Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Movie Review

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Year: 1988 Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: Rated R
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
IMDB rating: 7.6/10 Tomatometer: 88%

Mujeres Al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) is a wild and ridiculous comedic drama written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. And by ridiculous, I mean in a great fun way. It’s the film that first brought Almodóvar international recognition, being nominated for the 1989 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and winning the Goya Awards for Best Film.

The movie revolves around three neurotic women who all have a relationship with the same man. Pepe is an actress who does TV commercials and dubs foreign films. She is having an affair with her co-worker, Ivan. Ivan one day suddenly disappears. Pepa assumes he has gone to be with his wife who has just been released from a mental hospital. Ivan’s wife thinks he has left to be with Pepa. Little do they both know that Ivan has left them both for their attorney.

Throw in Pepa’s friend who is on the run from the law after having a foursome with a group of Shiite terrorists and unknowingly harboring them before an attempted terrorist plot. Ivan’s son, played by Antonio Banderas, and his girlfriend also find themselves in the mix. And soon, all the characters collide in a story filled with twists and turns.

Does it sound outrageous? Well, it is a completely outrageous and fascinating farce. The movie starts off really slow, and then gradually picks up speed into an uncontrollable roller coaster ride. Almodóvar has an ability to immerse you in his own worlds filled with eccentric characters. The movie has a unique feel with light blues and reds that remind you of an old colorized movie.

For some reason, it reminds me of Scorsese’s After Hours. I said the same thing in my review of Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother). I think it is the ridiculousness of it all. In that way, it also reminds me of another film with Antonio Banderas, Four Rooms.

If you’re looking for a fun film to practice your Spanish, you should check out Mujeres Al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios. It also is a great introduction to the world of Almodóvar. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Juanes Biography

JuanesJuanes is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and activist who is an international superstar and one of the biggest Latin American artists on the planet. Born as Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez in the Carolina del Príncipe, Antioquia, Colombia on August 9th, 1972, his stage name is derived from the contraction of Juan Esteban. Juanes’ music fuses traditional Colombian and Latin rhythms with rock and pop. It is energetic, bright, hopeful, and uplifting dealing with themes of love, family, country, and peace.

His father and brother taught him how to play guitar at seven years old. Growing up he enjoyed playing traditional Colombian music like cumbia, vallenatto, and guasca as well as boleros and tangos. As a teenager, Juanes was drawn to heavy metal, influenced by Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and other heavy bands. This naturally transitioned into his own metal band in 1988 called Ekhymosis.

With Ekhymosis, Juanes reached national success releasing five albums over the span of ten years. Their music started as heavy metal and transitioned into a more accessible Latin sound. For the most part, the appeal of Ekhymosis was limited to Colombia, so in 1998, they disbanded and Juanes moved to Los Angeles to pursue a solo career.

In 2000, Juanes released his first solo album entitled Fijate Bien. Once again, the album sold well in Colombia hit number in the charts and spent over two months on it, but the album was slow to gain traction elsewhere. However, everything changed in 2001 when Juanes received seven Latin Grammy nominations out of nowhere. Juanes performed at the event and came away winning 3 Grammys for Best New Artist, Rock Album, and Song.

His Grammy success launched him into the international spotlight. Record sales soared. He once again hit the studio with famed producer Gustavo Santaolalla and put together the next album, Un Día Normal. The album spent a record breaking 92 weeks on the top 10 of Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. It sold millions and millions of copies.

In 2004, Juanes released his third album, Mi Sangre. He toured this album aggressively, playing for millions of fans over 200 shows in more than 30 countries on 4 continents. In 2007, he released La vida es… un Ratico shortly followed by a live album version. His much anticipated next album, P.A.R.C.E., will be released in December 2010.

Juanes is also renowned for his global activism and charity work. He is sometimes compared to Bono or Bruce Springsteen for his belief that social change is possible through music. He created his own organization, Fundación Mi Sangre, dedicated to eradicating anti-personnel mines and helping landmine victims in Colombia and throughout the world. It also focuses on early childhood development throughout Latin America. Juanes has also been named by Time magazine as one of the “100 more influential people in the world”.

As of today, Juanes has sold over 12 million albums worldwide. He has won a Grammy Award and more Latin Grammys than any other artist with a staggering seventeen wins. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering this is coming just from his first four albums.

Most of the Latin artists that I’ve reviewed on this site have had countless number of records, so I try to give you recommendations for where to start off. With Juanes, it really doesn’t matter. His most popular songs are La Camisa Negra, A Dios Le Pido, Yerbatero, Para Tu Amor, Volverte A Ver, Nada Valgo Sin Tu Amor, and Me Enamora. Be sure to check Juanes out. His music is very accessible. Let me now what you think.

