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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.4

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1400 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

American Me (1992) — 8/10

This is the story of Montoya Santana’s (Edward James Olmos). The movie starts off with the Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles, largely perpetrated by Navy officers, several of whom raped his mother Esperanza (Vira Montes) while the others beat the shit out of his father in the streets.

We flash back to Montoya’s youth, growing up with his two best buddies JD and Mundo. They’re big guys, giving each other their own gang tattoos for La Primera (a little knife-thing between the thumb and forefinger), then heading into another gang’s territory—just because they can. They get chased by dozens of guys and they hide in a shop. The shopkeeper is there, though, and he ends up shooting JD. Montoya and Mundo end up in Juvenile Hall, where Santana is immediately raped at knifepoint. He turns it around immediately and kills his rapist, for which he’ll be heading to Folsom after his stint in juvie.

JD shows up in juvie, having lost the leg. We segue to Folsom State Prison, where Mundo (Pepe Serna), JD (William Forsythe) and Montoya end up—on a 15–20 stretch. They are not without power, though.

Montoya meets with his mother and his (much) younger brother. She tries to hand him a chain with Saint Dismas on it, but a guard comes over and says in a very nice voice “Excuse me, Ma’am. You’re not supposed to pass items to convicts. He can pick this up with the rest of the property you brought for him.” The movie’s from 1992, before Clinton changed everything. Or maybe they’re just showing him respect because he’s the head of the La Eme, the Mexican Mafia.

JD’s hot visitor heads to the bathroom, where she squeezes a balloon out of her nether regions, then drops it into the toilet. There’s someone waiting in the bowels of the prison, with his hand in the pipe. He catches the payload, lubes it up and stashes it in his prison pocket. Back in his cell, he splits it and distributes it further, along the cells—mirrors, whispers, cigarette packs.

A black inmate steals drugs from one of Montoya’s best customers—so he sends his henchmen to set him on fire in his cell. A riot starts—or tries to. Instead, they back off—for now. Santana goes in the hole. Even in solitary, he gets special food service. He still runs things.

The gang deals with power struggles. One recognizable member of the gang who is not hispanic is El Japo (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Like JD, he speaks like an cholo, though. JD gets out. Montoya learns from his little brother that his mother has died. Many years later, Montoya is out as well. JD picks him up in a lowrider.

Montoya and JD try to move in on the Italian Mafia, but they’re having none of it.

Montoya ends up at a party, where he meets Julie (Evelina Fernández). They date, go shopping. She teaches him how to drive stick. She takes him to the beach for the first time in his life. She takes him home, where he does something else for the first time in his life.

That same night, La Eme makes a move on the Don’s son in the prison—getting him super-smashed on prison pruno. In this weakened state, La Eme rapes him. The scenes are juxtaposed in a combined montage, with Puppet pumping away at the Italian while Montoya does the same to Julie. Montoya gets violent and ends up forcing himself on her.[1]

Don Scagnelli gets the news about his son. Soon after, Julie finds her older son Neto dead, with a needle in his arm. Scagnelli had let the next shipment of heroin through uncut, causing dozens of ODs. Montoya rushes home to make that Pualito (his brother) doesn’t suffer the same fate as Neto.

The war heats up: the Italians hire the Black Guerrillas to take out some of La Eme. Montoya is best man at Little Puppet’s wedding. At the same time, the Aryan Brotherhood takes revenge on a black club. Little Puppet gets wicked drunk, lamenting his stupid decisions that led to dead time in jail and to his shattered hand—lamenting that before he’d gotten mixed up in La Eme he’d been known for the “best tattoos in East LA”.

Montoya tells JD that the revenge killing looked like a racial hit. JD tells Montoya that he’s “starting to show weakness…and we both know you can’t afford to do that.”

Little Puppet gets even more ridiculously drunk and Montoya and Julie walk him home. Montoya confiscates his drugs. Little Puppet goes home. Later, the cops stop Montoya and Julie and pop him (arrest him). In the joint, he finds out that Puppet is supposed to kill Little Puppet for having gotten Montoya arrested. JD and Montoya discuss it. Montoya wants to call it off. JD tells him that’s not possible. Montoya basically signs his own death warrant. JD knows it.

Montoya: You know, a long time ago, two best homeboys—two kids—were thrown into juvie. They were scared, and they thought they had to do something to prove themselves. And they did what they had to do. They thought they were doing it to gain respect for their people, to show the world that no one could take their class from them. No one had to take it from us, ese. Whatever we had… we gave it away. Take care of yourself, carnal.”

When the troops roll in the prison, it’s only El Japo who stays in. He’ll pay for it, too, most likely. But he’s loyal to Montoya, not to El Eme. Puppet is loyal to Eme, killing Little Puppet as required. Little Puppet made it easier by being a fucking moron.

