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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Nacho Libre

I had wanted to see this movie since seeing its trailers several months ago. While I am an obvious fan of real wrestling, I am also a fan of Jack Black and some of the old style entertainment wrestling. I haven’t been a fan of the recent events spurred on by the likes of WWE or WWF. That being said, I thought this looked like a fun movie worth taking in. I am also fan of Jack Black’s band Tenacious D. I only mention that because for the first time in awhile, we get a taste of his talents as a singer. Not since School of Rock has Jack Black exhibited his skills in this area.

I have been a fan of Jared Hess since his directorial work in Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon Dynamite was the quirky film that became a cult classic. Many fans were looking forward to Nacho Libre and while some will be disappointed, I can’t help but think many will like Nacho Libre enough to send it into the cult favorite category.

Nacho Libre is a strange story. Nacho, played by Jack Black is a man who doesn’t have much favor in the monastery where he serves as a Friar and cook for the orphans. He has had dreams his entire life and while a deeply religious man, he has always had a desire to be a professional Luche Libre, professional wrestler. From the time when he was a small boy, he has kept in the book that means the most to him, his Bible, the thing that means the most to him, a reminder of his desire to be a wrestler, a drawing of the uniform he hopes to someday wear.

Nacho has a miserable life at the monastery. He is never given the things he needs to do his job well. He makes mush instead of food, and even has the children asking for salad instead of the slop he offers for meals. Of course neither do the religious leaders have an understanding of his needs. They don’t provide him the things he needs or desires, and tend to look down on him as opposed to seeing him as a person who loves the children he is working for.

Along the way to pick up a donation of chips from a local restaurant Nacho is robbed by Esqueleto, played by Hector Jimanez of Napoleon Dynamite fame where he played the part of Pedro. Through the strange relationship that develops Nacho and Esqueleto decide to enter some local wrestling events to try and win prize money. It doesn’t take long before these two figure out, that even in losing, they can bring in more money than they could have ever imagined. For Esqueleto it means food and clothing, and for Nacho, it means income to start providing meals the orphans at the monastery can enjoy.

The relationship between Nacho and Esqueleto is different for obvious reasons. Nacho is fat, Esqueleto is skinny, Nacho is a believer and follower of God, Esaueleto is an atheist, he don’t believe in God, he only believes in science. Despite the many differences of these two, they engage on a strange relationship which begins to make a difference, not just to them but to all of those they come into contact with. It is from witnessing each others actions that they teach each other. It is as if the actions of the heart impresses and convicts more than the words the two share and exchange.

Along the way, the differences between Nacho and Esqueleto come into play, but despite those differences we see the two characters learning more about themselves, and each other. As the two continue to wrestle, it isn’t long before the monks at the monastery where Nacho works finds out about his wrestling. Wrestling is a forbidden experience and one that the monks frown upon. There is a new nun Sister Encarnación played by beautiful and talented actress Ana De La Reguera. She sees a positive side of Nacho that no one else seems to see with the exception of some of the children. Even with her support, Nacho feels left out and misunderstood, and for all practical purposes he is.

I won’t give much away with the rest of the review, other than to say that there are very strong points to be made in the story of Nacho. The power of faith is catamount to the story. This is especially true in the relationship between Nacho and Esqueleto. We see this towards the conclusion of the movie, one of the characters make a dramatic change in their beliefs. It is once this change is made that we see the story change. While the concept of change that is presented is predictable, it is also a pleasant surprise to see in a movie.

Nacho is in reality a figure that I wouldn’t mind my child emulating. He takes his earnings from wrestling and for the most part gives the overwhelming majority of his possessions to the poor and orphans. While he starts to lose his way, he has a wilderness experience that helps bring him back to the point of recognizing what is important to him. His service of God and his service to his fellow human being, especially the poor and needy is noticeable and admirable.

