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.


Mexico's ties with Cuba warming

Canciller Meade con el General Raúl Castro (1)
Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade has just returned from a two-day trip to Havana that marked a significant warming of Mexico-Cuba relations.

With the center-right National Action Party out of power after two sexenios, or six-year terms, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party has made improving ties with Cuba a priority.

Meade’s office sent around the photo above of his meeting with Cuban jefe Raul Castro (right) and an audiotape in which Meade says that Mexican and Cuban diplomats have been working on a series of accords concerning international law, environment, investment, education exchanges and health care.

“We’ve been occupied in this for the first few months of the administration of President Pena Nieto,” Meade said. “We’re near completion on many of them.”

“By the end of the year, the legal framework will be up to date and will be the platform for a much more intense, precise relationship,” he said.

Pena Nieto is expected to visit Cuba in the first few months of 2014.

Mexico’s relations with Cuba under the previous Fox and Calderon governments were tense, even bitter. Click here and here to learn more.

In addition to meeting top Cuban dignitaries, Meade also laid a floral wreath near a statue to Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.


Las Ladies, episode 7

Mix alcohol and high emotions, and what do you get? If you're at the Estadio Azteca watching a World Cup qualifying match, you can get a pretty nasty spat. Like some others I've mentioned on this blog, this was a spat with racial overtones, a huge sense of entitlement and ridiculously bad behavior.

The above video was taken by an ESPN collaborator, Rene Tovar, in one of the boxes at the stadium last Friday night when the Mexican national soccer team was playing the Honduras squad.

Two women in the front row grew irritated and began insulting the people behind them, calling them "nacos." Click here for a better description of "naco," but take it from me that it's not a compliment. Soon, one woman tosses her beer cup at those behind her. Then it gets worse. One of the two "ladies" pulls a bag of pepper spray from her purse, turns around and begins spraying everyone behind her. Dating from this scandal, "ladies" is Mexican shorthand for referring to arrogant upper-class women with a strong sense of entitlement and little regard for laws. "Gentlemen" conveys the same meaning.

People started to scatter. "I told you not to mess with me!" the woman said, according to this Spanish-language blog posting by Tovar.

She waits a second. "You didn't understand? Let's try it again. Take this!" she said, according to the blog post as she squirted the pepper spray can again.

The video is going viral here in Mexico. One of the women reportedly is a law professor at a private university in Santa Fe, an expensive suburb in the capital. Let's see if there are any consequences for the "ladies." 


A Mexico soccer disaster unfolds

Mexico Honduras Socce_NostMexico is on the cusp of failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, and this is tantamount to national shame.

Honduras dealt Mexico a humiliating 2-1 loss Friday night in Azteca Stadium.

The loss knocked Mexico into fourth place for qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil. Only the top three teams in the North, Central America and Caribbean division get a ticket to the World Cup, while the fourth will go into a playoff series against Oceania winner New Zealand.

Mexico has punched its ticket to the World Cup every time since 1990. So its current predicament is the subject of anger. Only hours after the loss, authorities axed coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre. Fans chanted for his head at the stadium Friday night, and they got it. That's De la Torre in an AP photo above.

Honduras’s feat was extraordinary. It became the first team since Costa Rica in 2001 to win a World Cup qualifier at the Azteca, a pantheon to soccer that often holds more than 100,000 manic fans.

The U.S. and Mexico national teams play this Tuesday, and tensions will be sky high. Mexico nearly has to win to keep alive hopes of going to Brazil.

But get this: Mexico’s team has not won – or even scored a goal -- against the United States in the three qualifying games at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, since 2001.

Interim Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena has one task ahead of him: Find that mojo that helped him carry the Mexico national team to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. It’s been lost , and now even Mexico’s best players are suffering a crisis of confidence.


Mexico City's nascent 'museum row'

Render Museo Jumex (baja)
A couple of years ago, telecom tycoon and billionaire Carlos Slim inaugurated his $70 million Soumaya Museum, a glittering palace to house his personal collection. Some 16,000 hexagonal aluminum plates cover the 150-foot-tall building, reflecting light from all angles.

