Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Luis Valdez & “the Vicissitudes of Hollywood”


by Glenn Lovell

Luis Valdez, the acclaimed filmmaker-playwright best known for “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba,” was born in Delano, Calif., less than five miles from the San Joaquin Valley town of McFarland. Valdez saw his first movies in McFarland and, later, helped organize farm workers there. He would have been the perfect choice to direct Disney’s “McFarland, USA” (now on DVD and VOD), about a Chicano cross-country team and its initially skeptical coach, played by Kevin Costner.

Yes, but then the emphasis/perspective would have been different: the film would probably have been more about the high-school runners and their parents than the fish-out-of-water Anglo coach who struggles to fit in … andVH104ValdezHighlight2, in typical Hollywood fashion, saves the most troubled of the kids from themselves.

In short, with Valdez at the helm, “McFarland, USA” would not have been another in a long line of white-savior movies that includes “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer and “The Blind Spot” with Hilary Swank.

“Sure, I would have loved to direct that (film), among many others,” replies Valdez from his Teatro Campesino office in San Juan Bautista. “The story of McFarland is a familiar reality, my reality. I grew up there. It’s an old, traditional farming community, not some foreign country … But it’s not surprising that Hollywood would continue to do the white savior thing: that’s long been a through line in these types of movies.”

That said, Valdez has nothing but praise for the Disney release, directed by New Zealander Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”). “I found it to be a wonderful film, positive and inspirational. The reality of the southern San Joaquin Valley is, of course, multi-layered … No single film can deal with all the relevant issues, but I was impressed by the final screen updates that many of the track members went on to college and then back to teach in their community.”

However, the movie industry overall continues to “lag behind” when it comes to cultural diversity, Valdez contends. “The impression is that Latinos or Chicanos are all recent arrivals, and (filmmakers) don’t take into account that we’ve been here as long as thLaBambae state has existed … If you can’t see past the ethnicity, you don’t see that.”

In 1987, Valdez followed up his screen adaptation of “Zoot Suit,” inspired by the Sleepy Lagoon riots of 1944, with a biopic about Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens. It was produced by Taylor Hackford for Columbia Pictures and starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, who died in a plane crash in 1959. “La Bamba” earned over $100 million worldwide. Not a bad return on an $8 million investment. “Depending on how you define Latino films, it’s a track record that stands to this day,” says the director. “Robert Rodriguez has done some wonderful work and his films have grossed quite a bit, but they’re not strictly speaking Latino films.”

With “La Bamba” in the can, Valdez met with Hackford and new Columbia boss David Puttnam.

“We were feeling pretty good and we just sat around discussing ideas. And they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’ So I pitched them an idea for this thing called ‘Tortilla Curtain,’ which was a comedy. I got the green light. They approved it on the spot. ‘Yeah, go write it.’ I felt pretty happy about that. Then, when my wife Lupe and I were in London promoting ‘La Bamba,’ we learned about Puttnam’s resignation.” (It’s generally held that Puttnam was given the boot for ruffling feathers.)

Dawn Steel replaced Puttnam, who had produced “Midnight Express” and “Chariots of Fire” and was known for chancy, offbeat projects. Steel canceled Puttnam’s projects, including “Tortilla Curtain.”

Valdez next worked on “Old Gringo,” developed by Jane Fonda from a Carlos Fuentes’ novel about the disappearance of writer Ambrose Bierce. Valdez saw Bierce as “this weird Anglophile” and wanted Peter O’Toole for the role, which eventually went to Gregory Peck. After a disagreement over the script, he was “paid not to direct the film” and replaced by Argentinean Luis Puenzo. The film, released in 1989, was a critical and commercial flop.

Valdez was then set to adapt the Rudolfo Anaya novel “Bless Me, Ultima.” The prime backers: Jose Menendez and Carolco Pictures. While scouting locations in New Mexico, he received word that Menendez and his wife had been murdered by their sons. “After that, our film project fell apart,” he recalls ruefully.

“It’s just part of the vicissitudes of Hollywood,” says Valdez of his premature retirement from movies. “Because ‘La Bamba’ made money people assume there were a lot of offers. There weren’t. But I’ve had a fairly typical run in terms of things that have almost been made but weren’t for one reason or another.”

Valdez isn’t bitter. He doesn’t have time to be. His latest play, “Valley of the Heart,” workshopped at El Teatro, moves to San Jose Stage Company in September. Set in Cupertino in 1941, it’s a star-crossed romance between a Mexican-American ranch hand and the Japanese-American daughter of a soon-to-be displaced rancher. Also, “Zoot Suit” was just revived to cheers at San Jose State University. A multimedia fusion of drama and documentary, the new production was directed by son Kinan Valdez.