I must comment that on this aspect, I was very pleased with Nacho Libre. I wish the story would have a little more seriousness to it to have helped illustrate this powerful message that seemed to come right out of the Gospels of Jesus. We see Nacho as a man taking his message of love to those very people we read about in Matthew 25: 31 – 46. We see the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the children, and on and on. The very images that we all respect and appreciate in individuals like Mother Theresa, come through even in wrestlers like Nacho. Nacho in his foolishness has found those things and the power of living out that message. It leaves one to question if it was really foolishness, or the God given desire to follow his dreams. Something we can all learn from. To watch and participate in that journey provides a message that we can share with the many that see this movie.

On a scale of 1-10 for the number of children at the monastery who go out of their way to see Nacho wrestle, a fun entertaining 6

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Kinky Boots

Possibly the first sure fired Academy Award winning Movie of 2006. Kinky Boots is a movie that does more than just deal with a controversial subject; it does so in such a way that it shows the complete and total triumph of the human spirit. While many may not have heard of the movie, or the stars in the movie, it deserves to be given a view and have success on American soil.

Kinky Boots is the story of a struggling shoe factory in Northamptonshire that has it’s young, unmotivated owner, deciding to make boots for Drag Queens and Transvestites in an attempt to save the factory his family has built for three generations. Not only does he feel some family obligation, he feels an obligation to the employees who have invested their lives for the factory. No matter how many times he has to sack one of his employees, it never feels good and it never gets comfortable. The jobs of those individuals don’t just mean something to the factory workers, but the community of which they live. He also realizes that each individual is just that, an individual where the job loss will affect more than just the factory.

One of the amazing concepts of Kinky Boots is that it adds to the old adage that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The fact that this wonderful story is inspired by a true story, as promoted by the film makers, adds to the spirit of the movie. While the movie was released last year in Britan, it is just now hitting American Soil. Hopefully it finds an audience here, and I believe it will.

Harold Price, played by Robert Pugh, is the father of young Charlie, played by Joel Edgerton. Charlie isn’t that interested in the factory as he is growing up, he is more interested in finding his own niche. He doesn’t express much interest as his dad teaches him lessons about the making of shoes. “Shoes tell you everything you need to know about a person,” his father tells him, and the rest of the factory as Charlie is growing up. “They are usually the first thing you notice about a person.” Harold tells his son. We know Charlie has gone astray when we see him later in life, wearing a pair of white, casual tennis shoes. There is more than allusion when we see a Billboard for Price Shoes stating, “Save Your Soles.” After the death of Charlie’s father, Harold, is he has to leave his perceived dreams to save the factory, in the process, he is out to save not only his factory and family heritage; he is out to save his soul.

This is one of those reviews that I know will have some Christians up in arms. The movie presents that the way Charlie saves the factory, is through the production of boots for Transvestites, Drag Queens or any other male wanting to wear “sexy boots.” Coming to the rescue to help out is Lola, a Drag Queen, played beautifully by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor was nominated the British Award for Independent Films Best Actor. In really more of a supporting role the actor could be a shoe in, (pun intended) if considered for the American Supporting Role honor. The relationship that develops between Lola, and the other characters is the strength of the story. The conflict portrayed isn’t just between Lola and the blue collar factory workers at Price though. Lola has her own demons to face and her own battles of accepting herself.

The story of Kinky Boots is really more than a movie about catering to the Drag Queen, Transvestite Industry. It is a story about overcoming obstacles and finding ones self. It is a story of learning to stand before you can walk, and coming to grips with accepting the unique differences about oneself. I know that many Christians will have issue with this, as in many situations they should. That being said, the beautiful concept of genuinely caring for other people, making sacrifices for them is portrayed extremely well in this film. The struggle of coming to ones own self identity is beautifully portrayed. The struggle is portrayed in such a way the viewer finds themselves inspecting their own lives.

