Spare Parts

January 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Carlos PenaVega, George Lopez, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”)
Written by: Elissa Matsueda (debut)

While Lions Gate Entertainment’s heart was in the right place when the company created Pantelion Films to help distribute movies specifically for Latino audiences, they’re track record has been less than stellar over the last four years from a critical standpoint. Sure, the surprise 2013 hit “Instructions Not Included” became the highest grossing Spanish-language film to ever open in North America, but the picture itself was riddled with clichés and substandard direction by its popular Mexican star Eugenio Derbez.

Despite some major disappointments over the years (“Casa de Mi Padre,” “Pulling Strings,” and especially the biopics “Cantinflas” and “Cesar Chavez”), Pantelion has managed to release a couple of entertaining projects, the first being the 2013 music drama “Filly Brown” lead by rising star Gina Rodriguez (TV’s “Jane the Virgin”). Its second bright spot on its roster comes this year by way of a true story that took place a decade ago in Phoenix, Arizona.

In the film “Spare Parts,” a group of undocumented Latino high school students decide to build a robot to compete in an underwater robotics competition. It’s an incredibly inspirational story you may or may not have heard about when it happened in 2004, but one that was deserving of a feature film. “Spare Parts” is far from perfect. In fact, with first-time screenwriter Elissa Matsueda penning the script, there are a handful of glaring narrative problems that can only be described as vague and amateurish. Still, it all really comes back to the story of these young men who did what many thought impossible.

It’s easy to root for the protagonists, which makes unnecessary characters and plot holes less bothersome. Everyone involved is so likeable, starting with actor Carlos PenaVega portraying Oscar Vazquez, the leader of the robotics team who brings his idea to enter the underwater competition to new substitute teacher Fredi Cameron (George Lopez). When Oscar finds out he is unable to follow his dream and join the military because of his immigration status, he is committed to finding something else to do with his life. Also on the team: Lorenzo Santillan (José Julián from “A Better Life”) who brings his talent as a mechanic to the group, but is struggling to live up to his strict father’s (Esai Morales) standards; Cristian Arcerga (David del Rio), the brain of the operation; and Luis Arranda (Oscar Gutierrez), the muscle needed to get their ugly, clunky and heavy robot into the water.

The story is strongest when screenwriter Matsueda stays focused on what is truly important, which are the technical aspects of the boys’ robot, the competition at hand and the backgrounds of these four Dreamers. Matsueda strays far too much between this and less interesting relationships between Oscar and his love interest and Fredi and another teacher (Marisa Tomei). “Spare Parts” should have taken a page from two similar films that came before it, “Stand and Deliver” and “October Sky,” and embraced its subject wholeheartedly (like “Stand and Deliver” did with calculus and “October Sky” with rocket building). There will be a few smiles by the time the closing credits roll, but the journey getting there and actually understanding how the boys accomplished what they did is sorely missing.

George Lopez – comedian

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It is evident comedian George Lopez is still a little sensitive about the on-again, off-again relationship he’s had with television. Whatever the issue, I pushed some buttons when we talked to him last week in anticipation of this weekend’s tour stop in San Antonio. I managed, however, to draw him back in for the homestretch.

What is it about San Antonio that makes you come back time and time again?

Well, San Antonio has great people. It’s a great city. It’s historical. I’ve been coming through San Antonio for a long time. I did my HBO special there at the AT&T Center (“Tall, Dark & Chicano in 2009). The Majestic is a great place to work, so I always try to come back every year.

There always seems to be a place for you in the TV landscape, but your last three shows (“George Lopez,” “Lopez Tonight andSaint George) were cancelled. Has the instability of the TV industry taken a toll on you in any way?

What does that mean—my last three shows?

Well, “George Lopez was cancelled in 2007 and then “Lopez Tonight…”

Wait a minute, wait a minute. Every show ends, OK. “George Lopez went 120 episodes and it went into syndication. It hasn’t been off the air since 2002. I wouldn’t necessarily call that show a failure. It’s the opposite. It is still on the air. It is the only show in the history of TV with a Mexican American lead that has been syndicated. It’s a little bit of an insult to look at that as a failure.

