, this documentary is a worthwhile investment of your time.

REASONS TO SEE: The music is rich, passionate and warm. A frontline look at the immigrant experience.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some may find that the film pulls its punches a little bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some discussion of controversial current events.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ronstadt’s 1987 album Canciones de Mi Padre remains the biggest-selling non-English language album in U.S. history.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Synchronic

The Twilight Saga: New Moon


The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Couldn't you just DIE?!?

(2009) Romantic Fantasy (Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Nikki Reed, Kellen Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Anna Kendrick, Chaske Spencer, Christopher Heyerdahl. Directed by Chris Weitz

Some movies are aimed squarely for a specific audience segment and you just have to go with that particular flow. It you don’t mind accepting that you’re not the target audience, you can enjoy the movie at least on an intellectual level.

The Twilight saga continues with the second installment of the four-book series. Edward Cullen (Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Stewart) are deeply in love and looking forward to Bella’s 18th birthday, which she intends to spend at a celebration at the really nice Cullen place in the woods. When she accidentally cuts her finger, it sets off Jasper (Rathbone) and ends up with Bella getting hurt. Edward recognizes that it is far too dangerous for Bella to remain with his kind and he dumps her, heading off to Italy to hang out with the Volturi, the eldest of the Vampires.

Bella is devastated by this and spends much of the movie in a funk, crying and brooding and in general, acting as if her life is over. Most teenage girls can relate to this – when you can’t be with that cute boy you love, you just want to die and so Bella does, convinced that each time she is on the brink of death, Edward’s spirit comes around to save her so that, at least that way, the two of them can be together. Mothers of teenage daughters please take note – this is very unhealthy and should be discouraged.

Bella is taken under the wing of Jacob Black (Lautner), the Native American who has buffed up quite a bit since the first movie and spends much of his time not wearing a shirt to make sure you know how buff he is. He has taken to hanging out with the Wolf Pack, a bunch of equally buff and shirtless Native Americans led by Sam (Spencer) who like Jacob and the rest of the Wolf Pack, harbors a secret – they’re all werewolves (although this is treated as a secret plot point, it is well known enough that I don’t mind revealing it here). Jacob and Bella begin to get a little closer than just besties.

In the meantime Bella is being stalked by Victoria (Lafevre) who has vowed vengeance on her after the events of the first movie and the Wolf Pack mean to protect her – as do some of the Cullens, especially Alice (Greene) who has come to warn her that Edward, lovesick and moping around, means to reveal himself to non-vampires which would mean his death by Volturi.

The success of the first movie meant a much bigger budget for the second, which means this is a much better-looking film than the first, where the special effects were bargain-basement. Here, they are more extensive and a bit better-realized but all in all the point of the movie isn’t the special effects, it’s the romance at the center. Or, in this case, romances.

The whole Team Edward vs. Team Jacob thing is set up here. Certainly Bella is firmly entrenched in Team Edward at this point. There is a Romeo and Juliet thing that seems to be pulsing through the movie, from its Italian denouement to the reading of the play in class at the movie’s beginning. The star-crossed lovers thing is reinforced by the looks of aching and longing that is supposed to be soulful but sometimes comes off more like Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Part of my issue with the film is that Bella is so damn bland. Most of the movie, people are telling her how special she is, from her dad (Burke) to Jacob to Edward to Alice to…OMG, like, everyone. I just don’t see it. When Edward dumps her, she falls apart and not just for a little while, I mean for almost the entire movie she can’t breathe, she hurts so much.

We’ve all been there. Most of us who have ever had their hearts broken (and that’s most of us) can relate to her pain. What I can’t relate to is how long it goes on, her obsession driving her every move, including bringing herself into near-death experiences just so she can see the apparition of her lost love. While it’s highly romantic and appealing to adolescent girls, it is somewhat disturbing that this unhealthy behavior is seemingly celebrated here as the right way to behave for a loyal loving heart. It really isn’t ladies…trust me on this.

Like the first movie, the performances are as good as you’d expect – not really outstanding but not bad either. The addition of Sheen and Fanning to the cast adds a little bump up in the talent, but they aren’t seen much. The movie mainly resides in the hands of Stewart, and she spends most of the time moping. It isn’t her fault – Stewart is proving to be a pretty decent actress although she mostly gets to show that in other films – the story is set up that way. Still, it’s hard to get behind a character that you just want to shake and scream in her face “Enough, already!”

Lautner is much more integral to the movie and he’s an appealing young actor who has better things ahead of him, but to this point his role is essentially a one-dimensional nice guy who is meant to be the thankless best friend role that is blossoming into maybe something else but never will because Bella is “meant” to be with Edward. Hmm.

I have to say that overall, I didn’t like this movie as much as the first – which, to be fair, is usually the case with sequels. As in the case of the first film, this review is pretty superfluous – girls gonna see it no matter what anyone writes. There is nothing more loyal and steadfast than a teenage girl in love, and there are few things that teenage girls are in love with more than a tragic love story that appeals to the drama in their lovely teenage hearts, bless them all.

No, I’m not the audience this movie is meant for and for those who aren’t this movie isn’t as compelling or engaging as the first. However, for those who love the books and the first movie, this isn’t going to disappoint and while it likely won’t convert any new fans, it won’t dissuade any old ones from their rabid devotion to the series.

