Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Raza Hollywood's Best-Kept Secret. Sci-fi. Cleaning Nopales.

Review: Water & Power. Written and Directed by Richard Montoya. Opened May 2 in limited release.

Michael Sedano

Spider Man outdraws the Water & Power twins ten-to-one. In 16 theaters over opening weekend, the Richard Montoya written and directed independent film pulls in 2350 ticket buyers per house, weekend gross $40,000. The big-budget arachnid plays 4300 screens filling 21,000 seats over Cinco de Mayo weekend, pulling in millions. The numbers are mediocre. I’m sure Spider Man’s marketers would prefer to have sold more tickets. They should have made a better movie and people wouldn't be bad-mouthing it. 

Richard Montoya has made a superior film, and it’s time more people bought tickets to see Water & Power and get their friends into seats. Audiences will see every dime of the producer’s minuscule budget on screen. Dine on a visual feast of Los Angeles imagery, get pulled along by a compelling script. All in all, Water and Power is the best film gente aren’t seeing.

Should Chicanas Chicanos go see Water & Power because it's a Chicano film, or because of Richard Montoya? No, but there's that. Mejor, go see Water & Power because it's genuinely worthwhile, thoughtful entertainment. Lots of raza in-jokes but an informed audience will find Water & Power completely accessible, funny, and respectful of the audience's intelligence.

 I saw Water & Power on a Monday morning in Arcadia, with maybe six movie-goers. That’s a tough thing, to be in an empty auditorium with a good flick. Water & Power comes at the viewer in fast, rough-and-tumble bits that overflow with wit and intensity. Explosive laughs and surreal surprises are so much better when a full house lets loose a Montoya-inspired belly laugh.

The story of two brothers nicknamed Power and Water, comes together in fragments, with childhood flashbacks adding depth to the tragedy unfolding in the lives of a pair of high-achievers. Both have contracts on their lives. The cop brother for assassinating a criminal shot-caller. The politician brother for insisting on planting a million trees along the LA River without cutting in condo developers.

With cinematographer Claudio Chea, Montoya creates visual poetry with Los Angeles its persona. The filmmakers enchant with lush night scenes, aerial shots looking down, traveling shots crossing the river channel. Chea and Montoya define “noir” by the look and feel they achieve in the play of light against blackness. Le noir, darkness, permeates places the brothers take refuge, and the choices the carnales face. Then Chea and Montoya create wonderful contrast in the bright overexposure of scenes with the ice cream-suited downtown fixer embodied by Clancy Brown. The Devil.

The fixer scenes become visual metaphors for invincible power and evil. "Come into the light," the scenes scream, echoing a biblical line “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In the hard glare, Water learns his eastside connectas produce nothing but an opportunity to kneel at the devil’s feet. It's a savage moment leaving a viewer shifting uncomfortably in the seat.

Emilio Rivera as Norte/Sur carries the film, not solely owing  to his pivotal role between the two brothers but because the script gives him all the best lines. The audience watches mystified as Water acts like a vencido, treating a respectful Norte/Sur like shit. We’re on Norte/Sur’s side now, ambivalent about the good guy. Surprise and hilarity grow from a dance scene where Norte/Sur echoes Mae West, climaxing an arrestingly surreal scene that, more than any in the film, illustrates Montoya’s diabolical wit and his careful structuring of the film to arrive at this insightful moment completely disarmed.

Norte/Sur gets the best lines in the script, and the biggest laughs. For instance, climactic desperation builds life or death tension. Various barrios up in arms are out to revenge or protect, depends on whose side they’re with. Water, Power, and Norte/Sur sort out the alliances, strategizing whom to call upon from a roll call dozens of barrios and their muscle: San Pedro muscle, and Dog Town muscle, but not Frog Town muscle because of they're hooked up with Cypress Park muscle. Then how about Los Feliz muscle? A “who’s on first-“style double take, “Los Feliz has muscle?” Los Feliz is a mostly tony neighborhood bordering on Elysian Valley, the official name of Frog Town.

Local color is a constant feature of Montoya/Culture Clash scripts. Water & Power continues the technique, spreading the joy to the greater Los Angeles region. Out-of-towners will get most of the jokes. For sure, everyone’s going to enjoy the backhand Edward James Olmos takes when the characters are listing big Chicano stars. “Not Olmos” they declare unanimously, and Olmos—who produced the film—is crossed off the list, “no Eddie.”

