The Frida Cinema Blog Post #10

The Films of Martin Scorsese


Martin Scorsese


With the limited theatrical release of the highly-anticipated new Netflix film The Irishman coming up, we proudly pay homage to one of the most accomplished directors in all of cinematic history, Martin Scorsese.

As a child, Scorsese suffered from debilitating asthma, with the only activity accessible to him being watching movies at the local movie theatre. In that darkened theatre, the four-year-old Scorsese became mesmerized by the images, sounds, and words emanating from the giant silver screen. This became his “unintentional film school”, feeding his desire to learn everything about movies.

Scorsese owes his raw yet sophisticated film style to a multitude of film and personal influences, among them the Golden Age of Hollywood, French New Wave, his Italian heritage, Catholicism, and close attention to detail. He creates flawed but relatable characters trying to survive in a world that can be as loving as it is cruel. A typical Scorsese film is an homage to classic film but featuring twists like realistic stories and experimental techniques.

As such, it’s an honor and privilege to screen not only The Irishman but four other cinematic masterpieces from Scorsese as part of our month-long celebration of his work



The Irishman (2019)

November 27-30 & December 2-5

The Irishman

The wait is finally over for Scorsese’s long-awaited gangster epic, The Irishman!

This biographical crime thriller follows Frank Sheeran as he recalls his past years working for the Bufalino crime family. Now older, the WWII veteran once again reflects on his biggest hits and considers his involvement with one of the country’s most enduring mysteries, the disappearance of his good friend Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.

Garnering all kinds of awards hype and starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, The Irishman finds America’s greatest living filmmaker once again working at the top of his game!

Written by Trevor Dillon.



Raging Bull (1980)

November 4-5 & 9-10

Raging Bull

Brace yourself for Raging Bull, a hard-hitting biopic about champion boxer Jake LaMotta.

Before his brief reign in the 1940s boxing world, LaMotta had two lessons he learned early in life: to steal and to fight. Channeling this tough upbringing into the ring, LaMotta directs his deep-seated anxieties and emotional fears into a visceral aggression towards his opponents. His violence and rage lead him to the top as a prizefighter but that same temper ultimately destroys his life outside the ring.

Starring Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, and Joe Pesci, Raging Bull is an unflinching depiction of LaMotta’s rise and fall.

Written by Adrienne Reese.



Taxi Driver (1976)

November 11-12 & 16-17

Taxi Driver

Catch the next cab to Taxi Driver, Scorsese’s exploration of alienation and toxic masculinity.

Based on a screenplay by Paul Schrader (Raging Bull), the movie follows Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran and loner who takes an overnight cab driving job to deal with his insomnia. Over a short period of time he comes in contact with a local politician running for office, a beautiful woman working for his campaign, and a young girl who is forced into prostitution. These interactions and Travis’ growing paranoia build toward a startling conclusion of urban violence.

Featuring a sonorous score by Bernard Hermann and strong supporting performances by Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Albert Brooks, Taxi Driver remains a classic of contemporary cinema with themes that remain urgently relevant.

Written by Sean Woodard.



The King of Comedy (1982)

November 18-19 & 20

The King of Comedy poster

Robert De Niro gives a humorously surprising turn in The King of Comedy, the original cringe comedy!

Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) dreams of being a stand-up comedian and thinks his big break has come at last when he meets with the famous talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). When numerous attempts to get on Langford’s show fail however, Rupert becomes increasingly desperate and resorts to extreme tactics to get the validation he thinks he deserves.

Bolstered by a talented supporting cast, De Niro creates an unnerving portrait of the effects of loneliness on a deranged mind.

Written by Sammy Trujillo.



Goodfellas (1990)

November 25-26 & 28-29


Grab some wise guys and catch Goodfellas, playing in celebration of the film’s 29th anniversary!

Based on the unbelievable true story of the rise and fall of Henry Hill, the film documents the notorious mobster’s life from childhood onward. Despite being half-Irish, Henry ingratiates himself to the local Italian mafia and rises through its ranks. After leading the largest cash robbery on American soil, he becomes reckless and his friends turn against him. With both the FBI and his fellow mobsters after him, the question facing Henry is should he snitch or face the business end of the barrel?

Listed by the American Film Institute as #2 on its Top 10 Gangster FilmsGoodfellas is a sharp crime drama with snappy dialogue and memorable performances.

Written by Justina Bonilla.

The Frida Cinema Blog Post #9

10 Mexican Horror Films Every Horror Fan Should See


A brand-new, 4k restoration of Alejandro Jodorowsky’sSanta Sangrestarts Friday, November 29th at The Frida Cinema.

