The All-Americans


(2017) Documentary (AbramoramaAlfred Robledo, Mario Ramirez, Sammy Hernandez, Javier Cid, Chuy Hernandez, Stevie Williams, Fran “Simba” Saucedo, Lorenzo Hernandez, Joseph “Spike” Silva, James Wicks, LaVada Williams, Huero Navarro, Lorraine Sauno, Ernie Sauno, Kathy Lopez, Lynn Cain, Yellow. Directed by Billy McMillin

 

There is something peculiarly American about high school football rivalries. The Big Game, whether it’s played in a big city or a small town, is something that helps define entire communities. It can make or break an entire season; one can count themselves a success if they lose every other game that season except the one with their bitter rivals; conversely, a championship season can lose its luster if the only loss is to those rivals.

In East L.A., that game is El Classico, the game pitting the James Garfield High School Bulldogs and the Theodore Roosevelt High School Rough Riders. Both schools, like East L.A. itself, are predominantly Latino. Many of the students from both schools speak English as a second language; many of the students have undocumented family members or are themselves undocumented. Throughout the film, we hear a litany of complaints from right wing radio commentators about how the flood of immigrants from South of the Border are changing the make-up of America and not for the better. The racism in the remarks is so thinly veiled as to not be veiled at all.

That’s what these kids face in addition to all the things high school kids face; romance, fitting in, feelings of inadequacy, studying hard for a future that is uncertain. As any person who has played high school football will tell you, the demands of practice and commitment to the team also put pressure on kids already overburdened from pressures just trying to make it through the school day.

The movie documents that, focusing on Coach Javier Cid from Garfield who is trying not just to make a competitive football team but to make sure that every kid graduates – he is more proud of their 100% graduation rate than their won-loss record, which a lot of parents will appreciate. One of his players, wide receiver Mario Ramirez, is doing more than graduating; he has a 3.97 GPA and letters of recruitment from Harvard, Yale and his school of choice, Princeton. He wants to be the first from his family to graduate college but lives in a small apartment with 14 other family members.

Over at Roosevelt, coach Lorenzo Hernandez’ day job is as a patrol cop for the LAPD. He sees the results of kids making bad choices every shift, and is determined that his charges develop the self-discipline and self-respect to make it in life. Linebacker Joseph “Spike” Silva has two absent parents; his dad is in jail and his mom is a junkie lost to the streets. He himself has fathered a baby daughter and works before school in a bakery. On the field, he is a coiled spring of rage. Quarterback Stevie Williams is an outsider; he is an African-American student who takes city buses to school every day from South Central, hoping that football will take him further away from that part of Los Angeles.

The stories of the kids and their coaches are compelling enough that the big game itself is almost anti-climactic which is a good thing because the game isn’t terribly exciting or ever much in doubt. McMillin is forced to concentrate on how the football team affects the players and in doing so we are treated to many of the clichés that coaches love to espouse at the high school level.

What I would have liked to have seen more of is how the game effects the community; it is clearly a big deal in East Los, as natives call it – the game has been played for well over 80 years and many of the players are second and third generation at their schools. In this documentary, the kids and their coaches exist in a vacuum and an opportunity is lost to really share much of the culture and pride of East L.A. with a wider audience.

Still, there is a lot to be gained here. We’ve seen high school football stories before and this one definitely has a bit of an accent, which is a good thing – we are made to realize that these kids are no different than the ones playing the game all over the country, other than the pervasive specter of immigration woes, and racism directed their way, more than perhaps at any other time in the history of East L.A. In an era where “Build that wall” is regularly chanted by those who follow our President blinded, it is well we are reminded what that wall is intended to keep out.

REASONS TO SEE: A realistic look at the Latino experience circa 2018.
REASONS TO AVOID: Looks a little bit more at the individuals involved rather than at the overall effect on the community.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and teen partying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Initially, the game was known as the “Chili Bowl” but the name was changed to the East Los Angeles Classic because the two schools felt it was more dignified and reflective of the neighborhood overall.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/13/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pahokee
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Return to Mount Kennedy

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Yellow (2012)


Beware of yellow in the pool.

