Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Movie Review - A Million to Juan (1994)

Paul Rodriguez - Juan Lopez
Tony Plana - Jorge
Bert Rosario - Alvaro
Polly Draper - Olivia Smith
Jonathan Hernandez - Alejandro Lopez
Edward James Olmos - The Angel (as himself?)
Cheech Marin - Shell Shock
Ruben Blades - The Bartender

Jurassic Park was my first movie theater experience, A Million to Juan was the second. Why start my movie review column (lol) with the second instead of the 1st? I'm glad you asked. This film ranks pretty high in my top 10. I recall being really excited about seeing A Million to Juan, mostly because I expected to understand the dialogue as it unfolded in front of my eyes. I can't pin point why, but my English improved dramatically between Jurassic Park and A Million to Juan. Jurassic Park was an amazing experience, but I didn't know what the heck they were talking about, even with the Spanish subtitles! Yeah, there were Spanish subtitles. It was a ghetto ass theater.

Google maps image - street view

We watched A Million to Juan at the campus theater, located on Vermont Ave. - at the Santa Monica Blvd intersection, across from the metro rail station. This is the theater that all the Latino families packed into with Subway sandwiches and soda bottles stashed into someone's purse, backpack or jacket sleeve. I've even taken a burrito from Mariela's (click here for restaurant review). If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about! Seconds into the movie previews, you hear sandwiches being unwrapped, bags of chips rustling, and the gas being released from the 2 liter bottles. Shortly after that, the dark theater is illuminated as the side door is opened to sneak people in. Again, you know what I'm talking about... The floors were stickier than those at adult theaters... I imagine... Despite all of that, I love this theater. It was air conditioned, cheap, and served as a haven when I wanted to run away for a few hours, or a day. This was THE THEATER for Latino families!

A Million to Juan is an adaptation of Mark Twain's "The Million Pound Bank Note," and 50's film titled the same; although released as "The Man With a Million," in the United States. The film is set in Los Angeles during the early 90's. Juan is portrayed by the legendary Latino comedian, Paul Rodriguez. Juan, like Henry in Twain's piece of literature, "Had nothing to depend on but his wits and clean reputation." He is confident that these traits would prove to be plenty in achieving eventual success.

"I was alone in the world, and had nothing to depend on but my wits and good reputation; but these were setting my feet in the road to eventual fortune, and I was content with that prospect."
Henry in The Million Pound Bank Note by Mark Twain

During the journey to success, Juan has to make ends meet by taking up odd jobs; shoe shiner, parking attendant, roach coach cook, panaderia baker, raspado vendor, dishwasher, tire shop man?, elote salesman, cook , construction worker, and street side orange vendor. His son Alejandro, quotes him as often saying funny things like, "I've never met an odd job that didn't like me" and "If variety is the spice of life, I'm over-seasoned!"

Juan and his son live with Tio Jorge, a carpenter and Tio Alvaro, a gardener. Both of the uncles are novela (Spanish Soap Operas) fanatics. I'm not a fanatic, but if you're latino, you know you've seen at least one novela in your life! Don't be ashamed, it's ok. I've seen Marimar, Dos Mujeres un Camino and a few others I can't remember now. Alejandro's mother died three years before the film began, she's out of the picture.

Juan is discouraged by a streak of bad luck with his streetside orange sales, relationship, and uninhabitable apartment. Adding insult to injury, Shell Shock (Cheech Marin), takes over his spot on the sidewalk with a "war vet" begging gimmick. Shell Shock's presence takes away from his already measly sales. Juan's integrity shines as he questions Shell Shock about his morals. Later that day, a white limo pulls up and arm dressed in all white stretches out of the window to hand Juan an envelope. He pays no mind to it and stuffs it in his pocket. Despite all of the terrible luck Juan continues to plug away with the orange sales until his shopping cart is empty. On his way home he's approached by the neighborhood hustler and proudly announces that he "Made some Feria!!!" I know that very feeling. I remember announcing to myself "Rent is paid!" and then preparing to eat cereal and mac and cheese until my next pay check. lol...

Juan finally realizes that the envelope that was handed to him contains a check for $1,000,000 to his name and a letter stating that he is the unexpected participant in an experiment.

The film winds to a feel good ending that is more cohesive than Twain's, in my opinion. Check it out!

This film deserves a 5 of 5 Baleada score despite the poor sound and lighting. It's not that type of critique (obviously since it is rated on a Baleada scale), it is a "5 Baleada film" because of the overall message of adherence to integrity and perseverance despite all of life's little hurdles. This film is special to me for many reasons; it led me to research and read Twain at an early age, it reinforced my personal beliefs, and it opened my eyes to what it means to be an "immigrant" in the US. The day I saw this film, I knew I had to get on the grind!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Common Sight and Sounds in Honduras - Funny Signs IV

Not even if I was a 200 Lbs rabbit! (Please read the following in your beast Tracy Morgan impersonation) That's Crazy!
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