I gave it an extra star for Edward James Olmos, who’s always captivating. Also, I learned new words.[2]

Selena (1997) — 6/10

Selena Quintanilla (Jennifer Lopez) enters a packed stadium, playing at the top of her game. Flash back to 1961, when the her father, as a member of the Dinos can’t get gigs because of racism at “Whites Only” clubs.

Flash forward to the first time Abraham Quintanilla (Edward James Olmos) hears Selena’s singing voice. He’s transformed and buys a bunch of musical equipment, setting up his whole brood on various instruments. Her sister is not impressed that her dad is making her play the drums.

Abraham gets them a restaurant and sets up Selena and the Dinos as the house band. His wife Marcella (Constance Marie) is less than thrilled at losing the security of a home in the suburbs, but she’s willing to try.

They keep playing. Abraham takes Selena to the side and tells her that she should start singing in Spanish, so she can sing Tejano music. Their first show doesn’t go very well because (A) they’re kids and (B) Tejano music is typically all-male. They’ve got a bus that the family travels in as they take the show on the road.

They pick up guitarist Chris Perez (Jon Seda), who’s got serious chops and cleans up well enough. He cleans up so well that Selena falls for him.

Their next step is play dates in Mexico. Abraham warns them that they will be judged.

“I mean, we gotta know about John Wayne and Pedro Infante. We gotta know about Frank Sinatra and Agustín Lara. We gotta know about Oprah and Cristina. … Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, German Americans. Their homeland is on the other side of the ocean. Ours is right here … We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”

Chris’s friends trash a hotel room and Abraham wants him fired. They have to keep him on because they can’t find another guitarist in time—also because Selena thinks he’s being a jackass on purpose.

They get to Mexico and Selena handles her “problem” with her accent by leaning into it, speaking a mix of Spanish with a smattering of English words. The crowd the next day is enormous. They have to send for the police for additional security. Abraham is worried, of course. He’s right, though. People press in so hard that they threaten to collapse the stage. He tries to call off the concert, but the crowd’s going even more nuts. He asks Selena, “they need you to go back out there and settle this crowd down. Can you do it?”

The whole Chris/Selena love affair is pretty painfully acted, super over-the-top. Abraham is not taking having a 20-year–old daughter well. Chris and Selena see each other on the sly. This part, too, is very much saying instead of showing. I understand that there’s just supposed to be kids, but the marriage plot-line isn’t very interesting.

Everything’s going her way: she’s married to her lead guitarist, won a Grammy, has a thriving crossover career (English/Spanish) and has also started her own fashion line. She’s planning on having kids. And a farm. She has a lot of concerts. J-Lo wears a ton of outfits. Most of the outfits are based on those worn by Selena. She sings a lot of songs. She is dragging a wagon, as expected—but so was the real Selena. In the montage at the end, though, it’s clear that they transformed J-Lo into a very reasonable facsimile of Selena.

Then, Yolanda Saldívar, her fashion-business manager and fan-club manager, shoots her in the shoulder. Shoulder wounds can be fatal. The movie came out only two years after she’d been murdered at 24 years old.

The Counselor (2013) — 6/10

Written by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Ridley Scott, this movie is off to a strong start. It has pedigree, no doubt. It would get lost somewhere along the way.

We start off in bed. Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penélope Cruz) are spending a lazy day in bed before his flight to Amsterdam that early evening. He’s all about her: “tell me what you want me to do to you.” or is he? He’s in charge. It’s a bit odd to start the film with this scene, but let’s trust the pedigree. Also odd is “I want you to finger-fuck me” in that P. Cruz–accented English. Not a mood killer, but … odd.

A truck is loaded with (probably drugs). Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Malkina (Cameron Diaz) are on safari somewhere in Arizona with pet cheetahs. Diaz’s English is California-accented and her lines are far more painful than Cruz’s, which at least had the sound of earnestness to them. Show, don’t tell. Too late.

Malkina: I don’t miss things…I’ve always known that, since I was a little girl.
Reiner: You don’t think that’s a bit cold?
Malkina: The truth has no temperature.”

Jesus. Did I mention that she has cheetah-spot tattoos all over her shoulder and all the way down her back?

Reiner turns out to be the chatty one. He tells Counselor one long, rambling story after another. It feels like McCarthy wanted to channel Tarentino, but it’s not working. Counselor meets a client, Ruthie (Rosie Perez), who wants him to bail out her son, a motorcyclist with the need for speed—and also a drug mule.[3]

Stuff happens. Counselor proposes to Laura. He bought the ring in Amsterdam from the inestimable Bruno Ganz[4]. Malkina asks Laura about her sex life with an utterly ghoulish smiles on her face (I don’t think Diaz would be flattered to know just how much like a female Joker she looked; Botox is a bitch). Counselor meets Westray (Brad Pitt), who advises him to walk away. From what, we’re still not sure.