Beware of yellow in the pool.

(2012) Dramedy (Medient) Heather Wahlquist, Melanie Griffith, Sienna Miller, Gena Rowlands, Lucy Punch, Ray Liotta, David Morse, Max Thieriot, Daviegh Chase, Riley Keough, Brendan Sexton, Ethan Suplee, Elizabeth Daily, Cassandra Jean, Onata Aprile, Gary Stretch, Nancy De Mayo, Malea Richardson, Bella Dayne, Tonya Cornelisse. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Florida Film Festival 2014

There are those of us who live mainly in our heads. What must that be like if they are constantly bombed out of their skulls on drugs and alcohol?

Mary Holmes (Wahlquist) is a substitute teacher who fits that description. She brings her yellow painkillers and bottles of alcohol to school with her. Some of the teachers at the school think of her as the school bicycle – everybody’s had a ride. When one of the parents partake of her pleasures, she loses her job.

Mary copes with an often harsh reality by escaping into fantasy. School meetings turn into opera; a bike ride in the neighborhood becomes a psychedelic animation. She talks with her non-existent children, all of whom were aborted. When she goes home to Oklahoma to lick her wounds, her family is perhaps more eccentric than she – a hyper-religious grandmother (Rowlands), a sister (Punch) who is mentally ill and a mother (Griffith) who is as far away from reality as Mary herself.

Nick Cassavetes is a talented and promising director. His father John was known as one of the founders of independent cinema and was a tremendous actor and director in his own right. In many ways, this film hearkens back to the freak-out cinema of his father’s era.

I’ve been deliberately vague about the plot. I think the movie works best when you don’t know so much about what’s coming. Some of the movie’s best moments come out of left field so I’ve left the plot description short and, hopefully, sweet.

David Morse, who plays Holmes’ therapist, is always a welcome addition to any cast. You will quickly realize the truth about his character if you’re reasonably observant and maybe have seen a movie or two. Melanie Griffith looks as good as she has in years, and this is one of her best roles ever. She is manic when she needs to be, nurturing at least on the surface and carries the wounds of a sordid past deep in her eyes. It’s a terrific role, particularly as the movie begins to divulge details about Mary’s past.

There are times that it is difficult to distinguish between Mary’s active fantasy life and reality. There is one point where the film violates its own internal logic and that has to do with Mary’s bitchy older sister Xanne and Mary’s illusory children. That’s a big no-no, but it only happens once thankfully.

The effects are pretty nifty (considering the minuscule budget the movie surely had) and the cast is impressive as well, again considering the budget. The movie looks awfully good. My issue with it is that the characters are just so damned unlikable. Nearly everyone in the movie has some sort of mental or emotional instability to varying degrees, enough so that I felt like I needed a shower after the screening was done.

Yellow was actually made in 2012 and is only getting to the festival circuit now. There hasn’t been a great deal of press on the movie thus far, at least that I could find, but nearly all of it has been highly laudatory. That should tell you something. Critics have a tendency to like films that are different. For most audiences, this is going to be a bit of a stretch. The movie didn’t connect with me personally and I found most of the characters to be repellant. There wasn’t anyone I could really latch onto and identify with which makes it difficult to engage with the film. Some of you out there won’t have that issue and will find this imaginative and innovative. I have no argument with that. However, I don’t believe that most audiences will feel the same. If you like things out there, a bit different and a bit edgy, you’ll be in heaven. Most audiences will find this bleak, confusing and too cerebral. Me, I found it to be a movie whose aims I respected but the execution for which I found unsatisfying.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative. Some of the sequences are funnier than frack.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too out there for most.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s drug use – lots and lots of drug use – and plenty of foul language with some sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wahlquist, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Cassavetes’ wife and of course Rowlands is the director’s mother.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Blue Ruin