MMC! Double Feature #42: A Latin American History Starter Pack

In anticipation of MMC!’s next (and overdue) imagined Criterion edition, this latest “Double Feature” shares a couple of recent Netflix favourites in an unusual pairing linked by their celebratory treatments of Mesoamerican, South American, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Órale!

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons (Aram Rappaport, 2018)

Presenting the 2017 Tony-nominated play, Aram Rappaport’s film version of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons follows the performer’s survey through 3,000 years of Latin American history all in an effort to help his bullied son. The process is a heartfelt reclamation of Leguizamo’s history, an unpacking of his resentments, and an effort to offer something culturally redemptive to his son and himself. Leguizamo paints with a broad brush in this one-man show, reveling in cartoonish caricatures and historical overstatements while citing his scholarly and not-so scholarly sources, but his points remain sound throughout. This is a comedy and its lessons and its outrage are revealed through that lens, remaining true even while its outspoken tour guide sometimes colours way outside the lines.

Maya and the Three (Jorge R. Gutierrez, 2021)

Building on El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, his lucha libre-inspired series for Nickolodeon, and The Book of Life, his animated feature film drawing on Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is an epic adventure told through the histories and mythologies of Mesoamerica, South America, and the Caribbean. Maya, a spirited princess with the heart of a warrior, undertakes a mission to fulfill an ancient prophecy and save humanity from the wrath of vengeful gods by uniting four kingdoms and leading their unlikely champions. Gutierrez mines clichéd tropes with brilliant stylization, moving heroism, and multivalent representations that push back against stock family film conventions and fantasy movie presumptions. Sacrificing warrior mothers, multiple Akira slides, stone Olmec heads, Gatchaman helmets, a Rosie Perez voice-role, some post-colonial villains found in undead conquistadors, and the most spectacular closing battle seen in quite a while make this massive animated fantasy an easy MMC! favourite.

“The Spirit of Cuauhtémoc, Alive and Untamed!”

For no particularly good reason, Mexico and Latin America hold a place of special regard here at MMC! headquarters. We love the food, the art, the music, the history, the mythology, and the professional wrestling of Mexico and those of its sister countries and cultures. What is especially wonderful of both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three is that neither is precious about its celebration of these histories. In these films, they are things to be embraced and enjoyed passionately, things to both applaud and laugh at, things that influence and are influenced upon as part of a global culture rather than being something hermetically sealed away for its own stultifying preservation. Above all, they are exceptionally entertaining, bringing accessibility while still remaining faithful to their vernacular origins. For those not too starched in their educational expectations, this pairing makes for a brilliant introduction to some Latin American study.

Both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three are available on Netflix. And with titles like Uncut Gems, The Irishman, Roma, and Beasts of No Nation having already garnered Criterion canonization, who’s to say these titles might not be waiting for a wacky “C” of their own?

Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard, 1978)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Straight Time.

In this highly underrated classic of ’70s crime cinema, Dustin Hoffman shrewdly stars as Max Dembo, an ex-con just released from a six-year stretch in prison for armed robbery and struggling to go straight while under the oversight of his smug parole officer. Despite finding a job, a home, and even a girl of his own, Max remains trapped in an unrelenting criminal system until he breaks free with ruthless, criminal abandon and tragic consequences. Adapted from Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce, featuring a score by David Shire, and boasting a terrific supporting cast including Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, and Kathy Bates, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time is a lean and bitter portrait of inevitable recidivism.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2007 with director Ulu Grospard and actor Dustin Hoffman
  • New interviews with actors Hoffman, Theresa Russell, and Kathy Bates
  • Straight Time: He Wrote It For Criminals, a 1978 documentary on writer Edward Bunker and the making of the film
  • Theatrical trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem

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Winchester ’73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Winchester ’73.