Reiner tells Counselor that he’s afraid of Malkina, allegorically describing how she once “fucked his car”. Some might call Diaz’s performance brave, for daring to play such an unhinged, amoral skank. I’m having a hard time believing she’s faking her lines. She might just be ad-libbing. “You should be careful what you wish for, angel. You might not get it.”. What?

Malkina hires some people to get what the biker has. One of the hired thugs sets up a wire across the road at just the right height to slice a motorcyclist’s head off.

Westray calls in the Counselor. He tells him that he’s in trouble. His bosses know that the Counselor had let the man out on bail. They think he’s involved in the murder.

Westray: Well, I’m perfectly willing to believe you had nothing to do with this but I’m not the party you have to convince.
Counselor: Convince of what, for Christ sake?
Westray: That this is some sort of coincidence. Because they don’t really believe in coincidences. They’ve heard of them. They’ve just never seen one.”

The guy who killed the motorcyclist steals the truck. He’s carjacked on the highway by cartel. Only one survives, but he steals the truck, taking it to a “launderer” to fix up the bullet-holes and clean out the blood. He’s on his way again faster than in GTA.

Cartel tightens the noose on Counselor—and now Reiner, who’s chased with his two cheetahs in the back. A quick shootout and Reiner is no more. The cheetahs are loose.

Westray’s in the wind. The Counselor is in Boise. Laura’s been taken. The Counselor’s in Mexico. So is the truck and the drugs. John Leguiziamo and Dean Norris (“Hank” from Breaking Bad) are there. Leguiziamo tells him about the “fourth barrel”, which contains a body. Hank asks what happens next. “Nothing. He just rides around, back and forth across the border.”

Counselor is on the phone with Jefe (Rubén Blades), who waxes philosophically with the Counselor, telling him to accept his fate—and that of Laura.

“I would urge you to see the truth of the situation you’re in, Counselor. That is my advice. It is not for me to tell you what you should have done or not done. The world in which you seek to undo the mistakes that you made is different from the world where the mistakes were made. You are now at the crossing. And you want to choose, but there is no choosing there. There’s only accepting. The choosing was done a long time ago…

“[…]

“Machado would have traded every word, every poem, every verse he ever wrote for one more hour with his beloved. And that is because when it comes to grief, the normal rules of exchange do not apply, because grief transcends value. A man would give entire nations to lift grief off his heart. And yet, you cannot buy anything with grief, because grief is worthless.

“[…]

“At the understanding that life is not going to take you back. You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, this world that you have created will also cease to exist. But for those with the understanding that they’re living the last days of the world, death acquires a different meaning. The extinction of all reality is a concept no resignation can encompass. And, yet, in that despair, which is transcendent, you will find the ancient understanding that the Philosopher’s Stone will always be found, despised, and buried in the mud. This may seem a small thing in the face of annihilation, until annihilation occurs. And then, all the grand designs and all the grand plans will be finally exposed and revealed for what they are.”

Westray is in London. He meets a blonde in the hotel (Natalie Dormer). There are no coincidences. Westray gets hit by a bolero—a device that slowly constricts around his neck, until it slices through his carotid—and then the rest of his neck. The attackers deliver his laptop to Malinka, who’d already gotten the password from blondie. She meets with her banker Michael (Goran Visnjic). She continues to deliver shockingly stupid lines, “You can sell diamonds on Mars.”[5]

The Counselor wanders a city in Mexico. He passes out in his hotel room. In the morning, he gets a DVD—likely containing a snuff film of Laura (Reiner had previously told him how the cartel likes to make snuff films for people who pay to have sex with corpses). He doesn’t watch it because his Apple laptop doesn’t have a DVD player.

There were some slick moments. Literally everyone in this movie is attractive, like a 9 minimum. It could have been better, but it was decent. Maybe if it was shorter or more tightly edited. Or if Cameron Diaz hadn’t been cast in it.


[1]

He’d actually flipped her over while she protested, then was finally able to finish. She revealed in a later argument what he actually did.

Montoya: I don’t have to listen to this shit, alright? If you were a man, I’d…

Julie: You’d kill me! Oh no. No, you’d fuck me in the ass, right? Right?”

[2]

There was more Spanish slang than this, but these were the ones that were new to me. They used a bunch of these in Selena, as well.

  • Ruca: girlfriend
  • Carnal: brother
  • Orále: hell yeah
[3] Though he is unaware of this at the time—a crucial plot point
[4] A Swiss actor who died in 2019, soon after this movie came out.
[5] That’s not even the stupidest thing she was made to say in that scene. I just can’t be bothered to transcribe anything longer. It’s like someone thought to themselves, “I wonder if Cameron Diaz could do Shakespeare?” Jesus, I should remove a point just for ending on that terribly stilted and incongruous scene.