Does Valdez, who’ll turn 75 later this month, have another movie in him? “I’m interested in taking ‘Valley of the Heart’ to film. I think it would make a wonderful movie. It’s epic because of World War 2, but it’s also an intimate love story. Some people who have seen it on stage have said it’s ‘like watching a movie.’ ”

Depp as Tonto: Debate Heats Up


by Glenn Lovell

Johnny Depp as Tonto? I know, I know, in this age of political correctness, it sounds like a bad joke. Depp has said he took the role in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” because he wanted to redress how shabbily Tonto (Jay Silverheels) was portrayed in the old TV series. Strange reasoning: I hated the way an authentic Mohawk played the role, so I, a Caucasian, have decided to make up for it by donning war paint and feathers.

My column on Depp masquerading as Tonto (“Greasepaint Injun“) brought a ton of reaction, some siding with me, some suggesting I put a lid on the bleeding-heart thing.

“I saw a pre-screening a few nights ago,” said Denise Hobbs. “I had not planned on seeing it because of Depp’s role but when asked to the hr_The_Lone_Ranger_12screening, I took advantage of the opportunity. I find it interesting that Depp says he hated how Tonto was portrayed in the original. Well, (Jay Silverheels) was MUCH BETTER than what I saw Depp doing! I was embarrassed watching him make a mockery out of the character. It was Jack Sparrow dressed as Tonto! And I was appalled! He thought he was being funny and it was offensive. He was offended (by the TV series) as I child, well I am NOW offended at his portrayal as an adult.”

Added Christine Candelaris: “I was excited to see Depp’s Tonto in the trailer. His look is almost an exact copy of the Kirby Sattler image “I Am Crow,” an artistic representation of the Crow people from the American Midwest. My husband has worn this image on a t-shirt for years.”

Nikos Lynch said, “If we take this to its natural conclusion, then the Fighting Irish should be offensive; and what about the Irish-one-day-a-year sporting little plastic glitter walking hats on St. Patty’s Day?”

Ellen Mosher weighed in:I agree with Glenn Lovell’s article. There are plenty of good Native American actors who could have played Tonto. Native Americans do not run around in war paint and ceremonial garb everyday as depicted in the movie. The lack of sensitivity and stereotyping of Native American culture and traditions that still goes on is appalling. The parallel with Saint Patrick’s Day and the ‘fighting Irish’ does not follow. St. Patrick’s day is a day that has been embraced by many in the American culture as a happy celebration day, and the term ‘fighting Irish’ has a positive meaning suggesting strength and winning attitude. The stereotyping of Native Americans suggests a primitive and inferior culture when compared to the European culture.

JoMont: “Plenty of good Native American actors don’t sell at the box office like Depp. Let’s get real here. At least he isn’t using a Brooklyn accent like many in the 60’s. No one appeared offended when he played numerous other accented characters. In the big picture, this sort of yammering I find, troublesome.”

Wrote Bob Rosenthal: “Johnny Depp is an actor. Actors play roles. He is playing a role, his job. I will see the movie, realizing it is just a movie, not reality, and eat my popcorn and drink my Pepsi. Like everyone else I have the option of either seeing the movie or not seeing it if I feel it is objectionable.”

Don Gateley didn’t mince words. “Oh, please go away, Lovell. Must you have something to criticize and complain about? Most of these ‘caricatures’ were intended to honor, not insult. Malcontents will always find a way to twist it to tweak their disorder and offer themselves as above the ignorant, unwashed and politically incorrect masses. Your screed is tiresome.

“And, Ellen, I went to the University of Illinois where our rallying figure was in ceremonial dress and danced in honor of the defeated but still mightily respected fighting Illinois Indians who proved themselves a formidable foe.”

Michelle McIntyre: “According to reliable sources, Johnny Depp is Cherokee on his mom’s side. Works for me.”

An anonymous voice asked, “Lovell, are you Native American? If you are not then you are playing the role of White Savior. A role that colonizers have played many times with disastrous consequences to indigenous cultures. Since the word native in Western culture means primitive, I will use the term First Nation People. According to Depp, he is a descendant of First Nation ancestors, which makes him a First Nation person. Cherokee do not go by the European blood quantum policies that were forced upon most tribes by the U.S. government. One drop of Cherokee blood means you are a Cherokee. Which drop of water is not important to the river? I see your article as just another form of colonization by Europeans. You are saying live my way because it is best for you. Please let First Nation People deal with their own problems and live their own lives.”

