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Happy Cinco De Mayo: Here Are 5 Films To Raise A Glass To

by Diana Drumm
May 5, 2013 12:42 PM
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Bring out the Cuervo, it’s Cinco de Mayo! Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day and, although Mexican public schools are closed for the day (isn’t that the real definition of a holiday?), it is celebrated more, ahem, seriously, in the United States than Mexico. So you know, the Mexicans beat the French at the Battle of Puebla and Mexican ex-pats living in Civil War-era California turned it into a holiday. Fun fact, the Battle of Puebla also marks the last time a European force invaded anywhere in the Americas (we’re talking proper military invasions – not U-boats off of Maine’s seacoast during WW2 or the 1960’s British Invasion). 

But there's not a lot that's authentic to the holiday these days. Let's face it, it's an excuse to drink. So with that in mind, we're done with the history lesson, now onto the drinking. As is customary, the Cinco de Mayo diet includes tequila, beer and Mexican cuisine (not Taco Bell). While you’re guzzling your Bulldog and chowing into some tasty enchiladas verdes, don’t forget your cinematic senses. We’ve rounded up a few Cinco de Mayo films to drink to -- they aren't at all the most authentic (Elvis is involved) or exemplary of Mexican cinema (go see “Like Water for Chocolate” or “Amores Perros” or  a number of movies we list below), but they sure go well with Corona and nachos. And that's basically the holiday now, ain't it? 

"Desperado" (1995)
The second installment in Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” trilogy, “Desperado” stars Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi, a Mexican gunslinger who comes toe-to-toe with a local drug lord dubbed Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) and pre-international fame Salma Hayek as his book-selling romantic interest. After a tip from an American friend Buscemi (Steve Buscemi), El Mariachi (aka Manito) comes to town and seeks revenge for the death of his murdered love. El Mariachi is a complete badass from shoot ‘em ups involving guitar cases to facing a knife-wielding assassin played by Danny Trejo, not to mention being swoon-worthy in spite of his ‘90s-style ponytail. Rodriguez brings a refreshing excitement and humor to what some may deem “gratuitous violence,” making “Desperado” a classic and appropriate for cinephile and action fan alike (although not mutually exclusive). With a Mexican leading lady and shooting location along with a soundtrack full of Ranchera and Chicano rock music (Los Lobos, Tito & Tarantula, Carlos Santana and more), “Desperado” is also the most authentic film on this list, though that's of course relative too. Watch out for Cheech Marin as the Short Bartender and Quentin Tarantino as Pick-up Guy. If you fall head over boots for this brand of gun-slinging action, add the rest of the trilogy to your Cinco de Mayo viewing -- “El Mariachi” and the more deliciously gonzo “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” (which features a hilariously out-there Johnny Depp performance). To take it up a notch, drink every time guitars are shown or mentioned, Banderas touches his hair, anyone dies and whenever Bucho gives an order or is mentioned.

"Fun in Acapulco" (1963)
If you want authentic Mexican film fare, this is not for you. Starring Elvis Presley, “Fun in Acapulco” follows the general Elvis formula – fun, girls and songs. This time around, Elvis plays a lifeguard named Mike (well, not just a lifeguard, but a tormented former trapeze artist and boat-worker) who finds conflict and love in Acapulco. Mike not only has to contend with his psychosomatic vertigo and on-going existential crisis, but also a budding rivalry with the diving champion of Mexico, who claims Mike has stolen his girl. This conflict comes to a head when Mike performs a death-defying stunt involving the 136-foot La Quebraba cliffs to the fear and awe of the local townspeople. Mike’s love interests (plural - it’s Elvis) include Marguerita (a timely Ursula Andress) and Dolores (Elsa Cardenas) Mexico’s top female bullfighter (there are a lot of champions, aren’t there?). The movie can get culturally cringe-worthy time to time (see Mexican child acting as Mike’s amigo/manager), but Elvis manages to handle Spanish better than you’d think when he sings “Guadalajara” and the combination of the music and laughs, intentional or otherwise, makes “Fun in Acapulco” a fun watch for this day of fiestas, especially after you’ve had a margarita or two. Although Elvis shot all of his scenes stateside (darn you, Elvis manager Colonel Parker, and your being in the U.S. illegally), a few of the exteriors were filmed on location in Mexico. Coincidentally, Encore is showing an Elvis movie a day for the entire month of May, but is saving “Fun in Acapulco” for the 9th and having “King Creole” playing on Cinco de Mayo – go figure.