Mexican horror is one of the most unique and distinctive voices in international horror cinema. Initially inspired by early American horror and German Expressionist films, Mexican horror filmmakers combined these foreign influences with their Catholic traditions and indigenous folklore, resulting in a veritable treasure trove of gothic and fantasy stories.

Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre (1989)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

This international cross-over film from Issa Lopez has a fantasy feel yet brutal visuals, revealing that it is children who pay the highest price in the Latin American drug wars. Its success has both revitalized interest in Mexican horror as well as further established women as directors.



Cronos (1993)

Cronos poster

Long before he became an Oscar-winning director, Guillermo Del Toro made his debut with Cronos, establishing himself as a horror writer and filmmaker. Reinventing the traditional vampire tale, Cronos examines the undying love and bond between a grandfather and granddaughter in spite of the horrors of vampire life.


Poison for Fairies (1993)

Poison for Fairies poster

The last film directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada, an influential director, writer, and cult-figure in Mexican horror films.  Though initially resembling a lighthearted made-for-television movie about the friendship between two little girls, it quickly turns into a dark thriller of witchcraft and terror.




Alucarda, Daughter of Darkness (1997)

Image result for Alucarda, Daughter of Darkness

The most controversial film from influential director Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Alucarda, Daughter of Darkness caused quite a stir upon its release due to its explicit scenes of murder, sex, and demonic possession within the walls of a convent.  Because of the controversy, Alucarda is often compared to Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971).




The Mansion of Madness (1973)

The Mansion of Madness poster

After working as a producer for avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando and Lis and El Topo, Moctezuma made his film directorial debut with The Manson of Madness.  He intertwined his love of classic horror with influences from Jodorowsky’s take-no-prisoners style, creating a surrealist nightmare of mental patients running the asylum.


The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963)

Image result for The Curse of the Crying Woman

Directed and produced by Golden Age of Mexican cinema veterans Rafael Baledon and Abel Salazar, The Curse of the Crying Woman brings the traditional folk tale of Llorona back from the dead. Considered by film historians to be a classic of Mexican horror, the movie combines folk traditions with stylized black and white terror.


Santo vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

Santo poster

With the massive popularity of wrestling in Mexico, many wrestlers transitioned into movies and television, with the most notable being the iconic El Santo. He starred in over 50 films that pit him against a variety of foes, including gangsters, demons, martians, and most notably vampires in Alfonso Corona Blake’s Santo vs. the Vampire Women.




The Witch’s Mirror (1962)

The Witch's Mirror poster

An eccentric talent, Chano Urueta combined multiple horror subgenres and experimental special effects to create art-house chiller The Witch’s Mirror. Paying visual homage to the cinematic styles of Eyes Without A Face and Frankenstein, the movie also draws considerable influence from RKO producer Val Lewton’s signature style of horror.



Macario (1960)

Macario poster

Though considered a fantasy film, Roberto Galvadon’s Macario has a definite horror feel with its story of making a deal with and then cheating death. Visually stunning, this movie has the honor of being Mexico’s first nominee for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.


El Vampiro (1957)

The Vampire poster

Inspired by the success of the Universal Monster films, Abel Salazar collaborated with Fernando Mendez to set the traditional Dracula story in Mexico with The Vampire. The success of this surprise horror masterpiece started a vampire craze in Mexican monster cinema. It also revived cinematic depictions of Dracula one year before Hammer Studios released their first vampire film, Horror of Dracula (1958).




The Frida Cinema Film Event Post #28



Grab some wise guys and catch Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, playing in celebration of the film’s 29th anniversary!

Based on the unbelievable true story of the rise and fall of Henry Hill, the film documents the notorious mobster’s life from childhood onward. Despite being half-Irish, Henry ingratiates himself to the local Italian mafia and rises through its ranks. After leading the largest cash robbery on American soil, he becomes reckless and his friends turn against him. With both the FBI and his fellow mobsters after him, the question facing Henry is should he snitch or face the business end of the barrel?

Listed by the American Film Institute as #2 on its Top 10 Gangster FilmsGoodfellas is a sharp crime drama with snappy dialogue and memorable performances.

“Complex, Volatile, ironic and disquieting Scorsese’s Goodfellas in a masterly achievement in intense observation.” – Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter

“The best movie about who gangsters are, and how they came to exert such a magnetic pull on American culture.” – Tim Brayton,

“Martin Scorsese’s soberest, most vivaciously thrilling vision of how hollow (and short) the fast lives of mafiios really are.” – Jake Cole, Slant Magazine

The Frida Cinema Film Event Post #27

3 From Hell

3 from Hell

From the twisted mind of heavy metal’s Rob Zombie comes 3 From Hell, the third installment of the Firefly family saga!

