The Best Man Holiday: better than the original?

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So I went to a screening of The Best Man Holiday tonight and I loved it as much as I thought I would. It’s on the level of Love Actually and I’m not even exaggerating. That’s if Love Actually had a Terrence Howard, which it doesn’t.

I’m not certain what all those actors are doing to defy the aging process (The Best Man came out in ’99!) but damn, they look good. And you can just tell how much fun they had making this movie. It’s like they just threw on some cashmere and stepped right back into these characters. Fittingly, the movie’s tag line is “Times change. Friendship doesn’t.” It will make you cry and laugh and wish you looked like Sanaa Lathan and Nia Long because, seriously, they’re still the baddest chicks in the game. Sorry, Paula Patton.

Dare I say I like it more than the original? Hard to say, so I’m gonna have to watch it this week while the sequel is fresh in my mind. Either way, go see this on November 15 when it comes out and bring all of your friends. Judging from Universal’s push on the social front, audiences are going to pack theaters, perhaps even leading to a third movie in the series, which you would not have to convince me to watch.

Get used to this face: Lupita Nyong’o of 12 Years a Slave

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Me and J.G. went to see 12 Years a Slave last night and man…we couldn’t even talk to each other the whole ride home. There were just so many things we were feeling. At one point, during the movie’s most harrowing scene, I considered walking out of the theater, because I didn’t want to disturb the audience (I’m a loud crier). But I stayed and ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t miss anything.

As gut-wrenchingly difficult as 12 Years is to watch, it is also a masterpiece that everyone has to see. And judging from the crowd at LA’s Landmark Theater last night, everyone feels the same (there was a long applause at the end). It’s an important, necessary work of art depicting a horrific piece of American history which we must never forget. How could we? And what’s so special about it is that it’s told from the unique perspective of a free man who is kidnapped and thrown into slavery, as was Solomon Northup. This character’s real-life circumstances were truly extraordinary, which is why it took an actor of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s caliber to bring him to life. It’s some of the finest acting I’ve seen and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this part. He’s a certain Best Actor contender in 2014.

Every day, I gain more and more respect for Brad Pitt as a producer and look forward to seeing what his company Plan B brings us in the years to come. I respect that he doesn’t pick “easy” projects. After the movie’s world premiere at Telluride, Pitt suggested the audience “take a walk around the block” to get some air and recover.

As for the Best Picture race, it’s a wrap.

Back to the performances: Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, the pic’s brutal slave owner, is a sadist that’s hard to shake from your consciousness once you walk out of the theater. I don’t know of a more intense actor in Hollywood right now, except maybe Benedict Cumberbatch, who is also brilliant as the more benevolent of masters, Forde.

But who I really want to talk about is Lupita Nyong’o as Epps’ slave Patsy…I can’t stop thinking about her. Director Steve McQueen apparently cast the 30-year-old Kenyan actress three weeks before she even graduated from Yale’s drama school and it’s easy to see why.

New York mag just did a great tip sheet on all things Lupita. We’ll undoubtedly be seeing a lot of this gorgeous new face in the coming months leading up to Oscar. And I’m certain that on that night, she’ll go home with the Best Supporting Actress trophy.

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From left: Fassbender as Edwin Epps, Nyong’o as Patsy, and Ejiofor as Solomon.

Zoe Saldana cover story for Latina magazine

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Shattering box office records (Avatar), energizing a franchise (Star Trek), dominating in drama (The Words, Out of the Furnace) — Zoe Saldana can do it all on screen. Yet do we really know her? In this cover story I did for Latina, Zoe opens up about the controversy surrounding her portrayal of legendary jazz singer Nina Simone, her relationship ups and downs and finding the perfect balance between work and play.

This was a fun one and I was flattered when Latina‘s executive editor Damarys Ocaña called it “the best cover story we’ve done on Zoe yet.”

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What’s the one accent Gael Garcia Bernal can’t do?

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Since Almodovar’s Bad Education we know Gael García Bernal can credibly and enthusiastically curse like a Spaniard. Motorcycle Diaries had him doing a young Che Guevara’s subtle Argentine accent. In Rudo y Cursi, he’s the sexiest naco ever. In his latest, NO, out February 15, 2013, Gael García Bernal tried his hand at a not-so-easy accent, that of a native Chilean from Santiago.

