Saturday, September 06, 2014


This movie hit theaters at just about the same time that Instructions Not Included did last year, the weekend before Labor Day, and while I don't know if it will have the same staying power, it's got enough in common with last year's Mexican sleeper - a specifically bilingual/cross-border story, what I presume is a noteworthy Mexican cast, and a concerted attempt to appeal to a broad audience - that I could see history repeating. It's still a bit of an underserved market.

Obviously, I'm not exactly the target audience for this movie, as I had a moment at the box office where I probably looked a bit of a fool asking for a ticket to "Cant-in-flass" as opposed to "cahn-teen-flas" - clearly, the lady behind the box office was much better with the Spanish than me, enough to make me kind of wish I'd just used the ticketing kiosk. It was a minor comfort to see Michael Imperioli's character mispronounce it the same way within the film.

Very odd set of trailers before it; I didn't realize that the movie had a straight PG rating - a rarity for films not directly aimed at children - so I was a bit surprised that I walked in during a preview for Dolphin Tale 2. Things got a bit odd after that - the trailer for The Boxtrolls had the narration in Spanish, but all the dialogue in English, while the clearly Mexican-inspired Book of Life was all English. The group wound up with a decent-looking thing called Spare Parts featuring George Lopez as an inspirational teacher, but smack in the middle - between the two animated films, in fact - was one for Más Negro que la Noche, a straight-out horror movie apparently set to hit US theaters later this month (it played Mexico in August). All-Spanish trailer, promise of 3D, doesn't look particularly compatible with Cantinflas at all - but, hey, when you only play Spanish-language films every few months, you string them together however you can.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 September 2014 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

It might be interesting to watch Catinflas while making tick marks to see just how much is in Spanish with English subtitles and how much is in English with Spanish subtitles. It's probably not 50/50, or even that close, but there is clearly an effort being made to create a movie that plays well from one end of North America to the other (and beyond). Filmmaker Sebastian del Amo does well enough by that goal, but it's fair to wonder whether our not he in doing so has limited the film to being generally okay rather than specifically great.

There are two points of entry, one for each language. Hollywood in 1955 features Mike Todd (Michael Imperioli), a Broadway producer whose first foray into the world of film is an attempt to shoot Around the World in 80 Days with an international, cameo-filled cast. Elizabeth Taylor (Barbara Mori) is his first target, but the focus soon shifts to wooing Mexico's biggest star, Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno. The other track starts in 1931, when Moreno (Óscar Jaenada) aims to become a boxer, but his footwork is more suited for slapstick than sport. He's soon discovered by Stanislao Scilinski (Luis Gerardo Méndez), whose father-in-law rubs a tent show in Mexico City. It's there that Mario refines the Cantinflas character, meets future wife Valentina Ivanov's (Ilse Salas), and keeps an eye out for opportunities to move up in the business.

Either one of these threads has the potential for making an interesting story on its own, and as Mario's narrative catches up with Mike's, it's not hard to see why del Amo saw the potential in connecting them, especially once Julian Sedgwick shows up in a fun little role that connects things in a clever, witty way. The trouble is that in fitting both in, del Amo winds up leaving what seem like some important pieces out: The audience never really gets to see Mike as the clever producer who can turn a situation to his advantage, while Mario's rise just seems to happen with little action on his part beyond stubbornness as a performer; there a bit of a disconnect between the naturally funny man of the people who improvises in part because he is unable to memorize lines in 1931 and the canny mogul of 1955, with that side of the story reduced almost to being inattentive to his wife. On the other hand, while it's hard to leave young Elizabeth Taylor out of any story she might have been involved with, she's a tangent that does not do much for the film.

Full review at EFC

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