By some unholy miracle, Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie), Otitis (Bill Moseley), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) survive the Bonnie and Clyde-esque shootout with police from the end of The Devil’s Rejects. They are subsequently imprisoned but manage to use their deranged wit to escape to a desolate Mexican village. While the family enjoys the vices of Mexico, the son of one of their victims tracks them down to avenge his father.

Featuring the last performance by Sid Haig to be released in his lifetime, 3 from Hell is a gloriously bloody note for the Firefly trilogy to end on.

The Frida Cinema Blog Post #8

Hispanic Heritage in Film: Latin America’s Trailblazing Directors


The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Latin America's Trailblazers
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973); Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017); Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s The Book of Life (2014)

Part 5: Latin America’s Trailblazing Directors

Concluding our Hispanic Heritage Blog series, we look at three directors from Latin America, each in a special class of their own. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jorge Gutiérrez, and Issa López are trailblazing directors whose respective styles are immediately recognizable. Chilean avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky uses a “take no prisoners” approach to his violent yet mystical imagery, challenging viewers to look beyond the traditional aspects of film for meaning. Mexican animator and director Jorge R. Gutiérrez created a revolutionary style of animation combining Mexican folk and pop culture with American influences. Mexicana director and writer Issa López jumped from the security of writing and directing romantic comedies to directing and writing the critically acclaimed gritty genre-bending horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017). Through their films they challenge the status quo, creating visuals that surprise and enchant us.


Alejandro Jodorowsky

Reggie Peralta: A Hispanic with a Slavic surname, Alejandro Jodorowsky makes for an interesting entry in this list even without taking his avant-garde cinematic offerings into account. The son of Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants, the Chilean director’s unique cultural background is an excellent example of the complexity and fluidity of Hispanic identity. It’s not a stretch to say that this diverse heritage reflects the colorful, multifaceted nature of his work. Take, for instance, the fact that he originally started out not as a filmmaker but as a theatre performer, working for a circus as a clown after dropping out of college. Indeed, Jodorowsky wouldn’t make his debut as a filmmaker until he moved to France, alternating between there and Mexico for much of his career (not unlike Luis Buñuel, another Hispanic director with surrealistic sensibilities).


Clip from The Holy Mountain (1973)

It was in Mexico that Jodorowsky produced El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), a pair of phantasmagorical romps replete with dreamlike narratives and occultist symbolism that are considered by many to be the first true midnight movies. The films’ fans have included such noted creatives as David Lynch, Dennis Hopper, and even two Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison (with their manager Allen Klein even acting as a producer on Mountain). While his later movies didn’t achieve the iconic counterculture status that these two films did, they still speak to the director’s diversified talent and mind-bending tastes. Santa Sangre (1989) is his sexually-charged take on the slasher genre while The Dance of Reality (2013) and Endless Poetry (2016) are both attempts to tell the story of his life through the kaleidoscopic view of his filmmaker’s lens.

To go into the rest of Jodorowsky’s prolific œuvre—including his other films, comics, and something he calls “psychomagic”—would require a much longer blog post, but the five movies mentioned above earn him a place on this list many times over.


Issa López

Children who survive wars on their own are, sadly, a universal thing. So, a version of this could have happened at many points in history and can absolutely happen in many places in the world now. Actually, there has been some discussion about the possibility of a remake.” – Issa López

Darren Cassidy: Film scholar/writer/director Issa López began her career writing and directing episodes of Plaza Sésamo (the Mexican Sesame Street) and writing for a few of those sMexy telenovelas. Following her tenure teaching screenwriting at the Writing Studies Center of Televisa, she wrote the screenplay for Ladies’ Night (2003), the first Mexican film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio (Disney). Ladies’ Night was one of the highest-grossing films of the year in Mexico and it went on to win the Best Screenplay Award at the Cyprus International Film Festival.

In 2006, López wrote and directed her first feature Efectos secundarios (Side Effects), which satirizes high-school reunions in a rather extreme way. It was the first Mexican film produced by Warner Bros. and is currently the 15th highest-grossing film in Mexican history. López’s directorial debut was also nominated for 12 Diosa de Plata (Mexican Film Press) Awards including Best Director and Best Picture.

Clip from Vuelven (2017)

López also wrote and directed Casi Divas (2008), another highly-successful Mexican-American co-production. She also saw her screenwriting finding success and accolades throughout the 2010s.

2017 brought López’s most well known film Vuelven (Tigers Are Not Afraid) before a wide international audience. Her film has won universal acclaim since its release; she took the Best Horror Picture Director award at Fantastic Fest—the first woman and the first Mexican to do so—and her film was nominated for 9 Ariels (Mexican Oscars). Vuelven won the very vocal praise of such luminaries as Stephen King; Neil Gaiman; and Guillermo Del Toro, who announced at the 2018 Guadalajara Film Festival that he will produce the next Issa López film.