Pablo Larraín’s film, nominated this year in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars, was inspired by actual events. García Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a brash young ad man spearheading a campaign aimed at ending the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet during the country’s 1988 referendum. Riding on the slogan “Chile: Happiness is coming!” this opposition campaign emerges victorious, setting Chile free from a rule defined by human rights abuses, and “desaparecidos.” As García Bernal notes: “The campaign appealed to optimism and to happiness in a country submerged in the painful shock of its recent politics.”

Putting his brilliant performance aside, how did he fare with the Chilean accent? On a scale of 1 to 10, we’d say he sits comfortably at an 8. But what happens when we challenge him to do other, tougher Latin American accents? Let’s just say he needs a little practice…

Watch the video interview on Fusion (ABC/Univision), where it was originally posted.

How John Ortiz stole scenes from Bradley Cooper in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

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It’s hard to steal scenes from Bradley Cooper, but that’s exactly what John Ortiz does in Silver Linings Playbook, one of the clear frontrunners this awards season, with an avalanche of nominations, including Best Picture at the 2013 Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards.

The movie, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is not a romantic comedy or a romantic drama; it’s something in between, with characters so crazy they make you feel good about yourself while you laugh so hard you almost cry. And then you actually cry.

That the film does family dysfunction so well is not surprising — David O. Russell (Spanking The MonkeyFlirting With DisasterThe Fighter) wrote and directed it. The Hollywood Reporter recently chronicled the filmmaker’s evolution from 90s indie darling to Oscar contender.

But Russell could not have created one of the year’s best movies without this stellar cast, led by Cooper as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who does a brief stint at a mental institution and then tries desperately to reconcile with his ex-wife. Robert De Niro plays Pat’s father, a man struggling to keep his family from financial ruin and failing miserably at relating to his son. Jennifer Lawrence further complicates things when she enters the picture as Pat’s love interest with her own set of mental issues. But a lot can be forgiven when you look like that. Even Chris Tucker comes out of hiding for this one.

Ortiz (Ronnie) is one of the few people in the world who doesn’t judge Pat when he comes out of the loony bin. The moments in which Ronnie – whose life in suburbia is seemingly perfect with a house, car, job, wife (Julia Stiles) – and Pat bond are some of the movie’s most memorable ones.

If the Puerto Rican actor, 43, looks familiar it’s because he’s been steadily working in Hollywood for the last 20 years, ever since he played Al Pacino’s young cousin Guajiro in 1993’s Carlito’s Way. As artistic director and co-founder of the LAByrinth Theater Company in his hometown of New York City, Ortiz also has a long-standing love affair with the stage.

Ask Ortiz for a Pacino story and he’ll happily oblige, offering the one where he kept blinking in a scene in which he was supposed to be dead. It’s one of the movie’s first scenes and a critical one, setting the tone for one of Pacino’s best gangster flicks.

“I guess I was nervous and had had a lot of coffee, but every time we’d do the scene, [the director] Brian De Palma would yell, ‘Cut!’ says Ortiz.

“This happened so many times,” he adds, “I felt so bad and it was starting to get kind of tense because Pacino had to get on a plane to get to L.A. for the Oscars – he was twice nominated that year – and here we were, having to do this scene over and over again because of me, the new guy. After the director yells ‘Dead man blinking!’ Pacino asks everyone to leave the room except me. He sits down, tells me he’s going to have an espresso, and asks me if I want one. I’m so jittery at this point but how do you say no to Al Pacino? I don’t even remember what was said between us, if anything, but when we’re done with the espresso, he asks everyone to come back in, we do the scene, and De Palma yells, ‘That’s it, we got it!’ People start clapping and Pacino is walking out and getting all these good wishes from everyone. On his way out, Pacino jokes, ‘If I win ’em both, I ain’t coming back!’ It was one of the most generous, empathetic things an actor of his stature could have done,” says Ortiz.

I called Ortiz up while he was in Chicago, rehearsing for the play The Motherfucker With the Hat, co-starring Jimmy Smits and opening January 6, 2013, to tell us more stories.

Did you know this movie would be as special as it is when you first read the script?

