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

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by Diana Drumm
May 5, 2013 12:42 PM
8 Comments
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"Three Amigos!" (1986)
“Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we’ll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find… the Three Amigos!” “Three Amigos” stars Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short as three out-of-work silent film actors mistaken for their onscreen counterparts – the Three Amigos – who accidentally agree to rescue the fictional Mexican village Santo Poco from the notorious El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) and his gang. Thinking they were going South of the border to perform their act, the trio is woefully unprepared to face Mexican thugs, let alone tequila. With a superb comedy trio like Chase, Martin and Short, the film is somewhat lacking in witty repartee. It's just not as funny as it should be. That said, some of the deadpan comedy is still pretty great and it's less the jokes (many of them lame) and the delivery that sells this movie and has turned it into somewhat of a comedy classic (even though admittedly, we have a soft spot for it, but it ain't a great movie). A send-up to silent Westerns and schtick comedy, you will enjoy if you are a fan of John Landis movies (though not his best, certainly not his worst). Generally panned by critics, the late great Roger Ebert gave it one out of four stars. But forget that. Remember, you are meant to be drinking and laughing and this film is perfect for both those endeavors. There certainly are "Three Amigos" fans out there roaming the streets besides us (Justin Timberlake included), as evidenced by their recent reunion of sorts on SNL. This past March, the Three Amigos reunited briefly onscreen during Timberlake’s opening monologue and included their customary salute (albeit with only Martin Short performing it, but that’s still enough to geek out about). “The Three Amigos” is the extra cheese for your nachos and who doesn’t want more cheese.

"Viva Zapata!" (1952)
“Shout excitement! Cry adventure! Thunder fury!” exclaimed the 1952 trailer for the Marlon Brando-starring, John Steinbeck-written, Elia Kazan-directed “Viva Zapata!” (yeesh – what testosterone!) Based on a true story, Emiliano Zapata (Brando) leads a peasant revolt against Mexico’s corrupt dictator President Portfirio Diaz (Fay Roope – no really, that’s the actor’s name) and becomes president himself with his brother (Anthony Quinn) at his side, at least at first (“I love you, but I do not like you.”). Apparently, off-screen Quinn wasn’t too happy either, particularly about Brando getting the lead, Quinn being an authentic and talented Mexican actor and all. The actors decided to settle the squabble with a literal pissing contest across the Rio Grande. Brando won the contest, but Quinn got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. While shooting the film, Brando was a handful from serenading onscreen love interest Jean Peters at three in the morning to setting off fireworks in the hotel lobby. For all of its attempts at authenticism, “Viva Zapata!” was not filmed on location, but rather in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. It met mixed reviews from the NYT writing that the film “throbs with a rare vitality” to Variety claiming the film’s direction had failed in its quest for personal intimacy. It's certainly not the great Elia Kazan's best that's for sure, but still worth checking out for completeists of his work. And since it's the more serious film of this list, “Viva Zapata!” is the movie that earns you a shot (or flask) of tequila.

We’re sticking to five, not just because it is the 5th of May, but you should be out celebrating, at least for part of the day. Don’t be a scrooge – swing at that piñata, head-bang to some Chicano rock, sing along with a Mariachi band, eat some arroz y frijoles, drink some tequila (maybe with a worm in it), recover with Mexican hot chocolate and a plate of huevos rancheros, and feel free to do any or all of the above in any order you please.

Other films to watch include some biopics, chick flicks and a few films that you really should see sober, so maybe reserve for Seis de Mayo or any other day of the year. If you’re in a biopic mood, check out Salma Hayek and her unibrow in “Frida” and Lou Diamond Phillips as Chicano musician Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba.” For fans of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (who features in Viva Zapata!), there is a plethora of options (and we don’t use that word lightly), including “Life of Villa” and “The Life of General Villa” starring Villa himself. From Villa flicks starring Wallace Beery to Yul Brynner, we’d recommend the 2003 TV movie “And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself,” with Antonio Banderas. Some decent chick flicks include “Tortilla Soup” about a Latino family with three grown daughters in L.A. and “Real Women Have Curves” with America Ferrara (in her film debut) as a teenage sweatshop worker with hopes of attending Columbia. Some not-so-good chick flicks include “A Walk in the Clouds” where Keanu Reeves finds love and helps out at Anthony Quinn’s vineyard and “Fools Rush In,” a rom-com both Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek would like the world to forget. The ones you must see at some point in your lifetime and hopefully pay attention to include the John Huston classic “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” the Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna starring coming of age tale “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” the award-winning twisted fantasy film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and those from Luis Bunuel’s Mexican period, particularly “Los Olvidados” and “The Exterminating Angel.” And obviously anything by the the modern day three Mexican amigos -- Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu is highly recommended even if they've all moved beyond their South of the border roots. Now-- salt, shot, lime.

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8 Comments

  • 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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