Jorge R. Gutiérrez

Isa Bulnes-Shaw: Though not a household name to the average movie buff, the work of Jorge R. Gutiérrez is instantly recognizable to any fan of animation. Though only a director of one feature film so far, his experience spans the 2000s to the present, across multiple forms of media as a painter, writer, character designer, producer, illustrator, and all-around bombastic creative force.

Born in Mexico City and relocated to Tijuana at nine, Gutiérrez’s love and passion for Mexican and Chicanx culture radiates from everything he does; it’s not influence, it’s simply him. From unique, intricate character designs to the worlds based on real ancient and modern places in Mexico, his work is a “cultural collision” that reflects his upbringing as a child who crossed the Tijuana border every day to attend school in the U.S., who early on had a love affair with the imagery of bootleg mashups, Luchadores, and much more. Even throughout his career as a student of Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts, Gutiérrez’s films were stories rooted in Latino imagery and life, as was the case with his Student Emmy Award winning film, Carmelo.

Trailer for The Book of Life (2014)

Those who grew up in the 2000s know him as the co-creator and co-producer of the multi-Annie and Emmy Award winning Nickelodeon cartoon series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera (with wife and muse Sandra Equiha), one of the very rare instances of Mexican characters in children’s animation at the time. His directorial debut and lifelong dream project, however, wouldn’t be realized until 2014 with the release of the Golden Globe Best Animated Feature Nominee, The Book of Life (2014). He had pitched for fourteen years and was rejected by every major animation studio under the declaration that a Mexican story was not universal, had no commercial market value, or that audiences simply did not want to see something so explicitly Mexican/Latinx; it would later be produced by Guillermo Del Toro and feature the talents of Diego Luna and Zoe Saldaña. Development took another half decade due to its intricate and unique designs, almost identical to the concept art, with the figures crafted to look like handmade wooden figures existing in folk-art during post-revolution 1910 Mexico, and with a third of the budget of the most popular animated films from the biggest studios.

Jorge R. Gutiérrez is an animation darling for a reason. Despite decades of resistance, he’s made a career not only by telling his own personal, distinctly Mexican stories at a time when it was very rare, but ultimately elevating the best of both the U.S. and his homeland. His work speaks to a new generation of Latinx folks with mixed ethnic backgrounds and influences, who can be assured that who they are is not only normal, but to be celebrated.



The Frida Cinema Blog Post #7

Hispanic Heritage in Film: Spain’s Art House Directors

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Spain's Art House Directors
Víctor Erice’s El Espiritu de la Colmena (1973); Luis Buñuels L’Age d’Or (1930); Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Part 4: Spain’s Art House Directors

Pedro Almodóvar, Victor Erice, and Luis Buñuel are all critical to the evolution of Spanish art house cinema due to the artistic and political significance of their films. Luis Buñuel began in the infancy of the Spanish art house culture following World War Ⅰ—when the world was definitely ready for an artistic liberation. European artists of the Dadaists and Surrealist movements saw film as another avenue of expression, giving birth to avant-garde cinema. One of the most notable works of this era is Buñuel’s collaboration with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). Sadly, this era would be cut short by The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), The dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), and World War Ⅱ.

Under Franco, films were subjected to severe government censorship or made into pro-government propaganda. Tragically, many pre-civil war films were lost or destroyed. In 1962 the era of the New Spanish Cinema began. Young filmmakers like Victo Erice, with anti-Franco sentiments, fought government censorship and the possibility of their films being banned. Erice’s film El Espiritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), heavily critical of the government, barely passed censorship standards. It became one of the greatest films in Spanish cinema.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain became a democracy and loosened censorship, resulting in a flood of new and edgier talent. Pedro Almodóvar emerged in the counterculture movement of La Modovida Madrilena (The Madrid Scene). Sophisticated melodramas like Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown challenged many social norms. Across generations, each director shows the continuing strength in Spain’s art house culture as it continues to thrive—currently in the horror genre.


Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel

Reggie Peralta: A cosmopolitan who worked at various points in France, Mexico, and his native Spain, it might come as a surprise to some that Luis Buñuel originally hailed from Calanda, a small town in the backwater province of Aragon where, as the director would later quip, “the Middle Ages lasted until World War Ⅰ.” Even more surprising—or perhaps telling—is the fact that the director, an avowed atheist, was deeply religious for much of his youth, participating in Mass and Communion every day well into his teens.

These provincial and parochial influences would, ironically, serve him well over the course of his 50 year career. Also of great service was his college friendship with Salvador Dalí. While Bunuel’s relationship with the avant-garde artist would eventually fray, the two would collaborate on Un Chien Andalou, a surrealistic short film meant to evoke a Freudian dream. Crafted with the specific intention of insulting the cultural intelligentsia he so hated, the filmmaker was flabbergasted when the movie ended up as (and indeed remains to this day) a favorite of the very class whose members’ sensitivities he set out to mock.