No, but I never know how a movie is going to turn out, no matter how good a script is. I knew it was going to be something I had never experienced before, mainly because of David [O. Russell, the director]. He’s such a visionary, such his own person and artist, and there are few of those now. I’m so proud to be a part of this movie. I’ve had a lot of instances where I feel proud of my work but it doesn’t really get out there, or it does get out there and nobody likes it [laughs], so it’s really gratifying and humbling to hear the news that it’s being received so well.

How did you make your character, Ronnie, so relatable and so memorable?

On paper, Ronnie signifies someone who has moved on with his life and has matured in relation to Bradley’s character. So I asked David, ‘Do you think he’s happy?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, kind of.’ I could have talked myself out of a job by saying the next thing that I said, but I go, ‘Well, what if I said the opposite: what if he’s not happy? He seemingly has moved on but he’s actually stuck, and he needs as much help as Pat. What if the unhappiness is stemming out of the idea that he had of marriage and all these other expectations that follow, and he’s at a point right now where he’s just not sure what choices he really made and for what reasons.’ And David was so great – he completely went with it. A lot of directors might have said, ‘We don’t have the time to rewrite the script’ or ‘this movie is not about Ronnie,’ but he really loved the idea of Pat helping Ronnie, and that proving to everyone that he’s capable of giving back, and being helpful to someone else who’s in pain because of what he’s been through.

What was it like working with Bradley Cooper?

We kind of knew of each other in our younger years doing theater, but it was our first time working together. He wasn’t just lead actor on this; he acted like he was part of the ensemble, and he was also a producer on it. From eating with the crew to going over a scene to never being late, he was always very present. He’s definitely made me a better person because of the example that he set. I learned pretty early on that it’s really about the people that you work with. I feel like he and Robert De Niro, who’s the exact same way, are like artistic angels.

Do you think he’s going to be around as long as De Niro?

No doubt. His priorities are set in such a way that there’s no question that he’s in it for the long-haul. He has a tremendous amount of respect for acting.

You once played Willie Colon in El Cantante. What’s your favorite Fania album?

That movie was such a dream for me, it really was. I’m a huge research guy in anything that I do and so even though I was a fan of the music and I grew up with it [in Brooklyn] I didn’t really know the history of it and the impact it truly had until I was able to see a lot of that footage and read stories and just listen to so many of the songs. I had albums all over my trailer and pictures. If I had to pick a favorite album, El Malo would be one of them. That music is good old-fashioned medicine. I actually need a dose of that right now – maybe the Christmas albums.

This story was originally published on Fusion (ABC/Univision).

Interview with Jenni Rivera from Sundance Film Festival 2012 (VIDEO)

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Jenni Rivera was never just a singer. She was a savvy businesswoman with her own real estate company, her own line of jeans, cosmetics, fragrances, and more. Recently, she had begun to build an impressive TV resume, as producer of several reality shows on mun2, including one centered on her own life, I Love Jenni. Her next TV project was to be a scripted comedy series in development for ABC, based loosely on her life.

Film was the next frontier for Rivera, and judging by her performance in the hip-hop driven indie drama Filly Brown, there’s no telling how far she could have gone as an actress.

Edward James Olmos, who served as executive producer on the film – which was written and directed by his son Michael D. Olmos and Youssef Delara – calls Rivera’s performance “Oscar-worthy.”

Rivera is hardly recognizable in the film, having shed her usual glammed up hair and make-up for the chola-inspired look of a drug-addicted, imprisoned mother whose daughter (Gina Rodriguez) turns to rapping to help bust her out of jail.

I had the chance to interview Rivera in January during the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered to critical praise. She talked about going the Mariah Carey route in Precious, and how she managed to bring her character to life. It was such an honor to meet her in person and I will always be grateful for that opportunity.

Watch the video interview on Fusion (ABC/Univision), where it was originally posted.

 

Interview With Javier Bardem: Best Bond Villain Ever?

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Is Skyfall the best Bond movie ever? Some critics think so, and that’s not necessarily untrue. The 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise ever (50 years!) is certainly the best of the Daniel Craig pics, and Javier Bardem’s deliciously wicked blonde-haired villain Silva plays a huge role in that.