Tesis (Thesis) Movie Review

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Year: 1996 Runtime: 125 minutes
Rating: Rated R for strong and perverse violent content, brief strong sexuality and strong and some drug content.
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
IMDB rating: 7.6/10 Tomatometer: 89%

Tesis MovieWith his debut film, Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar came through with the psychological suspense thriller Tesis, showing his promise of other great films to come like Abre Los Ojos and Mar Adentro. While exploring the theme of violence in the media, Tesis takes you on a wild rollercoaster ride.

Tesis follows the story of Angela, a university film student in Madrid, who is writing a thesis on media and violence. Her search for material leads her to fellow student, Chema, a man who obsessed with and has a large collection of extremely graphic films. The course of her research changes when she happens to come across a video in which a young woman is tortured and killed on film.

Chema recognizes the girl as a former university student. As they uncover clues, they get caught up in danger, finding themselves the targets of something much bigger than just an isolated snuff film. Angela knows she’s in trouble, but isn’t exactly sure who are the real killers. As the plot unfolds, it keeps you guessing with suffocating twists and turns.

Tesis was filmed with a budget of just $1,000,000, but it is smart and well executed. Alejandro Amenábar does it all with writing, directing, and even composing. The music follows the horror genre adding an eerie feeling.

The film most often gets compared to 8 MM starring Nicholas Cage, but Tesis is far superior. Other similar films include Videodrome and Strange Days.

If you enjoy horror or suspense thrillers, then you will fully appreciate what Tesis offers. As always, it’s a great way to practice your Spanish.

Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) Movie Review

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Year: 1999 Runtime: 101 minutes
Rating: Rated R for sexuality including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content.
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
IMDB rating: 7.9/10 Tomatometer: 93%

todo sobre mi madreTodo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) is an amazing film by the internationally acclaimed Spanish director, Pedro Almodóvar. He creates an environment rich with humorous eccentric characters who deal with love, loss, grief, resilience, and compassion in a celebration of femininity. This screwball melodrama is extremely fast paced taking you through a dizzying series of coincidental events spanning several years. The direction, pacing, acting, bright colors, and fantastic music all combine to give the film a very peculiar feel.

Set in Spain, it follows the story of Manuela, the single mother of her 17 year old son, Esteban. She’s a nurse for the organ transplant section of the hospital. Her son is an aspiring writer. For his birthday, they go to see a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. After the play, they wait in the rain to get the main actress Huma’s autograph. Esteban chases after her as she speeds away in a taxi, only to be hit by a car. Manuela holds her dying son in her hands.

This sets off the series of the events for the rest of the movie. Manuela has kept the identity of Esteban’s father a secret from him his entire life, claiming he had already passed away. As she comes to grip with the death of her son, she decides confront her past and leave Madrid for Barcelona to find her son’s father, who her son is named after, to let him know the tragic news.

Now after 18 years, Esteban Sr. has transformed into a transvestite named Lola. In her search for Lola, Manuela first encounters an old mutual friend of theirs, Agrado, a wild and caring transvestite. Through Agrado, Manuela meets Rosa, a young nun, played by Penelope Cruz, who helps rehabilitate the local prostitutes. Rosa is bound for El Salvador to help over there only to suffer her own tragic event, and she ends up living with Manuela.

As it turns out, Manuela ends up getting a job as the personal assistant of Huma, the actress her son admired. Manuela helps Huma handle her drug addicted lover, Nina. And soon, all the characters in the film become intermingled.

The film pays homage to old Hollywood classics like “All About Eve” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. All the characters in the movies are all on their own journey through life. As they all struggle, they all develop a friendship and help each other out with affection.

This is one of Almodóvar’s best films so far. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This is the first movie reviewed of his on Spanish-Language, but it won’t be the last. On deck are Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Hable Con Ella (Talk to Her), and Volver.

When I watch films, I’m very aware of the feeling they create, and I really value films that can create strong feelings. This is certainly one of them. It’s difficult to describe, but Almodóvar creates a vibe that’s quite different than any other film I’ve seen. It’s a very unique world. For some reason, it reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and of course some of Almodóvar’s other films.

If you are open-minded about sexuality and comfortable with sexual content, I definitely recommend this film. If you’re learning Spanish, there are some cultural differences shown in the film as well, and as always it makes good practice. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Rubén Blades Biography and Music

Ruben Blades PhotoRubén Blades, born on July 16, 1948 in Panama, is a jack of all trades but best known for being one of the giants of salsa and Latin-American music. As a singer-songwriter, he’s performed and recorded with many of salsa greats including Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, and Willie Colón on the way to becoming a force on his own.

Blades grew up in a middle class neighborhood and was the son of  musicians. His mother was Cuban and moved to Panama and was a singer, piano player, and actress. His father was a percussionist turned police officer. Rubén’s early influences drew from both salsa and rock ‘n’ roll. He performed music with local bands on his way to becoming a lawyer.