A one-of-a-kind rifle, the Winchester ’73, passes through a diverse group of desperate characters, summarizing the Western genre while also revitalizing it. In his first of eight indelible collaborations with director Anthony Mann, James Stewart is cast against type as Lin McAdam, an upright frontiersman obsessed with tracking down murderer Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) and always finding himself a step behind the iconic rifle wrongfully stolen from him. Featuring Shelley Winters as a saloon girl looking to settle down, Dan Duryea as a crazed outlaw, John McIntire as a sly gun trader, Rock Hudson as an aggrieved Indian chief, and a young Tony Curtis in an early screen role, Winchester ’73 ushered in a new era for the Western that replaced squeaky clean heroes with flawed, complex protagonists and re-made James Stewart into a mature, complicated screen presence.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation and in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New introduction by Scorsese
  • Audio commentary with actor James Stewart and film historian Paul Lindenschmidt
  • Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1951, featuring actors James Stewart and Stephen McNally
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Poster Gallery
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Sarah Hagelin and an except from firearm historian R.L. Wilson’s Winchester: An American Legend

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Muscle Beach (Irving Lerner and Joseph Strick, 1948)

Our next stop on the way to MMC!’s forthcoming Criterion Collection proposal brings us south of the Santa Monica Pier to the original Muscle Beach and to Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s Muscle Beach (1948). Strick had met Irving Lerner and other left-wing filmmakers through connections with a youth theatre company in New York. After enrolling to study physics at UCLA (because “that’s where movies were made”), Strick signed up as an aerial photographer searching of U-boats off the Atlantic coast during World War II. He worked as a copy boy at The Los Angeles Times upon his return to civilian life and shot Muscle Beach on weekends with the assistance of Lerner and using an army surplus bombsight camera with a “bottle-glass” lens and rigged up with a viewfinder made from “sellotape and paperclips.”

Muscle Beach is a warmly satirical look at an emerging subculture of bodybuilders, gymnasts, and exhibitionists. Originally constructed in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration as a park on a public beach, Muscle Beach in the 1940s has become a standing joke in trade magazines and a source of innuendo in Hollywood gossip columns. The short responds to this view with a lighthearted celebration of soaring feats, flirty sunbathers, and playing children, buoyed by music composed and sung by folk singer Earl Robinson with lyrics by screenwriter and poet Edwin Rolfe. Muscle Beach played in competition at Cannes in 1949, won a prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1951, and became a cult favourite among film clubs.

Payday (Daryl Duke, 1972)

FOR MAURY DANN, EVERY DAY IS “PAYDAY”

In a rare starring role, Rip Torn plays Maury Dann, a hard-living country singer traveling the Deep South honky tonk circuit. Dann’s good ol’ boy smile charms even passing fans, but in private he is a greedy, entitled, and pitiless tyrant ruling from the back seat of a Cadillac sedan. Set over a day and a half, Payday reveals Maury’s unrepentant selfishness and cynicism, bedding young fans, popping pills, and casting off members of his entourage once they have outlasted his needs. Dann’s self-serving and hedonistic ways come to a head in a late night parking lot scuffle, transforming his megalomania into inevitable self-destruction.

Music critic and Payday producer Ralph Gleason declared that the objective of this staggeringly jaundiced portrait was a desire to provide an honest portrayal of life in the country music business. Under the direction of Daryl Duke (The Silent Partner), Payday rejected the polished image of country music, pointed the way toward the approaching outlaw country movement, and placed a spotlight on the magnetic presence of Rip Torn.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Daryl Duke and producer Saul Zaentz
  • Risk Management, a new interview with actor Michael C. Gwynne
  • Ride-along, a new interview with actor Elayne Heilveil
  • Passing Through, a new interview with actor Cliff Emmich
  • The Music Man, a new interview with music supervisor Ed Bogas
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by musician and scholar Kim Simpson

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How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps (Ben Berman, 2016)

Happy 2019, kids! It’s less than a week after New Year’s and that means it’s primetime at gyms everywhere, so it’s the perfect opportunity to spend time with Ben Berman’s hilarious, moving, and all too true short film, How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps (2016). The film is based on Aaron Bleyaert’s essay of the same title, discovered by Berman when it was forwarded to him by a friend after joining a gym. The short was shot in two halves with SNL‘s Beck Bennett (in a wonderful starring performance as a heartbroken mattress salesman) losing 30 pounds in the three months in between. Funny and disarmingly inspirational, How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps is actually perfect anytime of the year.

This post is naturally dedicated to work-out loving wife and her friend who loves anything with “humping” in it.  LOL.