Gary Hinze concluded, “You are too easily offended. Being offended on behalf of somebody else doesn’t even ring true. Like the white guy who smashed the Christopher Columbus statue at San Jose City Hall in protest supposedly on behalf of Indians. There are differences of opinion in the aboriginal community on this. The majority support Indian mascots. Some Indian groups have given approval to sports teams using Indian mascots. Others have objected. It could depend on how it’s done. If a sports team was to use a Japanese mascot, it surely would not be the demeaning war propaganda figure you postulate. It would likely be a fierce Samurai warrior. Are the Indians offended by the San Jose State Vikings?”

A testy Mila, obviously not familiar with my byline from years at the Mercury News, wrote: “So you’re a ‘local’ film critic? What does that mean exactly? Because based on your article you know nothing about movies or Johnny Depp. First of all, Johnny Depp has never been lily white. Second of all, he IS of Native American heritage himself. Third, his representation of Tonto is brilliant because he has consciously chosen to elevate Tonto’s role in the movie from the traditional and indeed stereotypical ‘sidekick’ to a real mentor and friend to the Lone Ranger. And lastly the make-up that he has chosen for his character is very, very appropriate.

“Here is a picture of an authentic Crow person (by Sattler), for your education: So as you can see Johnny Depp is more than qualified to play Tonto and has done the research he needed to do for his role. Unlike you, who clearly are neither qualified to comment on movies or political correctness nor has bothered to do even a quick Internet search on the topic. But you just wrote this article to get attention, didn’t you?”

Jeri Danforth: “Funny how these comments are split between Johnny Depp fans and non-fans. I agree with Glenn. Tribes recognize members according to tribal rolls. In the case of the Cherokee, even if Depp has only one drop, he should be able to trace his ancestry on the Dawes rolls. As of now, no one has heard that he has even tried. So what’s stopping him? He could easily put a stop to all this fuss if he would speak with the tribe he claims membership for and ask for their assistance.

Gary Hinze again: “Tonto is not a real Indian. Depp does not need to prove he is a real Indian to play a fictitious Indian. Actors play roles. They play extraterrestrials, zombies, even pirates. They don’t have to be real extraterrestrials, zombies or pirates. A movie is a story. This one is fiction. It is not a documentary. Depp does not need to prove he is an Indian, or a pirate. He proves his qualifications as an actor at the box office. He brings in millions of dollars. QED.”

H. Pasterlink demanded, “What reliable sources are you referring to? Cherokee rolls? His maternal great-grandmothers were Kentucky girls, nothing to suggest that they were Native American. His great-grandmother’s name is Minnie, and she was allegedly the mother of his paternal grandfather, (Walter) Everett Wells. But his mother was actually named Anna or Annie, maiden name Cooper. No Indian blood there.”

Memo to AMC: Block Phones!


Memo to AMC Theater Management:

Hey, guys, thanks for those new cell phone PSAs ‒ the ones using the Muppets and those cute flying apps.

They’re funny and creative. I love seeing Fozzie Bear talking on a banana as Miss Piggy shushes him.

One problem: The spots are next to useless.

After sitting through “Footloose” at one of your San Jose houses and watching cell phones pop on one after another like Christmas lights, I’d go further ‒ your new spots are not only useless, they encourage cell phone use during the movie by making a joke of the practice.

Cell Phones: No Laughing Matter

The thinking now among repeat offenders: If management thinks it’s funny, it’s obviously no big deal.

In other words, you’re contributing to a problem that’s grown to epidemic proportions and caused a noticeable drop in movie attendance.

What you should be doing is taking a tougher, less conciliatory stance, like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin. Management there lays it out, plain and simple: “If you talk or text during a movie, we kick you out.”

And they do, as an angry voicemail — turned into a hilarious Drafthouse PSA — attests.

Why don’t you follow suit? I’ll tell you why. You’re afraid of offending your worst customers and losing their business. You’ve capitulated by accepting cell phones as a minor nuisance.

Worse, you’re in bed with the cell phone companies. That Kermit and Miss Piggy PSA, besides being a promo for Disney’s new Muppet movie, is brought to us by Sprint, the very folks who profit from cell phone use in theaters.

You need to get control of this problem. Fast. A while back the National Association of Theater Owners petitioned the FCC to follow France’s lead and block cell phone reception in theaters. That effort went nowhere as NATO yielded to pressure from special interest groups. Their tired argument: We need our cell phones with us at all times, in case of an emergency. Phone jammers, they also protested, infringe upon our First Amendment right to act like jerks in public.

If you want to do something worthwhile, AMC, scrub the lip-service PSAs and make your theaters no-reception zones. Sure, you’ll lose some customers. But you’ll win back better ones.