I didn’t call it a failure. I said it was cancelled.

It got cancelled because all shows get cancelled. “Seinfeld got cancelled. (Editor’s note: “Seinfeld did not get cancelled). [Shows] end. You look at “M*A*S*H,” one of the greatest shows. It ended. The fact that “George Lopez got to 120 episodes should be celebrated not looked at as a failure. And “Lopez Tonight went two years. “[The] Chevy Chase [Show] went one month. “[The] Arsenio [Hall Show] (the revival in 2013) went one year. Instead of looking at it in a negative way, maybe look at it like I paved the way for other shows to be on TV. How about without “George Lopez,” you don’t have three shows on the air that have employed actors and put people to work. And “Saint George was a 10-90 (a network contract where a TV show will get picked up for an additional 90 episodes if the first 10 hit certain ratings; “Saint George did not) and it went all 10 episodes. It didn’t get picked up, but I don’t look at that as a negative. You try something and if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t work, it’s not a failure. It’s a failure if you don’t try.

Do you think 10 episodes was enough time to see if “Saint George could find some traction?

I don’t think 10 is a good enough amount and the [ratings] number was so high to reach. Those were all good shows. I don’t look at my career as a failure in any way. I’ve done things that no one else has done. I’ve got a star on the [Hollywood] Walk of Fame. I’ve got a wax figure (at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Hollywood). I’ve performed all over the world and in front of presidents. I don’t look at my career as anything other than a success.

Since the way people watch TV has changed so much in the last few years, do you think something like the Nielsen Ratings system is a fair way to measure how many people are watching a specific show at a certain time?

That system was created in the ’50s and has never been equal to the people who are watching TV. The diversity of viewers and the people who have the [Nielsen] boxes are underrepresented. We used to talk about that when [“George Lopez] was on 10 years ago. The people that were watching it didn’t represent the country. Also, if you want a show to succeed, you’re going to have to have a certain amount of people watch who are non-black and non-Latino. Sixty-five percent of the people who watched [“George Lopez] were white. If you can’t cross over, you don’t belong on TV. That’s not just me saying it. That’s just the way it is.

You recently wished comedian Cristela Alonzo good luck via Twitter on her new ABC sitcom “Cristela.” Having worked on that network in the past and because you are both Latino, is there anything else you want to tell her that she might not know yet?

I would wish her success. I wouldn’t know what to tell her because I don’t know what’s around her. I would say, in general, to anybody, that whatever decisions you make, let them be your decisions and not somebody telling you what to say. I’m saying that to everybody, not just to her. Ultimately, you have to live and die with your decisions. If it succeeds, you can say, “Wow, I made the right choices.” If it doesn’t succeed, you can say, “At least I did it the way I wanted to do it.”

These days everyone is always apologizing for something they say that offends somebody else. But you always seem to express yourself and are not afraid to say when someone pisses you off. From a professional standpoint, do you ever worry about burning bridges? I mean, you never know when you’re going to cross paths with someone again.

I try not to [burn bridges], but if I need to speak up for myself then I do. I really don’t think there is one person in the business that can make it hard for you to succeed. Some people ask, “Is he good to work with or not?” My reputation has always been that I’m someone good to work with. I’m sure there are some people that don’t like me, but there’s probably a reason they don’t like me. I’ve fired some people for not doing a job correctly—the way I wanted them to do it—so I’m sure those people wouldn’t be happy. But in whatever I do, I try to make sure that people are comfortable with the work.

On “The Howard Stern Show earlier this year, you said there was a “camaraderie between Latinos that wasn’t there 20 years ago” in Hollywood. I can believe that, but I would’ve also assumed there is still some competition between Latinos, too. I mean, if someone like comedian Gabriel Iglesias was tapped for a gig, would you wonder why you weren’t called instead?

You know, I don’t really know Gabriel that well. We’ve been around each other, but I don’t see him. He’s doing great. I have no ill feelings toward him and wish him success. I don’t have to prove myself to anybody. I’m happy with what I’ve done. If you like [Gabriel], go see him. If you like me, come see me. If you like Felipe Esparza, who is also great, go see him. We can’t be narrow-minded and think that we all get along or we all know each other, but the ones that do know each other tend to be very friendly with each other. That is what I was saying wasn’t around 20 years ago.

