Mexico's unexpected Hollywood star

Actor and director Eugenio Derbez’s latest movie hasn’t even debuted in Mexican cinemas yet but he is all over the newspapers.

That’s because Derbez’s low-budget movie, Instructions Not Included, is a crossover bilingual hit and has already opened in U.S. theaters, grossing more than $26 million to date.

It is on target to becoming one of the 10 highest grossing foreign movies ever in the United States. According to this box office site, it’s now shown in 933 theaters and ranked 6th over the past weekend. It’s already surpassed the gross of the last Mexican hit, Like Water for Chocolate (1989).

Few expected such a feat from Derbez, a longtime comic actor more known for his work for the Televisa network than feature films. This is how El Universal opened a profile of him in its Sunday magazine (behind paywall) yesterday:

“Few believed that he’d ever have a hit movie. They said his projects were too ‘Televisa’ and that his name didn’t belong on movie marquees.”

The movie has a different name in Spanish, ‘No Se Aceptan Devoluciones,’ which translates as Returns Not Accepted. It doesn’t open in Mexico till Sept. 20.

The movie is about a playboy from Acapulco who suddenly finds a young daughter he never knew he fathered dropped in his lap. Father and daughter move to Los Angeles and struggle to get by.

Much of the Mexican press on the movie deals with Derbez’s desperate search to find someone to play the role of his child. He sought a boy but couldn’t find a blond, blue-eyed completely bilingual boy. In frustration, he tweeted the requirements for a boy or girl. That’s when 9-year-old Loreto Peralta showed up. She fit the physical requirements and spoke fluent English from spending summers in the United States.

The Los Angeles Times published a feature on Derbez last week, touching on how “entertainment companies, media outlets and advertising agencies have increasingly devoted resources to capturing a share of the growing Spanish-dominant and bilingual audience.”

It’s been a tough struggle. Even hit actor Will Ferrell, who starred in the 2012 movie Casa de mi Padre, failed to hit the mark. That film didn’t even gross $6 million.

Producers “mounted a bilingual advertising campaign for the movie, both on Univision, the giant U.S. Spanish-language TV network, and with billboard, radio and print advertising in English and Spanish,” the Times report says.

Between word of mouth and the advertising campaign, it definitely brought results.


The Oscars and Gael Garcia Bernal

None of Mexico's films from 2012 made it on to the final list for best foreign films for the Oscars. But Mexico didn't seem to feel slighted. That's because Chile's entry, "No," did make it on to the list and it features one of Mexico's biggest movie stars, Gael Garcia Bernal. This is the official trailer. Warning: I could not find one with English subtitles so it is all in Spanish. The Hollywood Reporter gave a write-up to No back in May during the Cannes film festival, describing it as a "chronicle of the 1988 plebiscite that led to the first democratically elected government in 17 years." Garcia Bernal plays "a maverick advertising ace who spearheaded the winning campaign," it says, calling him a modern day Latin Don Draper (from Madmen). Audience reaction, the Reporter said, "was ecstatic." Garcia Bernal is probably best known to English speaking audiences for The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Babel (2006) and Casa de mi Padre, the 2011 flick starring Will Ferrell. Mexico's submission for best foreign film this year was After Lucia, which I haven't seen but am told is a passionate look at schoolyard bullying


Mexico's extravagant mausoleums

Watch El Velador (The Night Watchman) - Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.

This is a trailer of a well-regarded new documentary, El Velador (The Night Watchman) from Natalia Almada. I hadn't heard of it until I was on a radio show following her this week. The documentary focuses on Humaya Gardens, a cemetery filled with huge mausoleums of slain drug lords in Culiacan. It was shown this week on PBS. I visited the cemetery two years ago and wrote about it here. We were all nervous when visiting the place. Almada is brave to hang out there long enough to make this documentary. By the way, I see that the New York Times gave the documentary a very positive review in July. And Roger Ebert is also effusive in his praise.

Update: The documentarist, Natalia Almada, has just won a MacArthur "genius" grant. Along with 22 other MacArthur fellows, she'll have $500,000 to sustain her for future endeavors.


March of the migrants

President Felipe Calderon has been in the United States this week speaking about migrants. No! Not those migrants. Migrating monarch butterflies. Calderon yesterday attended a premiere of a new IMAX 3D movie on the incredible 2,500-mile journey of the monarchs, which have wintering sanctuaries in forests in Michoacan state. The website of the film is here.