The museum, free to the public, was Slim’s gift to the city, and it has created some buzz in the art world. After all, it includes some Toulouse-Lautrecs, Picassos and Dalis, as well as works by Diego Rivera and Renoir. It displays Slim’s vast collection of castings of statues by Auguste Rodin, the renowned French sculptor. Here’s a Wall Street Journal story about that museum.

Now comes news that a new museum will open right next to the Soumaya in the capital’s Polanco district . It is a five-story museum housing the Jumex Collection, the largest private contemporary arts collection in Latin America. Its inauguration is scheduled for Nov. 19. It is full of stark, geometric lines, distinct to the curvy Soumaya Museum.

Like the Soumaya, the Jumex Collection will display the collection of a business tycoon, in this case the food and juice magnate Eugenio Lopez, head of Grupo Jumex.

Lopez has collected 2,600 pieces, mostly contemporary art from the 1990s to the present, and much of it will be on display, including works by Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Martin Kippenberger and Bruce Nauman.

The museum will display an important group of Mexican contemporary artists, and be the site of six exhibitions per year.

The artist’s rendering above comes from the firm of David Chipperfield, the knighted British architect . Chipperfield’s firm designed the reconstruction of Berlin’s Neues Museum, and it’s also done the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and designed a cultural center in Arendal, Norway. In the rendering above, you see the Soumaya Museum (shaped almost like a nuclear cooling tower) behind the Jumex.

Might a third museum be in the offing, making a true “museum row”?


Monterrey's old-time newspaper war

In this digital age, in many parts of the world newspapers are passe, constantly shrinking in size, able to capture only a fraction of the advertising they once did.
So it was with some surprise when I visited Monterrey late last week to see that a good old-fashioned newspaper war has broken out. The industrial city has long been served by El Norte, a pioneering newspaper that is the heart of Grupo Reforma, the newspaper chain that also publishes Reforma in Mexico City.
Due to its groundbreaking investigative work in the 1970s to the present, Grupo Reforma is a media institution. Wikipedia describes it as the largest printed media chain in Latin America. So it is big, powerful and well-established.
Who would go against its flagship El Norte then? Well, another business conglomerate, that of Ricardo Salinas Pliego, head of TV Azteca, the No. 2 television conglomerate. Salinas's brother, Guillermo, decided to found El Horizonte, and its first edition came off the presses in April. Now the reporters from the papers are going mano a mano.
It's a bit surprising that El Horizonte has chosen a format that seems remarkably similar to El Norte.
I wasn't in Monterrey long enough to get a better sense of why the Salinas clan would pour money into paper and ink rather than digital media. But it seems there's some bad blood between the Salinas family and that of Alejandro Junco de la Vega, head of Grupo Reforma, which now has to share local advertising revenue. Stay tuned.


The town that Carlos Slim forgot

A town high in the mountains of Oaxaca state now has a mobile phone network – but it’s not because of Carlos Slim’s Telcel or any other cellular service provider.

The townspeople built their own network with the help of some foreigners, and now their cellular bills are about $1.20 a month, a thirteenth the size of average monthly bills in places where the big players offer service.

The town is called Villa Talea de Castro. Most of its inhabitants are Zapotec Indians.

It’s so remote that there was no cell service. In stepped Rhizomatica, a nonprofit with the goal of increasing “access to mobile telecommunications to the over two billion people without affordable coverage and the 700 million with none at all.”

The U.S. and European experts working with Mexican engineers got the network set up by March of this year. At first, they ruled that phone calls were not to be longer than five minutes each to keep the small network from getting saturated.

By May, local numbers in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Seattle were set up, meaning that Oaxacans in Villa Talea could call relatives in the capital or in California as if it were practically a local call, a few cents a minute.

The French news agency, AFP, just did a story about the project (in English), and here’s an earlier story in Spanish from a Mexican news portal.

