Musical Biopic Chronicles Career of First White Mariachi Singer,
Matthew “Mateo” Stoneman is a proverbial 98-pound weakling with eyeglasses and a concave chest. But don’t let that underwhelming physique fool you. For the nerdy redhead is also a felon who has done a long stretch behind bars in California for robbery and grand larceny.
But while most of his fellow inmates were pumping iron in an effort to become buff, Matthew served his sentence learning to speak Spanish and to play the guitar in order to be able to sing Mariachi, a genre of music he was introduced to by Latino cons he met in the slammer. And after being paroled, he struck out on his own around Los Angeles where he eked out a living between panhandling on street corners and competing with seasoned Chicano performers for gigs at parties and restaurants.
But because Matthew was Caucasian, he managed to gain a little notoriety as the world’s first white Mariachi singer, which led the L.A. Times to publish a lengthy profile on him. He would eventually venture to Cuba to record his own album over a number of years, enlisting the assistance of some surviving members of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club as sidemen. On the island, he also met the girlfriend who would bear a child, albeit of questionable paternity.
All of the above is a far cry from what one might expect in a biopic about a gringo born and raised in a tiny town in rural New Hampshire. For that reason, Matthew Stoneman makes for a fascinating subject in Mateo, a delightful documentary directed by Aaron I. Naar (I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead).
An uplifting testament to the notion that it’s still possible for a sinner to find his true calling and turn his life around after first paying his debt to society.
Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 88 minutes
The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution
Historical Documentary Chronicles Rise and Fall of Incendiary Political Party
The late Stokely Carmichael is famous for coining the phrase “Black power!” What he might not be as well remembered for is founding the Black Panthers. Frustrated by the tortoise-paced progress of the Civil Rights movement and by the number of martyrs dying and disappearing around the South, he decided to leave SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to form a group for folks interested in self-defense.
“You tell the people of Mississippi that all the scared [N-words] are dead!” he announced. However, Stokely had little to do with the organization after opening that first chapter in 1965 in Lowndes, Alabama (an 80% black county where no African-American had ever been allowed to vote).
Instead, it would fall to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to popularize the Panthers. They opened a storefront in Oakland in 1966, but they didn’t really catch fire until Martin Luther King was assassinated. At that point, many young African-Americans became disenchanted, which made the idea of confronting the police by brandishing weapons very appealing.
Soon, Panther chapters began spring up all over the country. And it helped recruitment immeasurably when ex-con-turned-best-selling author Eldridge Cleaver came aboard as Minister of Information. After all, the media-savvy spokesperson gave good soundbite, even if it only served to antagonize the police and establishment.
For instance, he called then Governor Reagan “a punk, a sissy and a coward,” going so far as to challenge the Gipper to a duel to the death. And after Huey was arrested for the murder of a police officer, Eldridge threatened open armed war on the streets of the country, if Newton weren’t freed.
Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover was cooking up a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) designed to bring down the Panthers. The FBI proceeded to embark on a surreptitious reign of terror which included frame-ups, disinformation, assassinations and infiltration. The ploy worked, as paranoia came to permeate the organization, which splintered when the leadership became suspicious of one another. Huey called Eldridge a coward. Eldridge then quit and called for hits against anyone still in the Party.
Thus unfolds The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution, a warts-and-all documentary directed by Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders). The film is fascinating not only because of its copious archival footage, but on account of the many revelations exposing the dark underbelly of an outfit often given a pass in spite of myriad flaws in terms of misogyny and machismo.
The Black Panthers revisited less as a political party concerned about the welfare of the people than as an internecine power struggle between a couple of larger than life egos.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 113 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening September 4, 2015
Before We Go (PG-13 for suggestive material and brief profanity) Chris “Captain America” Evans makes his directorial debut with this romantic dramedy revolving around the love which blossoms over the course of an eventful evening between a street musician (Evans) and an unhappily-married woman (Alice Eve) from Boston left stranded in Manhattan after being mugged. With Mark Kassen, Emma Fitzpatrick and John Cullum.
Blind (Unrated) Psychological drama, set in Oslo, about a recently-blinded woman (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) who withdraws from the world to the security of her apartment to find herself facing both her deepest fears and her wildest, repressed fantasies. Co-starring Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali and Jacob Young. (In Norwegian with subtitles)
Bloodsucking Bastards (Unrated) Horror comedy about a trio of depressed office workers (Fran Kranz, Emma Fitzpatrick and Joey Kern) for a soul-crushing corporation who discover that their soulless bosses are also bloodthirsty vampires. Supporting cast includes Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern and Joel Murray.
Break Point (R for profanity and sexuality) Sibling rivalry comedy about a tennis pro (Jeremy Sisto) with anger issues who asks his long-estranged brother and former doubles partner (David Walton) to pick the racket back up so the two can settle their differences while competing in a Grand Slam tournament. With Adam DeVine, Joshua Rush and Sara Bailey.
Chloe & Theo (PG-13 for brief violence) Unlikely buddies dramedy about an Eskimo (Theo Ikummaq) who is befriended by a homeless girl (Dakota Johnson) when he ventures from the Arctic to New York City to warn the world’s leaders about the impact of global warming. Support cast includes Jessica Anderson, Christopher Backus and Lawrence Ballard.
Dirty Weekend (Unrated) Neil LaBute wrote and directed this romantic dramedy about the sparks which fly between a couple of business colleagues (Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve) when they venture away from the airport during a long flight layover in Albuquerque. With Phil Burke, Gia Crovatin and Charles Duran.
Dragon Blade (R for graphic violence) Jackie Chan stars in this historical epic, set during the Han Dynasty, as a military commander who joins forces with a rogue Roman general (John Cusack) to protect China from power-hungry emperor Tiberius (Adrien Brody) Ensemble cast includes Peng Lin, Sharni Vinson, Mika Wang, Si Won Choi and Yang Xiao. (In Mandarin and English with subtitles)
A Sinner In Mecca (Unrated) Parvez Sharma wrote, directed and stars in this skeletons-in-the-closet documentary as a gay Muslim secretly making a Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death.
Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine (Unrated) Unauthorized, warts-and-all documentary exploring the dark side of the late Apple founder’s personal and private lives.
The Transporter Refueled (PG-13 for action, violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use and mature themes) Fourth installment of the adrenaline-fueled franchise features Ed Skrein replacing Jason Statham as the title character. This episode finds the mercenary on holiday with his father (Ray Stevenson) in the south of France where their vacation is interrupted by a femme fatale (Loan Chabanol) in need of a getaway driver for her gang of bank robbers. With Gabriella Wright, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Tatiana Pajkovic and Radivoje Bukvic.
A Walk In The Woods (R for profanity and sexual references) Buddy dramedy about a retiring travel writer (Robert Redford) who is joined by a long-lost friend (Nick Nolte) on a 2,200-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Supporting cast includes Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman and Susan McPhail.