It is this desire to pour scorn and poke fun at social and cultural elites that unifies much of Buñuel’s filmography. From early experimental films like The Golden Age (L’Age d’Or) to more conventional comedies like El Gran Calavera, there are few directors who have taken as much delight in skewering the chattering classes as Bunuel did, and even less who have done it as inventively.


Trailer for Un Chien Andalou (1929)


Though a committed leftist, he also refused to buy into the fallacy that being poor or underprivileged necessarily made one noble. The young protagonists of his social realist drama Los Olvidados, for example, are hoodlums who rob and brutalize those weaker than them, while the beggars taken in by the angelic title character in Viridiana wind up taking advantage of her in the truest sense of the phrase.

For his efforts to reconcile his scathing social critiques with powerful visuals that make sense on an intuitive rather than logical level, Buñuel was able to influence everything—from the way music videos are edited to other filmmakers like Woody Allen, Guillermo del Toro, and Gasper Noe—a remarkable feat that deservedly secures him a place on this list.



Victor Erice

Victor Erice

Sean Woodard: Spanish director Victor Erice’s approach to exploring the intricacies of childhood in The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur is simply magical. In both films he uses cinematic language to replicate the fantastical imaginations of children and contrast them with the traumatic realities of life. His closest peer in this respect may be Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. The Spirit of the Beehive also manages to capture how cinema can be a visceral, life-changing art form.


Trailer for The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)



Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar

Adrienne Reese: Pedro Almodóvar’s influence transcends film, delving deep into the very personal faculties of human existence. As a director, screenwriter, and producer, he is not only an influential figure in Spanish-language cinema, but his contribution to film history worldwide cannot be overstated; he has explored everything from LGBTQ themes, horror, the drama and comedy of life, freedom and captivity, and identity, His distinct and impactful way of portraying women and femininity in his films is inimitable.

Almodóvar is a true auteur. To me, his films play out like Spanish manifestos—providing an education on the life of Hispanics in the diaspora. The beauty and pain he captures in these creations are relatable to viewers who exist both within and outside of that community.


Watch Pedro Almodóvar direct a scene in The Skin I Live In (2011)

Having directed, to name a few, such cult classics as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), All About My Mother (1999), and The Skin I Live In (2011), Pedro Almodóvar’s very specific voice has garnered him multiple Academy Awards for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay, as well as international recognition for his celebrated filmography: 21 titles and counting.



The Frida Cinema Blog Post #6

Hispanic Heritage in Film: Maverick Directors

By Justina Bonilla

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Maverick Directors


Part 3: Maverick Directors


America has historically been a major trailblazer to technical and artistic innovations in film. While Hispanics/Latinos had some on-camera representation during the Golden Age of Hollywood, their opportunities behind the camera were minimal;  Only a few names are known today: Gabriel Figueroa (The Fugitive and Night of the Iguana), special/visual effects artist and stop motion pioneer Marcel Delgado (King KongThe Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins), and assistant director Francisco Day (The Ten CommandmentsSamson and Delilah).

The 1950s and early 1960s saw a rise in studio A and B classic Hispanic/Latino-American films such as GiantRequiem for a Heavyweight, and West Side Story. The studio culture of the time, however, heavily restricted Hispanic/Latino directors’ access to real directing work. Undeterred by the mindset of the major Hollywood studios, Hispanic/Latino-American directors began to emerge in late 1960’s with the rise of independent film directors like George A. Romero. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, more groundbreaking Hispanic/Latino-American films and directors, telling stories with distinctive creative styles, emerged—including playwright Luis Valdez. The 1990’s saw a boom of Hispanic/Latino talent in entertainment, such as action filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.


Robert Rodriguez (Mexican-American)

Robert Rodriguez

Trevor Dillon: Robert Rodriguez is important to the careers of many filmmakers for three simple letters: DIY. In the early 1990s, when the independent film boom was happening, Rodriguez was at the very forefront (with contemporaries Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, and good pal Quentin Tarantino) telling young kids to go do it themselves; get out there and make the movie YOU want to make. Even if it means you have to do the writing, directing, producing, shooting, editing, and scoring on a movie. It worked out pretty well for him: Rodriguez’s debut film, El Mariachi, was famously made for $7000 without a single film permit. It spawned two sequels: Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, essentially cementing the idea that he made a whole franchise from nothing.