Some of the juiciest, and inadvertently sentimental, local color occurs during a police line-up. Lupe Ontiveros, after a lifetime of playing house maids, steals her scenes as a brassy foul-mouthed cop. Ontiveros sounds completely convincing as an angry, empty-headed yes-woman cop acting tougher than any of the men around her. QEPD, Lupe Ontiveros.

While writer Richard Montoya is generous with the big laughs, he’s also incisive with a spectrum of lessons. Brotherhood and carnalismo come as a pair. Water and Power are little brother and big brother, but Norte/Sur is Power’s carnal. He gradually earns Water’s respect. Power and Norte/Sur’s intimacy comes with several surprises. Norte/Sur is paraplegic because Power shot him years ago. Norte/Sur is Power’s long-time snitch whose encyclopedic barrio knowledge makes Norte/Sur a kind of Greek chorus impelling the story along. I sense a sly homage to the shoeshine tipster in Baretta and Police Story.

No one will come to Water & Power seeking stereotypes or archetypes, and those who enter the auditorium with preconceived notions about gangs, cholos, cops, and chicanos will exit shaken. Maybe not about cops. The film opens with a speeding black and white, a uniformed officer enthusiastically hitting a bong.

The film doesn’t glorify gangsters nor offer an iconic nobility. For the most part, gang bangers exist as punchlines or puppets. Cholos, on the other hand, come with a look and a sense of humor. As personified in Norte/Sur, the cholo repels the straight Water vato but adds a different dimension to the hard ass cop persona of Power.

Water & Power, for all its chicana chicano characters is not about chicanismo. The film is about power, corruption, and moral expediency. The best lack all conviction, corruption infects all over, the cops, the fixers, the gangsters, the politicians, raza, Asian, anglo alike. They all come to a line, many cross it.

It’s not a chicano question it’s multi-ethnic: When opportunity conflicts with expediency, does a moral person do the right thing, even if life depends on it? Water & Power is puro noir. The characters do the right thing and get the bloody end of the stick anyhow. Evil walks away with clean feet, the audience walks away stunned, entertained, moved, informed. And eager to tell their friends, go see Water & Power.

How you got there, to be the one holding the stick, there’s a story in that. Told in Richard Montoya’s unique voice, it’s a story worth taking friends to see, Water & Power.

UCR Latinos in Sci-Fi Conference On-line at Latinopia

Interest among sci-fi writers and readers continues to grow around the idea to hold a science-fiction writers conference modeled on the National Latino Writers Conference once held on the National Hispanic Cultural Center's state-of-the-art campus in old Alburquerque.

Blogueros Ernest Hogan and Rudy Ch. García sat on the author panel at the recently concluded first-ever Latinos in Sci-Fi Conference hosted by the University of California, Riverside.

Jésus Treviño, a spec lit writer himself, filmed the panel and features it this week at Latinopia.


The Gluten-free Chicano
Peeling Nopales the No-Espina Way

Sadly, the title misleads a bit. Any time a cook prepares fresh nopalito pencas, an espina or two is sure to find a finger or palm. Así es, the romance of el nopal.

A sharp paring knife and careful finger placement between the espina carbuncles are two secrets to preparing nopales. 

Use a washable cutting board or work on newspaper. Draw the knife around the spiny perimeter of the cactus paddle, cutting away the outer ¼ inch of spininess.

Hold the penca flat and draw the knife across the face of the penca nearly horizonally. Most espina nubs cut right off. Dip the blade in a glass of water to wash away espinitas.

Steel the blade frequently to keep the edge slicing effortlessly.

Wash the pencas. There's a white espina in the top middle of the foto below.

Slice the pencas into ¼" strips. Draw the blade at a diagonal through the strips.

The nopalitos are ready to use in a salad, a stew, with scrambled eggs. Below, nopales simmer with carne de puerco. Later, the cook will add una torta de camarón.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good posting, Sedano.
To clarify my barebones views as recorded on Latinopia, I more support a sci-fi/spec lit writers conference led by Latinos, with multi-ethnic participation of everyone who advocates and supports equitable diversity.
Maybe the next Albu National Latino Writers Conference could take spec lit as its theme? - RudyG