When you were doing press for “Saint George earlier this year, you opened up about your drinking habit and said you had been sober for a couple of months. Are you still sober?

Yeah, I am. It’s not easy, but I am.

That’s interesting because around the same time you mentioned you were sober, news came out that you signed on as a spokesperson for the tequila company AsomBroso. I’m being facetious, but how do you know the tequila is any good if you can’t even try it?

Well, I drank it before [I was sober], so I know that it’s good. Listen, I’m telling you to buy it. I’ll sign the bottle, but I won’t take part in what’s inside. Also, I drank for a long time and never had a good relationship with alcohol, which I’m sure a lot of people, including Latinos, have. At some point you have to address that. My life is probably a little bit easier without that in it.

Since Day of the Dead is coming up, what would you put on your own altar to enjoy in the afterlife?

I’d put a cigar. I’d put a golf ball. I might put some Tajín (brand of chili seasoning) on there. I’d put some hair gel because wherever I go I’d hate to be without my gel. Then I’d probably put a bottle of tequila because if I’m going to another world, I’m drinking in the other world. I won’t drink in this one, but I’ll drink in the other one.

Lakers fan, comedian George Lopez says he appreciates the Spurs

October 18, 2014 by  
Filed under CineBlog

He might be a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but comedian George Lopez can appreciate a team that has made it to the NBA playoffs 17 straight times.

“I wouldn’t bet against [the Spurs] this year,” Lopez, 53, told me during a phone interview this past week to promote his upcoming stand-up comedy performances at the Majestic Theater Oct. 24-26.

Despite the rivalry between the Spurs and Lakers, which peaked in the late 90s and early 00s, Lopez doesn’t have any ill will toward the Spurs at all. He says he’s a fan of sound basketball no matter who is playing against his beloved Lakers.

“Hatred towards another team is unnecessary,” Lopez said. “You have to appreciate that maybe some of the best players aren’t on your team. You can admire them.”

Some of those players on current and past Spurs’ rosters, Lopez mentions, include Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Sean Elliott and Bruce Bowen.

“I always enjoyed watching those guys play,” Lopez said. “In these times when there are fewer great players, I think you should enjoy seeing Tim play whether he plays for your team or not.”

As for the 2014 NBA Championship, Lopez was all about the silver and black.

“I was rooting for San Antonio to beat Miami because I don’t like when you put a team together [like Miami] did,” Lopez said. “San Antonio and Coach [Pop] put a team together the way coaches did it the first time anyone played basketball. You do it by playing team, fundamental, solid basketball. That beats flash every time. [San Antonio] wore them down.”

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

The Spy Next Door

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, George Lopez
Directed by: Brian Levant (“Are We There Yet?)
Written by: Jonathan Bernstein (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector), James Greer (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector), Gregory Poirier (National Treasure: Book of Secrets)

Was it that long ago when the physical limitlessness of Jackie Chan’s martial arts stunts could pack a movie house with promises of crazy ninja-like moves worth the price of admission alone? Twelve years ago when Chan made his American movie debut in “Rush Hour” he was the hottest ticket from China in the action genre. Now, Chan is feeding off the bottom of the barrel and has released some major bombs in the last seven years including “The Medallion,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Rush Hour 3,” and “The Forbidden Kingdom.” Talk about a losing streak. It’s no wonder Chan took a break from American films between 2004 and 2006 to get back to his roots and work on projects from China. With his return to America, Chan’s career – if it’s even possible – takes another sharp turn for the worst with his newest film “The Spy Next Door,” a family-friendly exercise in futility where Chan’s talents are wasted on as script filled with bad jokes and “Full House”-worthy life lessons. There’s something to say when the best part of the movie are the opening credits that show some of Chan’s best stunts…pulled straight from better movies. For that, you don’t get credit.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

October 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Piper Perabo
Directed by: Raja Gosnell (“Never Been Kissed”)
Written by: Analisa LaBianco (debut ) and Jeffrey Bushell (debut)

It might be easy to dismiss the idea of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” if you associate the movie with heiress Paris Hilton carrying a pooch in her purse down Rodeo Drive or think of nothing but a bunch of talking mutts, but make no, er, bones about it, “Chihuahua” is surprisingly one of the best family films of the year not starring a trash-collecting robot.