Clip from Sin City (2005)

I could list off his entire œuvre, like how he directed Sin City or the extremely underrated Sci Fi/Horror film The Faculty (obviously a personal favorite of mine), but Rodriguez’s legacy remains in the filmmakers he inspired rather than the movies he’s made. He resides now in Austin, Texas, where he has his own aptly named studio: Troublemaker. He has his own cable network: El Rey. This “one man film crew” has done quite well for himself.


George A. Romero (Spanish/Cuban-American)

George A. Romero

Justina Bonilla: “The Father of the Zombie Film,” best known for starting the modern zombie era, scored his first official directing job in the least likely of places—Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Public television’s beloved Fred Rogers believed in a young George A. Romero enough to give him a credible platform to cut his teeth as a director. Later, Romero co-wrote and directed his first full length, low-budget film Night of the Living Dead (1968). The film captured the fear of the turbulent 1960s, commenting on the brutality of the Vietnam War and social revolution. Initially the film did not intend to focus on civil rights or race issues, but in casting an African American as the leading man/hero—during the civil rights era—and releasing the film months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Romero unintentionally created a strong commentary on civil rights.

Clip from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Despite major studios rejecting Night of the Living Dead due to its intense violence, the film’s independent release shocked audiences. It ignited an artistic revolution which led to a slew of zombie and horror films including Romero’s sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978). This film commented on the zombification of consumerism. Romero went on to become a “Godfather of Horror,” directing other zombie films, co-creating the horror television series Tales from the Darkside, and collaborating with Stephen King in the beloved horror anthology movie Creepshow (1982).

Night of the Living Dead is credited as one of the most important horror films and independent films in film history. Despite the film’s initial rejection, Romero’s vision of zombies is now the standard, as seen in The Walking Dead and World War Z.


Luis Valdez (Mexican-American)

Luis Valdez

Justina Bonilla: Before the “Father of Chicano Theatre” directed some of the most important films in Chicano, Mexican-American, and Hispanic/Latino-American film history, Luis Valdez was born to migrant farm workers in a labor camp. Growing up in this environment, Valdez experienced the unjust exploitation of farm workers at the hands of wealthy land owners (he worked in the fields since the age of six). Finding his passion for writing and theatre, Valdez strove to use his art to entertain and advocate for his fellow farm workers. In 1965, working with civil rights leader and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Union Cesar Chavez, Valdez developed the small acting troupe El Teatro Campesino (The Peasant Theatre). They entertained and educated the striking farm workers though small play productions, boosting morale during the long strikes. This small acting troupe later developed into a professional production company in San Juan Bautista, California.

Trailer for La Bamba (1987)


In 1979, through his experience with theatre, Valdez wrote and directed the musical play Zoot Suit in Los Angeles to critical acclaim. It was the first Chicano-written play to open on Broadway. Soon after, in 1981, Valdez wrote the screenplay for and directed Zoot Suit, his first feature film. It explored the topics of media sensationalism, ethnic identity, and systemic racism. He broke into mainstream America with La Bamba (1987), his biographical film of pioneering Mexican-American/Chicano rock ‘n’ roll star Richie Valens. The film was a box office smash, proving that Hispanic/Latino stories and Hispanic/Latino-led films can succeed in mainstream America. In 2016, Valdez was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama for his contributions to film and theatre.



The Frida Cinema Blog Post #5

Hispanic Heritage in Film: Mexico’s Golden Three

Mexico's Golden Three

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Part 2: Mexico’s Golden Three

In 2013 history was made at The Academy Awards as Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón became the first Latin American to win the Oscar for Best Director. Since then, five out of the six wins for Best Director have been Mexican born directors—two wins each for Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, and one for Guillermo Del Toro. This Mexican trinity of talent has created a strong ethnic presence in a major Oscar award category, with Best Cinematography also seeing a rise of winners and nominees from Latin America. The whole world is now seeing the wide range of talents Hispanics/Latinos have to offer. These three directors (AKA “three amigos”) represent a new wave of talent with more to come.

Guillermo Del Toro

Atalia Lopez: An iconic and visionary director of contemporary horror and fantasy, Guillermo del Toro is an easy choice to make when thinking about essential figures in Mexican cinema. With his origins in the film industry coming from makeup and special effects (he studied under the legendary Dick Smith), Del Toro’s mastery of the macabre is matched only by his ability to instill humanity in the monsters he creates.

As a director, Del Toro’s œuvre reveals an obsession with monsters, ghosts, and supernatural beings, both sinister and misunderstood. In his directorial debut Cronos (1993), Del Toro incorporates a perspective that will become fruitful territory for him: children navigating and interacting with supernatural beings and creatures. His use of the Spanish Civil War in The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo, 2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno, 2006) shows the interplay between children and the supernatural, all against the backdrop of broader historical battles against fascism.

