Cheech Marin

Born in East L.A. (1987, Cheech Marin)

Born in East L.A. is a much lighter comedy than expected. Maybe not more than writer-director-star Cheech Marin portends—and a lot of the film’s ineffectiveness isn’t first time feature director Marin’s fault, he needed one of his four editors to have some clue about creating narrative continuity. And while his cinematographer—Álex Phillips Jr.—isn’t at all incompetent, one does wish he’d have given Marin some pointers about how to frame establishing shots. There are a number of times in the film where it seems like Marin’s setting up a sight gag but… no. He really just doesn’t seem to realize he doesn’t have to shoot in medium shot so much.

Marin’s an L.A. mechanic who goes to pick up a visiting cousin (Paul Rodriguez, in a role cut down what probably ought to be an uncredited mega-cameo) and gets scooped up in an immigration raid. So while Marin’s getting deported, Rodriguez is trying to figure out his way in L.A. He’s staying with Marin and family, but family is out of town, which gets to be a problem since Marin needs someone to come down to the border with his ID so he can return home. The casual, nonspecific, almost benign racism from the border guards—including Jan-Michael Vincent is the boss in one scene, which should probably be uncredited too, even if it wasn’t cut down. Just having creative opening titles would probably help the film a bit.

Anyway, the racism. It doesn’t just date East L.A. it makes the film a very peculiar cultural document. At least in the first fifteen or twenty minutes, because once Marin realizes he can’t sneak across the border, he sets about making some money to buy his way back across.

One of the major plot holes, which may or may not be a result of the cuts, is whether or not his family ever misses him; they’re only supposed to be gone for a week. There’s some stuff with Rodriguez alone at the house and it’s all pretty funny, but doesn’t go anywhere. For a while, Rodriguez is giving the film’s best performance too. Because Marin starts the movie wanting the audience to think he’s a bit of a goon. The opening titles, while they aren’t giving away all the eventual cameos, is all about Marin following a woman (Neith Hunter) around L.A. landmarks and catcalling her. Only, because Marin’s not really good at the shots—if they’re not second unit—it’s never clear she hears his catcalling, which just makes him an ineffective stalker? He’s definitely supposed to be harmless, but it’s not clear how lovable he’s supposed to be for quite a bit longer into the film. When he tells someone about his history in the U.S. Army.

Marin hides he’s got backstory for about sixty of the film’s eighty-five minutes. Odd, odd, odd choice.

Though I suppose when you consider him being a vet who can’t get back into his country… but, wait, 1980s, all the border guards were swell fellows.

Marin’s got some really good gags, some really good jokes, a handful of excellent ideas; he’s able to execute about thirty percent of them satisfactorily. The plot’s pretty traditional, down to greasy scuzball Daniel Stern—but not dangerous greasy scuzball—being Marin’s “boss” and sidekick in Mexico (Stern’s in forced expatriation) and Kamala Lopez as a love interest (though, as she’s eighteen years younger than Marin, he comes off like an uncle, chemistry-wise). They could’ve had someone pretty easily doctor the script. Just saying.

Instead, the film’s a hodgepodge of funny moments and performances—Lopez is more likable than good, while Stern is funnier than good. Producer Peter Macgregor-Scott really should’ve gotten Marin a better crew.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Cheech Marin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Don Brochu, Stephen Lovejoy, David Newhouse, and Mike Sheridan; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Lynda Burbank; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Cheech Marin (Rudy), Daniel Stern (Jimmy), Kamala Lopez (Dolores), Paul Rodriguez (Javier), Jan-Michael Vincent (McCalister), Lupe Ontiveros (Rudy’s Mother), and Tony Plana (Feo).


After Hours (1985, Martin Scorsese)

After Hours is meticulous. Director Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus work with exacting precision throughout, with the first third of the film serving to prepare the viewer for the rest. The film follows boring, regular guy Griffin Dunne as he impetuously pursues an attractive mystery woman (Rosanna Arquette) in Soho in the middle of the night.

Scorsese, Dunne and writer Joseph Minion never spend any time establishing Dunne beyond his office drone existence–the viewer comes to sympathize with him due to the strangeness of the events unfolding around him. And the events in the first third are strange in a far more reasonable way than later in the film. Dunne has to maintain sympathy even after he reveals himself to be shallow and callous.

