When a friend invited me to a special screening of Paranormal Activity:The Marked Ones, I hesitated. ”A horror flick?” I said. “Yo no veo esas cosas.” And then I paused. ”Wait. Is this the movie with all the Latinos in it? I asked. ”Okay. I’ll go with you, but I may walk out after 20 minutes. I don’t like scary movies.” And then something happened…
Right before my eyes, I see two Latino boys, the leads, Jesse and Hector (played by Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz) speaking perfect American English---on the big screen!! And they’re not gang-bangers or drug-dealers or junkies or gardeners or ”illegals” or hit men or inmates or janitors. They’re just normal, decent, All-American high-school boys who happen to be Latino---and they’re good looking, and charming and charismatic and funny! In fact, one of them, Jorge Diaz, is just plain adorable. And then we’re introduced to grandma---abuelita! Only this Mexican grandma is sassy, and sexy and spunky, and she speaks English and Spanish, just like most of us American Latinos do, and she’s played effortlessly and delightfully by the one-and-only Ms. Renee Victor (Weeds). ”Oh Em Gee,” I thought to myself. ”I’m actually liking this!”
And then it just got better and better. There’s a neighborhood party scene (the story takes place in Oxnard, CA) that felt so authentic and real I wanted to be there eating arroz con frijoles with everyone. I’m sitting in the theater thinking, ”What genius thought of hiring real Latinos to play Latinos? Was Ben Affleck not available? Was Marisa Tomei on vacation? Wuz happenin’ here?”
I could hardly contain my excitement with what came next. Abuelita goes to the neighborhood santeria shop to try and find a cure for Jesse, who’s afflicted with mysterious bites and exhibiting strange behavior. And there she was---surrounded by veladoras and images of La Muerte and calaveras, asking for advice on doing a limpia, or cleansing. And the santeria shop looked just like a shop I recently happened to run into in the Silverlake area in L.A.---the type of shop where Latinos buy their veladoras of La Virgen de Guadalupe and their religious statues, incense and polvos legitimos.
And then...this has got to be one of my favorite movie scenes ever! Abuelita totally goes there….and performs a curacion con el huevo. With an egg! Can it get more authentically Mexican than this? This may be the one scene Meryl Streep could have never pulled off, ’cause you gotta be Latina to know how to do it! And the wonderful Ms. Renee Victor pulled it off beautifully and authentically.
It was one revelation, one magical surprise after another ”Who are these Latino actors? Where did they find them?” I kept asking myself. They’re so likeable that you immediately get invested in them and what happens to them. The Latina girls are beautiful, and strong actresses as well. The cinematography, direction and art design are outstanding. And the story, by Paranormal franchise writer/director Christopher Landon, had enough suspense and mystery and intrigue, without gore or excessive violence, to keep me in my seat for the entire duration of the movie. I reiterate: I never watch “scary movies” and this one kept me glued to my seat! For more information, go to LatinHeat.com.
Fans of George Lopez will rejoice in his return to television as “ w” premiering on the FX Network last month. This is his second time around, following his sitcom “George Lopez,” which ran from 2002 to 2007 on ABC. In between came the less memorable “Lopez Tonight,” which lasted three seasons.
The first time, Lopez played a working-class Mexican American trying to raise a family. Now, like many Latinos, he’s climbed a few rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Again he plays a character named George Lopez, but now he’s a successful entrepreneur, creator of the country’s fifth most popular energy drink, and happily divorced, with an 11-year-old son. But he wants to give back to the community and becomes a history teacher in night school.
At least in the pilot, the script focused on George re-entering the dating pool, egged on by his Tio (the inimitable Danny Trejo, sans machete) and cousin (David Zayas, who played Sgt. Batista on “Dexter”). The “sassy Latina” role is filled by Diana Maria Riva as the school’s assistant principal, and the excellent ensemble cast is rounded out by Olga Merediz as his mother and Jenn Lyon as his ex-wife.
If George Lopez back then was politically incorrect, now he’s more insulted than insulting, putting up with his mother who says: “Can I tell you something and you won’t get mad? You’re fat, boring and stupid.” His Anglo Ex appears in nearly every other scene, prompting a reality check. My Anglo Ex rarely graces my mancave, and that’s for the better. But we’re in the world of basic cable rather than network TV, so George can push the envelope on raunchy banter. “I know you’ve undressed me with your eyes,” says Riva’s character. “Right now I’m thinking of sewing them shut,” replies George.
The show is being launched in what is known as a 10/90 deal. If the first 10 episodes do well, then the network will buy 90 more. FX is trying to duplicate the success of “The Bridge,” a surprise hit with Latinos and non-Latinos alike. That show succeeded on the strength of strong writing, fresh faces in the cast, and avoiding the usual stereotypes. To follow this winning formula, “Saint George” will have to do better as the season progresses, but it’s still too early to tell.
The real George Lopez pushed an envelope of his own when he recently passed out on the floor of a Canadian casino, and spent the night in jail. But he bounced back in style, joking that, “I just did in Windsor what Justin Bieber does in America.” Still spunky at age 52, he is undoubtedly the nation’s leading Latino comic, and may well deserve a second chance with viewers.