Clip from The Shape of Water (2017)

His comic book adaptations Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and giant-monsters-vs-giant-robots blockbuster Pacific Rim (2013) put the director at the helm of big budget franchises. But it is The Shape of Water (2017), Del Toro’s most acclaimed and personal film, that brings together all of the hallmarks of the filmmaker’s style and sensibility, with an intentional celebration of old Hollywood (both its iconic monsters and its iconic love stories). Winning Best Director and Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards, The Shape of Water is a truly original piece of cinema, a film where dual love stories (between woman and monster, filmmaker and films) reveal that we cannot choose who we fall in love with any more than we can choose our true calling – for Del Toro, making films that reach beyond our understanding of what is monstrous is his calling.

Alfonso Cuarón

Sammy Trujillo: In 2003, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón stated he left Mexico “for artistic survival. If I had stayed, I would have been forced by the government, who control the movie business, to direct TV shows or commercials or infomercials for the government.” Cuarón’s frustrations with government censorship in Mexico arose from a lawsuit he filed over the government’s 18+ rating of his 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien. Facing adversity had become commonplace for Mexican filmmakers, who relied almost entirely on government funding to finance their projects. Before that, the government limited the distribution of his first film, Solo con Tu Pareja and blocked funding for other projects.

Born in Mexico City in 1961, one could see how skepticism of authoritarianism serves as a recurring theme in his films. When he was 9 years old, the government launched attacks on a student protest in Tlateco. When he was 10, the government recruited young men to slaughter a slew of protesters in the Corpus Christi massacre. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) controlled Mexico as a one-party state and would continue to do so until 2000. Despite this, none of Cuarón’s films have an overt political agenda. Instead, Cuarón examines the political turmoil of Mexico and finds beauty in the mundane. To an unfamiliar audience, Y Tu Mama Tambien is a simple road trip film, with only brief allusions to the PRI’s political collapse. Yet, the changing political landscape of Mexico surrounds even the most apolitical shots of the film.

Clip from Roma (2018)

After the critical and commercial success of the 2013 film Gravity, Cuarón turned down many offers to direct blockbuster films. Instead, he returned to Mexico to film the semi-autobiographical Roma. The film, in many ways, serves as an olive branch to repair the burned bridges with the Mexican government. As a love letter to his upbringing in Mexico, Roma spares no expenses when criticizing the government, including a jaw-dropping recreation of the Corpus Christi massacre. But the film’s real beauty lies in the long shots and deep focus of casual life in the suburbs of Mexico City. Accompanied by diegetic music, Roma‘s intimate portrait of Cuarón’s childhood reflects on his most important memories as a young boy, the abandonment of his father, the witnessing of a forest fire, and attending the films that shaped his cinematic vision. By framing these memories from the perspective of a poor, indigenous housemaid, Cuarón acknowledges the racial, classist, and gendered wounds hidden in Mexico that may not have been apparent to him in his upbringing.

The Mexican government also appears to be willing to mend fences with Cuarón, having made Roma their official selection for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Perhaps the decision came from a recognition of Cuarón’s influence on Mexican cinema. After becoming the first Mexican director to win the Academy Award for Best Director for his 2013 film Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón launched a trend in which 5 of the past 6 Academy Awards were won by Mexican directors.

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Trevor Dillon: Ever since his debut film in 2000, Alejandro González Iñárritu has cemented himself as one of Mexico’s finest filmmakers. The beginning of his career saw the trilogy of Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006). All are hard-hitting emotional feats that garnered Iñárritu great reviews and tons of acclaim. They all tell international stories about the human condition, mostly focusing on the misery of life.

Clip from Birdman (2014)

Just when we thought his ambition couldn’t be topped, in the mid-2010s he released the extremely difficult one-two punch of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant. For these Iñárritu won the Best Director Academy Award two years in a row, becoming the first to do so in over 60 years. Where he will go from here with his career is something film fans wait on bated breath for. How will Alejandro González Iñárritu close out this second magnificent trilogy?



The Frida Cinema Blog Post #4

Hispanic Heritage in Film: Pioneering Actors

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Mural of Dolores del Rio
Mural of Dolores del Rio by Alfredo de Batuc. 6529 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA

Part 1: Pioneering Actors

Hispanics and Latinos have been involved in American cinema since the silent era. However, many of the early Hispanic/Latino characters were predominantly negative Mexican stereotypes—violent male villains, sexual immoral women, and the dumb and/or drunk peasant. These images were seen as propaganda against all Hispanics/Latinos, prompting a massive backlash. Hispanic/Latino communities across America boycottedthese films and their studios. Latin American governments abroad proposed boycotts. The issue became so heated that President Woodrow Wilson intervened, telling the Hollywood studio heads to “Please be a little kinder to the Mexicans.”