Also during the first third of the film, Scorsese uses a lot of obvious, repeated stylizing to force the viewer to pay attention. So many of the later coincidences and occurrences are fast and just in dialogue, the viewer has to be ready to grab them.

Amid all the noise–After Hours moves very fast and often loud–there are quiet moments of startling humanity, both good and bad. It's a concentrated whirlwind.

Fantastic supporting turns from John Heard, Teri Garr and, especially, Linda Fiorentino. As the ostensible love interest, Arquette manages to be a different person multiple times in a scene while still maintaining consistency. She's essential. Dunne's great.

Scorsese's direction is often breathtaking, especially in how he makes Ballhaus's graceful camera movements unsettling.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Joseph Minion; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Jeffrey Townsend; produced by Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne and Robert F. Colesberry; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Griffin Dunne (Paul Hackett), Rosanna Arquette (Marcy), Verna Bloom (June), Tommy Chong (Pepe), Linda Fiorentino (Kiki Bridges), Teri Garr (Julie), John Heard (Tom), Cheech Marin (Neil), Catherine O’Hara (Gail), Dick Miller (Diner Waiter), Will Patton (Horst) and Robert Plunket (Street Pickup).


The Radiator Springs 500½ (2014, Rob Gibbs and Scott Morse)

There's some charm to The Radiator Springs 500½, but nowhere near enough. There are hints of good ideas–like a Western showdown motif at the beginning–and some of the failed gags should have worked–a car who comes along to do the cymbals after a pun. Oh, right, it's a Cars spin-off cartoon short. Forget to mention that part.

Anyway, there's nothing cohesive about it. Half the short is the good car (voiced by Owen Wilson, who must have been busy because he has almost no lines) racing against these bad cars who have no respect for the town. Then the town cars are on this idyllic anniversary drive.

There's an effective junk yard sequence towards the end, but otherwise it's tepid and without any excitement. Springs's greatest stylistic influence appears to be video game cut scenes. Whoop-de-doo.

It might get points for being harmless, but why give points for being harmless?

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Gibbs and Scott Morse; written by John Lasseter, Jeremy Lasky and Gibbs; edited by Torbin Xan Bullock; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Anthony Christov; produced by Mary Alice Drumm; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Steve Purcell (Sandy Dunes), John Cygan (Idle Threat), Jess Harnell (Blue Grit), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carrera), Cheech Marin (Ramone) and Danny Mann (Shifty Sidewinder).


Desperado (1995, Robert Rodriguez)

Between Joaquim de Almeida and Carlos Gómez, it certainly appears Robert Rodriguez likes good actors. He even gets a great performance from Cheech Marin, but I suppose Marin didn’t need much direction.

So with those three good performances and two good actors–de Almeida even does well with Rodriguez’s atrocious dialogue, something not even Steve Buscemi can do–it makes one wonder what Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are doing in Desperado.

Banderas’s casting I can understand, he was a star on the rise at the time, but Rodriguez discovered Hayek and has been subjecting the world to her terrible acting ever since. Banderas is awful, comically strutting along like a supermodel acting butch, but Hayek is much, much worse. Banderas has three honest moments. Hayek doesn’t even blink honestly.

Hayek doesn’t show up until almost halfway in, so the first half is a lot better than the rest, even if Quentin Tarantino shows up for a terrible cameo. I was a big El Mariachi fan back before Desperado came out, but after seeing this one in the theater, I don’t think I’ve seen either.

Maybe if the only problem was the writing, it’d be more palatable, but Rodriguez is a rather mediocre action director here. The shoot-outs bore–Banderas isn’t some unstoppable killing machine, his opponents are just slow, stupid and overweight. His successes are always based on luck.

The last half takes forever, about thirty events a minute. If you like lame melodrama, it must be lovely.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Robert Rodriguez; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; music by Los Lobos; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Rodriguez and Bill Borden; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steve Buscemi (Buscemi), Carlos Gómez (Right Hand), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-Up Guy) and Danny Trejo (Navajas).


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