He’s not your usual Bond villain, that’s for sure. One of the movie’s best scenes between Bond and Silva, right after they meet for the first time, is oozing with homoeroticism, raising the question: is Bardem playing the first gay Bond baddie? “You could read it that way,” Bardem tells Entertainment Weekly. “The word that [director Sam Mendes] kept using was ‘uncomfortableness’. Beyond the sexuality, he wanted it to feel like you don’t know if Silva’s joking or not.”

Watch here as the Oscar-winning Spaniard breaks down the psychology of his bad guy for me during the recent Skyfall press junket in NYC. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds to meet him.

If Silva reminds moviegoers of The Joker or other classic comic book villains that’s not a total coincidence, says Bardem. He actually spent time sketching the character, using the skills he acquired during his time studying fine arts in Spain. He then brought those to Mendes and they jointly arrived at this “broken man,” who is so focused on revenge that he will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Can Bond fight such a monster, now that he’s aging and got an alcohol problem? You’ll just have to watch, starting November 9.

The Latino behind New York Film Festival bids farewell after 25 Years, goes out with a bang

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The 50th annual New York Film Festival got underway on Sept. 28, marking the golden anniversary of the highly influential series, and the last hurrah for Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s program director Richard Peña, who is retiring after 25 years at the helm.

Peña, a die-hard New Yorker of Spanish and Puerto Rican descent who experienced his first NYFF at age 12, has been instrumental in furthering – and in some cases, launching — the careers of many great international filmmakers in the US, chief among them, Pedro Almodóvar.

For his last NYFF, Peña is going out with a bang: 50 films on the Main Slate lineup, a good mix of choice arthouse offerings, foreign language prize winners from Cannes and Berlin, and world premieres of big Hollywood movies, like Ang Lee’s big-screen adaptation of the best-seller Life of Pi, in addition to special retrospectives, sidebars and two special series: Cineastes/Cinema of Our Time and Men of Cinema: Pierre Riessent and the Cinema Mac Mahon. Two galas will honor Nicole Kidman and Peña on Oct. 3 and 10, respectively.

Even though he will continue his academic career at Columbia University, where he’s taught Film Studies since 2003 (he’s been teaching there since 1989, in one capacity or another), Peña is actually looking forward to relaxing and spending more time with his wife, Karen and their three children (24-year-old son Ari, and daughters Maya, 22, and Lita, 15). “There’s a general desire to slow down a bit,” the 59-year-old cinephile tells me. “It’s been a pretty adventurous 25 years.”

On the first day of the festival, Peña took time out to give me a call and talk about his tenure, where he sees filmmaking today, as well as what he considers to be great, classic Latin American cinema. Anyone who hasn’t seen his Top 5 Latin American Cinema Classics can easily do so on Netflix (I asked him to pick ‘accessible’ movies).

During our talk, I felt a little bit like a student in one of Peña’s classes at Columbia. I actually know a bunch of people who have had him as a professor and they have always raved about him.

Now I get why.

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The subtle genius of Aubrey Plaza

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In comedy, as in any other genre, game recognizes game. So Aubrey Plaza, otherwise known as April, Amy Poehler’s snarky college intern on NBC’s mockumentary-style show Parks and Recreation, is the kind of funny that my favorite comedians — people like Conan or Chelsea — give props to.

It’s called subtlety. And it’s not exactly something Latinos are known to do on the big or small screen. Blame George Lopez– anyone who relies on muecas to elicit chuckles is going to run out of jokes eventually.

It’s like Marlon Brando once said: “We only have so many faces in our pockets.”

But as Darius, Plaza’s first major film role in this summer’s Safety Not Guaranteed, the 27-year-old, half-Puerto Rican, half-Irish actress isn’t so much funny as she is a disaffected, deeply insecure, socially awkward live-at-home college grad who has never fully dealt with the one big tragedy in her life: the death of her mother.

She’s not exactly someone you love at first sight, but there’s a transformation that happens here, and eventually, Darius becomes endearing, relatable, and most important, memorable.

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Exclusive: on the set of Pitbull’s ‘Men in Black 3’ video

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Come with me as I take you behind the scenes of Pitbull’s hot new video for “Back in Time,” the theme song for the upcoming blockbuster Men in Black III, in theaters May 25, exclusively for Fusion (ABC/Univision).