In Kinky boots we see characters with initial perceptions change when they get to know the individuals they have been critical of. We see this no better than in the relationship between Lola and factory worker, Don, played wonderfully by Nick Frost, possibly known best for his fun portrayal of Ed in Shaun of the Dead. I have to admit, I love the chemistry of these two when they are on screen together. It has received little mention and it is a shame, the conflict between the two as the story progresses is as much a part of the underlying theme of Kinky Boots as anything else put on screen.

The ability of one person to sacrifice for the other, and then a relationship be built where one would have never expected is beautiful. It is done beautifully in Kinky Boots as we see the full expression of lust, offense, anger, revenge, anger, forgiveness, and ultimately acceptance. It is at the point where forgiveness takes place that we see the beauty of what can happen and the life changing events which can occur. I challenge, that it is at this point that we see the ultimate salvation of the Price Factory in Kinky Boots. It is also the place where we see the salvation of the soles, or souls if you will. It is a shame, that in all of the reviews I have seen on this movie, no other reviewer has picked up on this point. It is a life lesson that we can all learn from, even if a relationship between a blue collar, hard working bloke like Don and a cross dressing, Drag Queen, like Lola.

From top to bottom, one of the things that make Kinky Boots such a wonderful film is the strength of the actors involved, and the wonderful storytelling. We actually care about the characters, even those who are different than we. We see the strength of the human spirit and the ability to change. While billed as a comedy, I believe individuals going to the theater for this purpose are going to be disappointed. While it is true there are comedic moments, the direction of the film never lets us forget about the people involved in the experience. It is one of the beautiful things about this movie; it is not driven by laughter, but by story. As a result, the laughter and joy we experience is laughter and joy we experience, not react to.

On a side note, there are plot holes in Kinky Boots, that didn’t affect me so much though. It don’t bother me so much as to the speculation as to what ended up happening to the factory in real life. I have read it actually shut down but can’t get clarity on that point. When doing some research I saw the actual factory owner the story is based off of, Steve Pateman is in the exotic clothing business and is now doing other exotic wear other than Kinky Boots for men. Even that doesn’t bother me; the story and film stand alone as a wonderful work of art, with valuable life lessons. Lessons anyone can learn from, if they allow themselves.

Yep, there is salvation for the sole/soul offered in Kinky Boots. While not necessarily in a way we will agree with, certainly the ammunition to load our thoughts and abilities and then fire away has been provided. Ammunition has been provided where we can fire away with the power of acceptance, love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. While one may not like the particular characters in the movie, I did, we can think of other examples to replace them. Even a out of the box thinking Jewish Carpenter who was willing to love those unlovable, and make the ultimate sacrifice of love to bring people to the place of acceptance. Not just acceptance from others, but acceptance of themselves.

On a scale of 1-10 I loved this movie. I give a very heartwarming, 9

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Sometimes you go to the movies with very high expectations and you are let down, other times you go and you enjoy the movie as much as you thought you would. Well, Cars was one I was looking forward to for some time. It was opening on my Birthday and I knew from the cast, and advance trailers I had seen, this was going to be a good one.

Would I be disappointed? Or would I be in for a good time? I fully expected that I would have somewhat of a letdown, and while I did have a minimal let down from the extraordinarily high expectations, it was not nearly as much as I expected and I left the theater feeling great.

I have said before, and it bears repeating, animated films can address subject matter like no other media. The adults who still have a, “it’s only a cartoon” needs to drive around on a hot muggy night out of windshield cleaner. There are the great animated films of the last few years, Shrek, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and the list goes on. The release of this summer’s Pixar film Cars is one that will end up ranking right up there with some of the greats.

While Cars has a star studded cast, loaded down with a heart warming and entertaining story, the animation at times steals the show. Not since The Polar Express has a movie had animation as good as is presented in Cars. Some of the sequences had a movie critics jaw dropping in appreciation for the work put on the screen. There are more than a few of those scenes in Cars and the fact that they add to and don’t detract from the story is nothing short of miraculous in itself.