AFP says Slim’s Telcel, whose parent company, America Movil, has 262 million subscribers across Latin America, refused to provide service in the town because it had fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

The local network appears to be quite a success. AFP says “600 villagers signed up since the service opened three months ago.” Already, the Red Celular de Talea (or Talea Cellular Network) is preparing to buy better equipment to improve service and donate their old equipment to another indigenous village.


Peruvians win Mexico City marathon

I'm still hearing people cheering out in the street for the stragglers from this morning's Mexico City Marathon, the route of which passed directly in front of our building.

I took the video above at a little after the 31 kilometer mark in the marathon, or about three-quarters of the race. In it, I believe you see the two leaders at that point, Kenyan runners Simon Njoroge and Rodgers Ondati. Later a Peruvian athlete, Raul Pacheco, would overtake them to win in 2 hours, 16 minutes, 56 seconds. Another Peruvian, Gladys Tejeda, also captured the women's title, a little more than 20 minutes back.

El Universal says Pacheco won a purse of nearly $35,000. I don't see how much Tejeda won.

It was a real delight to see how international the marathon, which drew 20,000 runners, has become. There were many Africans among the early men's and women's finishers.

Below are some handout photos from Mexico City Hall of the event.





The snarled traffic of Mexico City

Tens of thousands of striking teachers have brought mayhem to Mexico City.

Sit-ins and protest rallies by the teachers this week have shut down both houses of Congress, forced a change in the route of the Mexico City marathon this weekend, and partially blocked access to the international airport. The video report above is from Al Jazeera English.

Photo-7Depending on your political persuasion, municipal police have acted with extraordinary restraint – or failed to act.

In either case, more is at stake than the educational reform that has gotten teachers so worked up. Also in play is the future of Mayor Miguel Mancera. He is a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, and many in that party are opposed to the series of reforms that President Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI has proposed. So letting protesters block traffic and shut down Congress pleases some in his party.

But by pleasing his political base, Mancera angers many ordinary residents deeply inconvenienced by teacher roadblocks and marches that snarl traffic. His reputation is already slipping barely eight months into his term. The headline in Reforma today says the city is “held hostage. 

Public security is definitely Mancera’s weak flank. Organized criminal activity seems to be picking up in Mexico City. To wit: 12 people were abducted from a bar in the Zona Rosa in May. Seven bodies turned up this week, perhaps some of the abductees. 

Pena Nieto may also have a rough couple of weeks ahead. As legislators waffle on passing the secondary education reform laws, particularly one that requires teacher evaluations, opposition may build to other reforms. Pena Nieto is scheduled to give his annual state of the nation speech Sept. 1. Then he must submit his proposed package of fiscal reform measures by Sept. 8. That package reportedly calls for taxes on food and medicines, something that may draw more protesters into the streets.


A melee involving Mexican cadets

A group of Mexican sailors who are on a trip aboard the training vessel Cuauhtemoc took a day off Sunday to visit the beach in Poland. At the end of the day, two of them were in the hospital.

A melee at the Gdynia beach between the Mexican group and what the Mexican press describe as Polish hooligans led the Secretariat of Foreign Relations to call in the Polish ambassador in Mexico for a dressing down.

This English language report from Polish Radio said fans of the soccer club Ruch Chorzow comprised the Polish side of the brawl.

The video above comes from police surveillance video.

The Polish radio report cites a prosecutor, Michal Niesiolowski, saying it was clear who started the fight.

“I have personally studied the material in this case, including the surveillance footage,” Niesiolowski was quoted as saying. “At the current level [of investigation], it has been established that the 'attackers' were Polish citizens, and the 'injured' party were Mexicans.”

The radio said soccer club fans said one of the Mexicans kicked a woman in the face, starting the melee.

The 270-foot ARM Cuauhtemoc is a three-masted training ship docked out of Acapulco. The ship is on a tour of the Baltic region.

The incident has incensed some Mexicans on social media. One tweet from a few minutes ago from @lachivamayor notes: “There will be a 2nd round.”



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

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