Hola movie fans. It's Sandie again, with a special post in honor of the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month. (For some reason, we Latinos don't get a full calendar month to celebrate; we get half of September and half of October. I think it has something to do with Christopher Columbus Day, but since he was actually Italian, that has never made much sense to me, but whatever.) Two of the biggest Latinos in showbiz, Jennifer Lopez and hubby Marc Anthony have their first on-screen collaboration premiering at the festival. Seeing as JLo's last movie with a significant other culminated in the unforgettably sucktastic 'Gigli,' I didn't have high hopes for 'El Cantante' ('The Singer.')
But to me, 'El Cantante' is JLo's finest work since she wowed audiences and critics in 'Selena' and 'Out of Sight.' It's sort of a 'Ray'-meets-'Sid & Nancy' docudrama about the late Hector Lavoe, a Puerto Rican singer who along with Willie Colón and Johnny Pacheco catapulted salsa music from the Nuyorican club scene to an international phenomenon in the '70s and '80s. Anthony plays Hector and JLo plays Puchi, his beautiful but bitchy wife. At first it's startling to see JLo do the Bronx barrio equivalent of Rosie Perez' Noo Yawk accent, complete with expletives flying every four seconds. And it was even more shocking to see the Latina queen of non-threatening rom-coms snorting blow off her husband's suit pants 10 minutes into the movie. But the girl reminded me she can act, something I had kinda forgotten. And so can Marc Anthony, whose true gift to the film is his voice. The many salsa performances, in fact, are the best part of the film, which was a surprising find this festival. While I doubt 'El Cantante' will have the commercial appeal of 'Ray' and 'Walk the Line,' it's a touching, well-performed portrait of a talented but self-destructive artist and his enabling wife.
Speaking of talented artists, yesterday I bumped into Toronto's lovely native daughter Sarah Polley in line for Ken Loach's IRA drama 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley.' We chatted about my love of 'The Sweet Hereafter,' our shared admiration of all things Cillian Murphy -- who is as always breathtaking (and not in the 'Seinfeld' sense) in 'Wind' -- and her directorial debut, which I hadn't seen yet. She suggested I check it out, and I told her I would. After I threw out the three tissues I blubbered into during 'Wind' (I felt like I had attended a two-hour Irish wake, I cried so much), I made a note to see Polley's film.
I've heard it's bad luck to break promises to sweet Canadian actress-writer-directors, so this afternoon I saw 'Away From Her,' and I couldn't believe a 27-year-old directed it. It's based on an Alice Munro short story, which Polley adapted, and stars Julie Christie (still drop-dead gorgeous at 65) and revered Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent as a seemingly devoted married couple coming to terms with the wife's onset of Alzheimer's. I know, I know. Americans don't care much for films targeted at the AARP, but the film's themes of marriage, fidelity, memory, loss all resonated with me, and I'm not quite 30. It was absolutely fantastic -- the cinematography, the acting, the writing -- and I hope Sarah and her cast are recognized for making such a spectacular film. Despite the fact that I now need more Kleenex, I'm so glad I kept my promise!