In “Chihuahua,” Rachel (Piper Perabo) is left to dog-sit her Aunt Viv’s (Jaime Lee Curtis) most prized possession: her spoiled Chihuahua Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Treated like the furry queen of the castle, Chloe enjoys the finer things in life like designer doggie clothes, choice cuts of meat for dinner, and her time at the day spa. But when Chloe is dog-napped during Rachael’s spontaneous trip to Puerto Vallarta with her friends, she must fend for herself or become a four-legged casualty on the stray-filled streets of Mexico.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is entertaining first and foremost because of the great voice work by some talented actors. As Delgado, a former police dog who saves Chloe from participating in an underground dog fight, Andy Garcia is fantastic. Who knew you could get so much enthusiasm to come out of mouth of a German shepherd? Edward James Olmos is also noteworthy as Diablo, a fiendish Doberman on a mission from his owner to hunt down Chloe and get his paws on the diamond collar she is wearing.

As a smitten Chihuahua named Papi, George Lopez brings a humorous “Lady and the Tramp”-like perspective to the film. Between serenading Chole with Spanish love songs and calling her “mi corazon,” Lopez’s Papi might be too flashy at times, but every story needs a little romance even when the suitor comes with a wagging tail. Cheech Marin is great as one of the very few non-canine characters, Manuel, a cunning mouse who works the streets as a con artist with his iguana friend Chico (voiced by Paul Rodriguez).

Not only does “Chihuahua” showcase some well-cast actors, there is a surprisingly sweet message that wins through without becoming intolerably stereotypical or corny. Sure, we could do without insubstantial one-liners like “Hold your tacos” and the always overused “We’re Mexican not Mexican’t,” but there’s plenty of value for kids and adults alike when “tiny but mighty” pups are teaching us about inner-strength.

As far as live-action talking animal movies go, “Chihuahua” isn’t speaking the language of “Babe” or “Charlotte’s Web,” but it’s charming. Don’t let the unpromising trailers fool you. This dog definitely has some bite behind its yappy bark.

Henry Poole is Here

August 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza
Directed by: Mark Pellington (“U2 3D”)
Written by: Albert Torres (debut)

Someone invite debut screenwriter Albert Torres over for Bible study. The scribe’s got a lot to say about faith and spirituality and isn’t shy about forcing it down the throats of anyone who’s ever looked out their peephole at Jehovah’s Witnesses and not opened the door. For those atheists out there, consider it the comedy of the year.

The divine intervention begins when Henry Poole (Wilson), who six weeks prior is diagnosed with a terminal disease, moves back to the neighborhood he grew up to wait out his final days crying alone in his vodka tonics. But when Esperanza (Oscar-nominee Barraza of Babel), a pious neighbor, swears to see the face of Christ on the side of Henry’s new home, no one can stop her from anticipating miracles especially when the water-stain image begins to shed tears of blood and “cure” believers. Next door, Dawn (Mitchell) and Millie (Lily), a sorrowful mother-daughter duo who are dealing with abandonment issues, keep Henry company as Esperanza (Spanish for hope) maddeningly tours God-fearing folk through his backyard.

Although the performances make it tolerable (Barraza is genuine and Wilson, when he’s not sulking, is convincing), to know who Henry Poole actually is by the time the preaching ceases is impossible. Instead of smoothing out his rough edges and giving a more meaningful insight to his life before his sickness, Torres and director Pellington drown out the narrative with cliché musings and an overbearingly uplifting soundtrack. The tracks are built around a theme song written by Orlando native and MySpace songwriting contest winner Ron Irizarry, whose lyrics are better fitted as pulpit-worthy speeches for Joel Osteen. Sure, Torres and Pellington might have left some room for religious interpretation, but not before slapping some mud in Henry’s hands and writing him into a West Coast version of Jerusalem.