WHY RENT THIS: For the adolescent or pre-adolescent girl in your family – and their mom.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Well, you’re not one.

FAMILY VALUES: If you don’t mind a little bit of fantasy vampire/werewolf violence, it’s pretty much acceptable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Weitz also directed The Golden Compass based on a bestselling young adult fantasy series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Summit chose to market a variety of different editions that were exclusively available at specific retailers, each with their own unique features which made choosing the edition you wanted difficult and confusing. Common to all were a series of features which included one on how the success of the first movie affected the lives of the actors. In addition, the Deluxe Edition (available only at Target) had a featurette on the music of the film and at the die-hard nature of the series’ fans, as well as one on the Volturi. The Ultimate Fan Edition (Wal-Mart) had a documentary about the impact of the series on Forks, Washington – the real life town where the series is set (and some of the scenes are filmed), and a look at the love triangle and the rabid fans who choose Team Edward or Team Jacob. The Medallion edition (Borders) comes with a medallion necklace that has a wolf head crest on one side and the Cullen family crest on the other. Finally the Steelbook Package (Best Buy) comes in a special steel case and comes with a free cell phone skin.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $709.8M on a $50M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Tenderness

Mary Poppins


Mary Poppins

Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke discover you just can't find good help anymore.

(Disney) Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynnis Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Else Lanchester, Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Ed Wynn, Jane Darwell, Arthur Malet. Directed by Robert Stevenson

Some movies transcend their original material. Very few remember the children’s stories of P.L. Travers but nearly everyone has seen and/or loves the Disney movie version.

The Banks children Jane (Dotrice) and Michael (Garber) have gone through nannies like Bill Cosby has gone through sweaters. Their father (Tomlinson) spends most of his day working at the bank and when he is home, he expects it to be run like a proper British household. His wife (Johns) is far too busy with the women’s suffragette movement to really spend time with her children. When they drive the latest nanny out, it’s the last straw. Mr. Banks determines to oversee the recruitment of a proper nanny himself.

The children have ideas of their own. They write a letter with the qualifications that they would like, which their father pooh-poohs. However, strangely enough, the torn-up letter of the children makes its way to the world’s most famous nanny; the estimable Mary Poppins (Andrews) herself. When a stiff British breeze blows the other applicants away, Mary Poppins floats in on the Eastern wind and gets the position.

She then proceeds to take her charges through a series of wonderful adventures through chalk drawings, on the rooftops and around London. She is assisted by her friend Bert (van Dyke), a jack of all trades who is best known as a chimney sweep. All of these are set to the most marvelous musical score ever set to a children’s film. And when the broken family is at last mended, Mary Poppins quietly sails away on the East wind that brought her to Cherry Tree Lane.

My wife recently posted on her Facebook status a query about a film that reminds her most of her childhood. I thought and thought and thought about it and came up with this one. If you define childhood as the ages before the affectations and cynicism of the teenage years set in, then this is the movie that defines my pre-teen years most closely.

Julie Andrews gave a career-establishing performance and along with her role as Maria in The Sound of Music (a role she attained due directly to her work here) is the one she is most closely identified with. Much to the distress of P.L. Travers, the Disney brain trust made Poppins more cheery, less cold than the one in the book. Andrews made her fresh and sweet, to go with the prim and proper veneer she affected. It would give Andrews the Best Actress Oscar at the 1965 Academy Awards.

No less outstanding is van Dyke as Bert the chimney sweep. His singing and dancing would establish him a one of Hollywood’s leading actors for the era and elevate him from the television fame which he then enjoyed. Van Dyke holds his own with some of the more intimidating actors of the era, including Wynn as the contagiously jolly Uncle Albert.

The music however is particularly outstanding and nearly everyone has a song that is close to their hearts from this film, from “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” to “Stay Awake” to the classic “A Spoonful of Sugar.” My own personal favorite is “Feed the Birds,” something I have in common with Walt Disney himself. I used to have an album with some of the music from Mary Poppins and I feel oddly comforted whenever I hear this song; I used to play it as a child when I was troubled and would feel immediately better. I think a lot of children use music that way.

Simply put, this is one of the all-time classics, one which in many ways doesn’t get the acclaim it deserves. It is symbolic of childhood and families, of the wonder and magic that is all around us and that we can rediscover if only we choose to. Children have no need to – they know it’s there, they live with it every day. How I envy them that.

So there you have it. The movie that most brings my childhood back to me is this one. I suspect that I’m not alone in that regard. So go ahead, whip out the disk or rent it (it’s available nearly everywhere and it’s almost always in stock) and settle in for two hours of childhood reclamation. It will do your soul good.

And feel free to add your voice to the discussion. Is there a particular movie that brings back memories of your childhood? Post it in the comments!

WHY RENT THIS: Wonderful music, great performances, an imaginative premise and simply put, makes you feel like a kid again regardless of how old you are.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve lost contact with the child inside you.

FAMILY VALUES: This family classic is suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the only movie produced by Walt Disney himself to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The most recent 45th Anniversary edition comes loaded with special features, included several related to the recent Broadway production based on the film. There’s a feature on composer Richard Sherman, as well as a deleted song set to storyboards for the scene, and a short film based on a Mary Poppins story by P.L. Travers.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Dragonball: Evolution