"The Mask of Zorro" (1998)
Don Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro, the Californian swashbuckling Batman) has been reincarnated a near-countless number of times from the 1919 comic “The Curse of Capistrano” (so Batman is the Manhattanite gadgety Zorro?) to the 1950s Disney TV series “Zorro” to a West End musical three years ago. This makes it very tricky to choose one definitive Zorro film and therefore we won’t. Instead, “The Mask of Zorro” is included in this list as a good watch for Cinco de Mayo with its action and adventure, but if you want to expand more on the Zorro legend, we recommend the Tyrone Power-starring swashbuckler “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) and the George Hamilton-starring parody “Zorro, The Gay Blade” (1981). Playing with Zorro’s origin story, “The Mask of Zorro” begins with Don Diego (Anthony Hopkins) swooping in to save innocent men from hanging at the hands of the villainous Spanish governor (Stuart Wilson). Things happen (don’t want to spoil) and Don Diego ends up alone and in seclusion for 20-odd years. When the Spanish governor returns to California twenty years later with Don Diego’s daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones, in a career-making role) in tow, Don Diego enlists drunk thief Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) as a roundabout apprentice and seeks vengeance, this time it’s personal. While learning the ways of the sword and vigilante justice in 1840’s California, Murrieta stumbles upon Elena and sparks ignite, from dancing to swordplay. A rollicking good time any which way you look at it (swashbuckling, romance, Anthony Hopkins), pair with a bucket of cervezas and lime wedges.

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  • Teie | May 5, 2014 2:16 PMReply

    This feature is as stupid as celebrating "5 de Mayo". Just to add a couple of pics to Sofia's excellent list:

    -Ánimas Trujano (Ismael Rodriguez, 1962) Stellar performance by Toshiro Mifune as a Mexican indian.
    -Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel, 1950) Yes, Buñuel is Spanish but his many mexican films are an authentic portrait of mexican culture.
    -Los Caifanes ( Juan Ibáñez, 1967)

  • Sofia | May 7, 2013 12:22 AMReply

    Some real mexican films for anyone interested:
    -La zona (Rodrigo Plá, 2007)
    -Canoa (Felipe Cazals, 1975)
    -Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke, 2008)
    -Salón México (Emilio Fernández, 1949)
    -Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009)
    -La perla (Emilio Fernández, 1947)
    -Leap Year (Michael Rowe, 2010)
    -The Prize (Paula Markovitch, 2011)
    -La pasión según Berenice (Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1975)
    -Verano de Goliat (Nicolás Pereda, 2010)
    -Castle of Purity (Arturo Ripstein, 1973)
    -Profundo carmesí (Arturo Ripstein, 1994)
    -Cabeza de Vaca ( Nicolás Echevarría, 1991)
    -Voy A Explotar (Gerardo Naranjo, 2008)
    -La Mujer del Puerto (Arcady Boytler, 1934)

    "North American cinema is the only true weapon of mass destruction. It has achieved to convince the audience not only that it’s the best possible cinema, but that it is the only."
    -Arturo Ripstein

  • Brandon Judell | May 6, 2013 7:00 AMReply

    Another insulting "gringo" take on Mexico, a take which has hampered our relations with our neighbor and its population for decades and decades. Why not list some homegrown Mexican films about its own folks—or even some penetrating documentaries as "Reportero"? Of course, if indieWire is seeking the Huffington Post crowd, Ms. Drumm might have just succeeded.

    Michael Musto once wrote: "For better or worse, I've always tried to march to my own drum and tell it like it is, while preserving some integrity and style. God, I'm fabulous!"

    Your author Ms. Diana D. might adapt that phrase: "For better or worse, I've always tried to march to my own Drumm and tell it like it is, while preserving no integrity and style. God, I'm a shallow twit!"

  • Art | May 5, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    Although “Pan’s Labyrinth” was directed by a Mexican, it's entirely set in Spain and features an all Spanish cast.

  • DG | May 5, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    El Topo, Holy Mountain

  • Sal Chicho | May 5, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada should in no way be overlooked.

  • Edward | May 5, 2013 7:10 PM

    From the read (and I dunno that you read it), it seems like a purposefully, fun, less-serious-than-that feature. But yes, indeed, that's a great film. Probably doesn't belong on *this* list.

  • Daniel | May 5, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    For being one of only five films on your list, you guys sure do seem half-hearted about recommending Three Amigos. Personally, I'm far less ambivalent. It's a motherducking classic, and I love it without reservation.

  • Diana Drumm | May 5, 2013 2:24 PM

    I loved Three Amigos as a kid, but it isn't the same on the re-watch. Though I may be off..

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