Ghetto Pass Revoked: A Retrospective of Mission Movies

Alright folks, today I’m going to a screening of La Mission with the amazing Margarita Azucar. I’m down with the Bratt brothers, we’re all LHS alumni, but I haven’t seen a movie that Benjamin Bratt has been in since Catwoman. It takes a lot of fuckin’ guts to give a movie a monolithic title like La Mission so it better be good.

It’s been surreal to see this movie get national press attention and hear film critics discuss the dynamics of the Mission District. This might lead one to think that La Mission has been the only “Mission” movie-but not so. There have been many pretenders to the throne.

First up is a movie simply titled Mission. I remember the main draw of the film when it was initially released was that it starred a cast member of the Blair Witch Project. Here’s its official synopsis:

“A young aspiring writer, Marvin, from New York moves to California to write a novel. He ends up rooming with a chaotic, bohemian musician named Jay. Marvin finds himself inexorably drawn into the vibrant youth culture of San Francisco’s Mission District as both Jay and himself watch their worlds disintegrate. They discover that each has a lot to learn from the other. Mission is a coming of age story casting a spotlight on a place and time, moments before artistic aspiring types yielded the Mission to the dotcom entrepreneurs.”

As a movie, Mission is alright. The only thing saving it from mediocrity is that it captures a unique moment in time for the neighborhood. It shows the Mission while it was experiencing gentrification (as opposed to already being gentrified) during the upswing of the dotcom economy. It’s interesting to see creative and eccentric young White people in the Mission before the emergence of hipster culture. Funny enough, Mission Street is almost nowhere to be seen in the film. Of all the areas in the Mission, Guerrero Street gets the most play.

Next up is Mission Movie. I know a lot of people who are hesitant to give an honest assessment of this film because it was supposedly a sincere “community effort” but I’m here to tell you that it’s utter dog shit. To view Mission Movie‘s official trailer CLICK HERE. Here is a section of its long winded synopsis:

Mark, a white, traditionally trained artist, is forced to seek the help of Roger, a Latino artist born and raised in the Mission, to confront a group of kids who have been tagging his mural. Meanwhile, Mark and his troubled hipster roommates amble into activism as they face eviction from their apartment. Also being evicted from the building are Rosario and Rene, recent immigrants whose marriage is tested by their new environment. Antonia, a third-generation resident, finds the fruits of her success making her an “accidental” target. And George, a Palestinian shop-owner struggles as his love for his decidedly American children is challenged by conflicting values.

Mission Movie plays out like a Disney fairy tale version of the cultural and class conflicts that occur in the Mission every day. Taken straightforward as a piece of cinema, Mission Movie is bad. The acting is terrible, the camerawork is sloppy at best, and it’s just straight up corny. Each character is an ideal depiction of the different demographics that populate the Mission District and in the process of simplifying and sanitizing what they represent Writer/Director Lise Swenson has sucked the soul out of all of them. I’d take Mission‘s depiction of an angst-filled White writer over Mission Movie‘s all encompassing storyline that does a disservice to everyone involved. There’s no other way to say it, this shit is all kinds of fucked up.

Unlike Mission, I’ve only viewed Mission Movie once but I’m still haunted by one particular scene of the movie. In it, a young woman walks down Mission Street (pretty much the only scene actually shot on Mission Street) and is followed and harassed by a group of stereotypical cholos. The sad truth about Mission Movie is that with the exception of one central character, this is the only time you see young Latino males. For the most part Latino males are depicted as either cute lovable kids or wise and respectable men. Watching it was a like a punch to my Chicano gut; the pain of which I still haven’t forgotten.

If my assessment of movies filmed in the Mission is a little depressing, don’t despair. There is at least one masterpiece out there that’s been filmed in the Mission District. One such work of cinematic excellence is The Wesley’s Mysterious File (and no that’s not a typo the title really is “The Wesley’s Mysterious File”). It’s a Hong Kong production filmed in San Francisco and it makes better use of the city than any other film before or after it.

While some have speculated that The Wesley’s Mysterious File is one of the worst movies ever made; I contend that it’s one of the most fun movies ever made and perhaps the most hilarious movie filmed in San Francisco. Here is the completely nonsensical official synopsis:

Wesley, is responsible for handling all the incidents that relate to extraterrestrial life on Earth. One day, Wesley meets Fong when he is looking at a blue human bone in an antique shop. Fong is an alien from the Blue Blood Planet, she left her home 600 years ago to look for the Blue Blood Bible. Wesley tries to stop Fong going away, the Double X Unit lead by Wai and So is ordered to handle the case. At the same time, Kill and Rape arrive Earth from Blue Blood Planet. They come here to take Fong back to the Blue Blood Planet.

If that’s confusing check out this awesome trailer

Simply put, The Wesley’s Mysterious File is batshit crazy. Its genius is that it takes the Mission District to a place it’s never been before: science fiction. About ten minutes into the film there is a scene in which main character Wesley stumbles onto a residential motel that’s been taken over by zombie-like aliens. The Wesley’s Mysterious File earns its ghetto pass by setting the scene on 15th and Valencia, right across the street from the notorious Valencia Gardens housing project. It doesn’t get much more Mission than that. The scene includes a Mexican stand0ff followed by Wesley and a swat team storming the building and blowing holes in the occupying aliens. Eventually they are overpowered by a massive demonic-looking computer generated creature and the fight breaks out into the streets again. It has to be seen to be believed.