As a result, Hollywood created more diverse and positive images for Hispanic/Latino actors—the “Latin lover,” Latin comedians, and the strong-willed Latina. Names like Ramon Navarro, Lupe Vélez, Anthony Quinn, and Rita Hayworth were immortalized on Hollywood sidewalks. Along with these stars rose three multi-talented actors whose impact would heavily influence film and American pop culture.

Dolores del Río

Dolores del Río (Mexican)

Darren Cassidy: Marlene Dietrich called Dolores del Río “the most beautiful woman who ever set foot in Hollywood.” Nonetheless, along with Greta Garbo, Mae West and Katherine Hepburn, del Río found herself added to the infamous “Box Office Poison” list. This and her breakup with Orson Welles figured large in her decision to return to her native Mexico and “stop being a star and become an actress.” Upon arrival, she met director Emilio “El Indio” Fernández. The pair made four highly successful and influential Spanish-language films together including Flor Silvestre and María Candelaria, the latter becoming not only the first Mexican film to be screened and to have won the Grand Prix in Cannes, but the first Latin American film ever to do so. Her staggering success during Mexican cinema’s Golden Age led to renewed interest from Hollywood.

Actually casting del Río, however, was impossible; too many of the the wrong people in the United States suspected her of being a Communist, in part because of her close association with artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The later part of her career saw del Río branching out into production and theater. In 1957 she became the first woman to sit on the jury at Cannes and in 1966 she founded the Society for the Protection of the Artistic Treasures of Mexico. In 1978, she was finally recognized by President Jimmy Carter as a Cultural Ambassador of Mexico in the United States, and publicly acknowledged as one of the many victims of McCarthyism.



Ricardo Montalbán

Ricardo Montalbán (Mexican)

Justina Bonilla: Ricardo Montalbán was first discovered by MGM studios through his starring roles in Mexican films. He became famous as the handsome “Latin Lover” in the musicals and lighthearted comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Wanting to show the full range of his acting abilities, Ricardo acted in dramatic roles in B-films and supporting roles (both American and Foreign), Broadway, radio, and television.  Through television he would establish his two most iconic roles—the mysterious Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island and the villainous Khan Noonien Singh in the original Star Trek series.

Later, Montalbán would star in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and become one of the most menacing villains in movie history. In 1970 he co-founded Nosotors, a non-profit organization for promoting positive Hispanic/Latino talent in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Ricardo Montalbán is beloved for his iconic roles and his determination to help uplift and reshape the images of Hispanic/Latinos in media.



Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sammy Davis, Jr. (Afro-Cuban American)

Justina Bonilla: The multi-talented Sammy Davis, Jr. was a singer, musician, dancer, actor, producer, vaudevillian, and comedian who did spot-on celebrity impressions. In 1954, after years of touring with The Will Mastin Trio, he was featured on TV’s The Colgate Comedy Hour, establishing himself as a solo performer. A year later, in January of 1955, Sammy released his debut album, Starring Sammy Davis Jr., to success and praise. He then acted in a series of successful lead and supporting film roles, including Anna Lucasta, Porgy and BessOcean’s 11, and Robin and the 7 Hoods. Davis became a member of the famous Las Vegas “Rat Pack” group (which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford), who in the 1950’s where the epitome of cool and talent.

During his career, Sammy was politically and socially controversial for his open stance against segregation, his conversion to Judaism, and his marriage to May Britt, a white actress. After the era of the Rat Pack ended, Sammy continued to act, sing, and be politically active. Sammy Davis Jr. is known for so many things, but will always be loved as simply “Mister Show Business.”


The Frida Cinema Film Event Post #26

Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name

Comedy legend Eddie Murphy makes his long-awaited return to the big screen in the highly-anticipated Rudy Ray Moore biopic Dolemite Is My Name.

Desperate to restore his flagging popularity, Moore creates the outlandish stage persona Dolemite to revive his stand-up career. After recording several successful comedy albums featuring the character, Rudy, is inspired to make a film focusing on him. With the help of a crew of misfits, Moore is able to overcome limited filmmaking experience and the judgmental doubt of naysayers to create one of blaxploitation’s most iconic films.

Based on an unbelievably true underdog story, Dolemite Is My Name boasts a screenplay by Emmy Award-nominees Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski as well as a supporting cast that includes Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and Keegan-Michael Key.

“Dolemite is a movie that gives us a lot to look back on, both historically and in the case of Murphy’s long life in Hollywood – but I also think we still haven’t seen the extent of what Murphy can do.” – K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair

“As its title character might put it, Dolemite Is My Name, is a total mother-kin’ blast.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Dolemite Is My Name kicks off the Eddie Murphy comeback that’s been a very long time coming.  And this comic biopic is a blast from start to finish.” – Sara Stewart, New York Post