Reliving the SE Asian tsunami

This is a Spanish language trailer for a movie called The Impossible that will premiere in a little more than a month. It was directed by JA Bayona, a protege of Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro. No English language trailer is yet available on YouTube but try clicking here to access one.

I was with my family in Indonesia at the time of the horrifying 2004 tsunami on which this movie is based. The tsunami and earthquake took more than a quarter million lives. Luckily, we were in Bali, far away from Sumatra near the epicenter of the quake that triggered the walls of water that roared across the Indian Ocean.

I was quickly called to work by editors, and soon found my way on an airplane to Sri Lanka. It looked to be where the tsunami hit the hardest. That's because news hadn't yet filtered out about how badly Sumatra had been smashed. I spent a week reporting on the disaster in Sri Lanka before returning to Sumatra to replace another reporter for our news organization there. I've covered plenty of disasters -- bad ones -- like a volcano-driven avalanche in Colombia that left 25,000 dead in 1985 and the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008 that killed some 80,000. But nothing I've done prepared me for the the tsunami in Indonesia. Miles and miles of terrain were flattened. The tsunami raked many countries, among them Thailand. Click here to see an amazing video by a Swedish couple there. One minute, the woman is wading in surf. Moments later, they have fled to higher ground and are watching other buildings float away. 

I'll certainly go see this movie. Just don't ask me to stay at a beachfront hotel.  


Will Ferrell and his 'Mexican' movie

This is a very funny clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live the other night, nearly all en Espanol with English subtitles. What makes it hilarious is when Diego Garcia Luna, Will Ferrell's co-star in the upcoming movie, Casa de mi Padre, pops up in the audience and starts reaming Ferrell out. The subtitles give no hint of his colorful language.

Here's more about the appearance of Ferrell and Garcia Luna on the show from a story by Univision:

The forthcoming Casa de mi Padre centers on Armando (Ferrell), who has spent his entire life on his father’s ranch and falls for his brother Raul’s (Diego Luna) hot fiancée (Génesis Rodríguez). Life becomes even more tangled for the trio after they find themselves warring with Onza, Mexico’s most feared drug lord (Gael García Bernal).

Before viewers get hot and bothered about the movie, it’s important to note that it’s meant to poke fun at Americans’ stereotypical views of Mexicans, and vice versa. It’s also a satire of telenovelas, poor acting skills, and filmmaking in general (though Luna has jokingly referred to it as more of a “tribute” than a satire in junket interviews).

One could take offense at the English comedians trying to speak Spanish on nighttime network television. But on perusing the posts on the internet, Mexicans appeared to like it. For one thing, it shows the penetration of Spanish in U.S. culture. Many English speakers get enough Spanish to understand the jokes with the bad subtitles.

The movie opens Friday in the States. I bet it might be a hit in Mexico, too. Diego Garcia Luna is a huge star here, and they'll go see the movie because of him. Many won't know who Will Ferrell is.


Mexico awaits an Oscar

Mexico Oscar Nominee_Nost
If you want to learn more about Demien Bichir, the Mexican actor who is up for the best actor award in Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, read this lovely AP profile.

Bichir stars in the film A Better Life as a Mexican gardener in Los Angeles who is illegally in the United States. The role Bichir plays _ AP describes it as “how to live the invisible life of an illegal immigrant with dignity” _ is one he knows well. He was illegally in the United States himself at one point.

Bichir comes from a clan of Mexican actors that the story likens to the Barrymores of Hollywood fame. But if there is one Mexican actor with whom Bichir might be linked, its Anthony Quinn, the last Mexican to win an Oscar 47 years ago.

To have the same distinction as Quinn is "surreal," Bichir tells the AP's Kathy Corcoran (a friend).

"Everyone knows him, everyone loves him and he has always been a pride for Mexico," he said. "All I can say is that I wish I had that career, that at the end of my life I would have had at least a little bit of it ... and I hope it won't take another 48 years to have a Mexican nominated."

A young Filipino journalist who lived much of his life in the United States, rising to become a Washington Post reporter only to acknowledge in a noteworthy magazine piece that he, too, was illegal, also has written about the movie (which I haven’t seen yet). 

There are moments in A Better Life of such heartbreaking truth — the conversations between father and son, the fear, anguish, and shame on Bichir’s face as he encounters a cop on the street — that the film transcends language and race.



This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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