The story centers around three cars in search for the prized Piston Cup Championships. There are three in the running, Lightening McQueen, the new rookie on the block, attempting to be the first ever Rookie to win the prized cup. Lightening McQueen played by the voice of Owen Wilson is up against some tough competition. There is rough and an equally cocky racer, Chick Hicks played by Michael Keaton, and then retiring legend, The King played by real life race car legend Richard Petty. The three are tied in the standings and have one more race to declare the championship.

On the way to California to race in the final race of the year, Lightening McQueen loses his way and ends up in small town, off the beaten highway on Route 66, Radiator Springs. While there he runs into some trouble with the local law, and finds himself in danger of not making his race unless he performs some community service. While there he meets some of the quirkiest characters ever placed on film, animated or not.

While in Radiator Springs Lightening McQueen finds himself not only having to perform community service, but we see small town Americana starting to take hold and he starts to face himself and examine the things that are important. The help of a life gone by, slow living, and enjoying the scenery community of cars(remember there are no humans in the movie, they are all cars) helps Lightening McQueen see life differently for the first time. We see a transformation, the old becomes new and Lightening McQueen becomes a new creature.

It would be so easy to give so much away, but I’ll refrain. You can see the movie yourself and catch all of the subtle messages. There are some surprises along the way in this almost 2 hour film. A little long for the very young, Pixar realizes there is an adult audience in the seats as well as a younger audience. While Cars is a laugh out loud film, it is much more. It slips in a life changing and life transforming messages, one that can be a reminder to society that individuals can change, and change for the better. We are asked questions like; what is really important? How have we as society let the rat race of a fast food society change everything about us? How have we responded the being a part of the MTV generation of quick edits and everything having to be fast? How have we conquered our own dreams? What problems in life have we run from? What is the value of wealth verses poverty? What about commitment? And, I could go on and on. Cars address each of these issues and more.

One of the things I fully expected was supporting performances that were going to be miniscule at best. This was one of the very pleasant surprises of the film. Paul Newman for example, playing the part of Doc Hudson has a pivotal role and his character is anything but fluff. There were other very surprises. The voices of actual racing legends like Richard Petty, Michael Wallis, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others adds to enjoyment of Cars.

One of the most enjoyable things about Cars is the respect it pays its audience and the subtle ways it gives respect to race fans, the movie crew, and film in general. The tributes start out with its original title, Route 66. While it no longer has that title, it never forgets about the “Mother Load” or “Americas Highway.” As one living for a period of time on Route 66, being in the band Route 66, and writing songs about Route 66, I appreciated the historical respect given. Without seeing the movie, unless you are a student of history, this will have little or no value. After seeing it, you will see why this reviewer has an appreciation for this tribute.

There are many more tributes. Originally I thought the character Lightening McQueen was a tribute to late actor and car buff, Steve McQueen, a man worthy of tribute in a car movie, but Pixar takes it further. Lightening McQueen is actually a tribute to late Pixar animator Glenn McQueen. There are many other things, the license plate on Filmore, the Volkswagen Mini Bus is 51237, the actual birth day of the actor providing the voice, George Carlin. Tributes to actors, Pixar, and other movies abound in Cars. It will be one of the things that once viewers identify, will drive them back to the theater searching for more, and, bring Cars to Cult Classic status like other Pixar films.

I also give a surprising pump up in an area I didn’t expect to the character of Mater, a rusting out, old tow truck, played by Larry the Cable Guy. Many have seen him on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and features on the Comedy Channel. To be honest I expected a deplorable performance but will say this character steals the show. His timing is perfect, and the voice is perfectly cast. I loved this character and would love to see him have his own spin-off movie. His voice is an illustration of how perfectly cast Cars is.

All in all, I really enjoyed this birth-day treat of a movie. I plan on seeing it again, buying the DVD on the day it is released. I also plan on slowing back, and enjoying life a little more. Realizing that not only am I surrounded by beautiful places when I get a off the beaten road, but that there are still beautiful people out there.

On a scale of 1-10, while not quite perfect, quite possibly the best movie of the summer so far. A very enjoyable and entertaining 8