The Wesley’s Mysterious File can be purchased in Chinatown at almost any DVD shop or from Amazon. Mission can also be purchased from Amazon. Mission Movie, thankfully, can’t be found anywhere and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to check out La Mission. I will report back with a review later this weekend.

Peace,

Rio

State of Affairs

MOVIES

It’s a sad state of affairs for Raza in film these days. Shit is bleak y’all. I went to the Blockbuster on 16th street after work to rent some Blu-Rays but instead was tempted by two movies on DVD starring my people. I’ve got a soft spot for films in the probably fucked up direct to DVD movies starring Latinos genre. It took all the willpower I had not to rent the copy of Hoodrats 2 staring at me.

Hoochie Mamma Drama
The first movie up is Hoochie Mamma Drama. The story centers around Guera, a sharpied chola who tries to maintain her relationship with two-timin’ Lazy, the local cholo drug dealer. Of all the things done wrong in the movie the scenario is pretty realistic: two homegirls battling it out with each other for the same man without even questioning his responsibility in sleeping with both of them. If there’s anything to really be offended about  it’s that it actually reinforces this logic instead of subverting it.  One of the last lines of dialogue spoken by one of the cholas is “This is stupid, we’re not getting anywhere” and that sums Hoochie Mamma Drama up perfectly.

The most ridiculous part of Hoochie Mamma Drama is gay rapper turned actor Deadlee. I know it’s hard out there for LGBT performers but this is the worst straight-for-pay acting job I’ve ever seen. The only time I actually laughed during Hoochie Mamma Drama was when he busted out with gay porno moves during the first sex scene. Even worse, despite the fact that one of the lead actors is gay the film is stacked with homophobic caricatures and language.

There’s no doubt that Hoochie Mamma Drama is a chola coon show but there’s something almost endearing about its reckless hyperbole. My hat goes off to actress Monique La Barr who stars as Guera. Her performance is so over the top and energetic she’s like a Latina Bruce Campbell (circa the Evil Dead films).

The Cell 2

Next up is The Cell 2. The sequel to the Jennifer Lopez film, The Cell 2 follows psychic investigator Maya Casteneda (Tessie Santiago) as she tracks a serial killer named the Cusp. The killer is infamous for killing his victims and resurrecting them until they can’t stand it any more and beg for a final death. There’s nothing scary or suspenseful about The Cell 2, just the horror of the Cusp’s victims being tortured with misogynistic glee. Watching The Cell 2 is torture in and of itself, you’ll be asking for a mercy killing after a few minutes it. As  Bruce Campbell once said, “You didn’t just commit a crime against me, which was pretty frickin’ huge, you committed a crime against art itself.”

The only real connection this bullshit flick has to the original Cell is that they star Latinas who are tracking down serial killers. The film tries to establish continuity with the first film by starting out with footage from it. This is the biggest mistake The Cell 2 makes, the contrast between the movies is so huge that it sticks with you the whole time you watch it. Being reminded of how slick the first one looks while watching the broke-ass second just makes you want to see Jennifer Lopez do her thing.

There’s just no imagination in the design of The Cell 2. Even on a small budget the visuals are just terrible. Check out this comparison of what it looks like inside the mind of the killer in the first and second films. The backgrounds used in The Cell 2 look like they’re almost all static Photoshop compositions so there’s no excuse for not making it more engaging.

The saddest part of The Cell 2 is that it’s a star vehicle for Tessie Santiago. During the turn of the century Santiago was one of my favorite actresses. She was the star of Queen of Swords, a syndicated television show that was in the spirit of Xena: Warrior Princess. She played, essentially, a female version of Zorro. I always thought it was subversive that a Latina was playing a Spaniard and not the other way around. Alas when the show was canceled her career stalled, The Cell 2 is her first starring roll since Queen of Swords. Sadly she’s not even imitating J-Lo here, Santiago acts and is made to look  like a bootleg Eva Longoria. I just felt sorry for her, she goes through the whole film looking tired and bored. Heartbreaking.

MUSIC

On her twitter feed Julieta Venegas posted a photo of herself with Mala Rodriguez and Nelly Furtado in a studio. According to her tweets, this holy trifecta is making a song for Furtado’s forthcoming Spanish language album.

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This better be one of the best songs of all time or I’m going to be hella disappointed.

On the free download tip is the latest and greatest mixtape from electro hip-hop band Hyper Crush. I’ve written about Hyper Crush and their Latin American singer Holly Valentine before . This new mixtape is a free download so check it out! Click on the image below and “save link as”.

TOYS

Culture Clash’s Herbert Siguenza recently sent me an image of a toy with his likeness that will be coming out to coincide with the movie Ben 10: Alien Swarm. I can’t think of another Latino who’s had an action figure created in their likeness and even though he’s a sneering villain I think it’s a huge step forward. Orale Herbert!

herbert

You can see Herbert in Ben 10: Alien Swarm airing on the Cartoon Network in November of 2009.

PHOTOGRAPHY

My favorite performance artist Ask a Chola has posted a series of photographs from a recent trip to Disneyland. Check out her subversive shenanigans here.

Peace,

Rio