He studied political science and law at the national University of Panama and later obtained an international law degree at Harvard. He performed legal work for the Bank of Panama before going to the United States in 1974. After a brief stint in Miami, he headed to New York City which was still the middle of a booming salsa scene.

He landed a job in the mail room at the famed salsa Fania record label. He worked writing songs and soon had his opportunity to become one of the leading vocalists at Fania. He received his big break when he replaced Tito Allen as the main vocalist for Ray Barretto’s band. Soon after that, he took the opening in Willie Colón’s band after Colón and Hector Lavoe split. Their collaboration would last 6 years hitting its high point in 1978, when they released the seminal record Siembra, which became the best selling salsa album of all time. That was also the year that Blades wrote the classic salsa song “El Cantante”, which he gave to Hector Lavoe who took it as his own and made it a hit.

Blades’ music follows complex musical arrangements and his lyrics are smart and carry more meaning than a lot of the danceable salsa music from that era. He wrote about people, society, and life. Some of his songs are politically charged.

In fact, Blades would later run for the Panamanian presidency in 1994. He lost but gained nearly 20% of the popular vote. A decade later, he would be appointed to be Panama’s Minister of Tourism, a post he held for 5 years.

Blades also has written a lot of music for film. And he is an accomplished actor with 38 credits to his name for his work in Movies and on TV. He was never in anything too great though. His most notable films include Predator 2 and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

In Latin American music, few have had careers as glorious as Rubén Blades. He is one of the best selling Latin American musicians of all time. Aside from selling millions of records, he has won many awards including multiple Grammys awards in the World Music and Latin categories.  Salsa history can not be told without mentioning the name of Rubén Blades.

It should come as no surprise that I would recommend Rubén Blades for those learning Spanish. Aside from Siembra, also check out the albums Buscando América,Escenas, Antecedente, and Tiempos.

Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) Movie Review

Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) tells the real life story of Ramón Sampedro, a paraplegic in Spain, who fought the courts for 30 years for his right to die. Ramon was involved in a tragic accident when he jumped into the ocean while the water was receding and broke his neck, rendering him paralyzed for life. Confined to his bed, never to be able to move again, he feels life is not worth living in his state.

Ramón has to be taken care of at all times by his family. They all love him deeply but have very strong and differing views about Ramon’s desire to die. Ramon is very alert and intelligent, charming, with a great sense of humor. The movie explores the relationships dear to him. Including a female lawyer, who he hired to fight for his cause because she is suffering from a degenerative disease, and a woman from a nearby town who wanted to convince him that life is worth living that both fight for his attention.

It’s a very serious film that delves into the multiple sides of this controversial topic of assisted suicide. Ramón wants to die with dignity, not be a burden on his family, and the freedom to either live or die. But others see it differently. Ramón is still mentally sharp and they want him to see that there are reasons to live. It also takes a look at different moral positions as well as what happens after you die.

The literal translation of Mar Adentro is Sea Inside, but the meaning of the phrase is more like Out to Sea. While many people have different interpretations as to the meaning of the title, I think it refers to his mental world. Being stuck on his bed, he spends a lot of time inside his head left to his thoughts, memories, and feelings. It also has significance since he was a sailor and his accident occurred in the water.

Mar Adentro is made by Alejandro Amenábar, the same director as Abre Los Ojos and Tesis. He has delivered yet again with another amazing movie. The acting is great; most notably by Javier Bardem who plays Ramón and gives an incredible performance. You might know him from his role as the villain in No Country for Old Men. The scenery and cinematography is also amazing.

Mar Adentro is a very heavy film. It’s extremely powerful and personal. It is one of the great films in Spanish cinema. If you’re learning Spanish, or even if you’re not, you check it out.

Buena Vista Social Club Biography and History

Buena Vista Social Club PhotosThe story of the Buena Vista Social Club dates back 1930s and 1940s Havana, Cuba. It was a fraternal social club where local musicians could gather to play, dance, and have fun with all sorts of activities. At the time, fraternal clubs were very popular in Cuban society and there were a variety of them available to the public including clubs for cigar wrappers, athletes, doctors, business leaders, among others.

At the time, there was little money for musicians, so the musicians typically performed there mostly for the love of the music. Notable musicians that played there during the era include the prolific composer and band leader Arsenio Rodríguez, the great bassist Cachao López, and piano player Rubén González. The club was at the forefront of the development of traditional Cuban music like the charanga, mambo, rumba, and son styles of music. It was shut down shortly after the Cuban revolution around 1959.

The resurgence of the Buena Vista Social Club would not occur until 1996. World music producer Nick Gold and American guitarist Ry Cooder were set to record an album consisting of a collaboration of two African musicians and Cuban musicians. Upon arrival, Cooder was to discover that the African musicians could not make the recording session due to visa problems. So they instead decided to record a more traditional Cuban son album with the local musicians.

Within days, they assembled a large group of musicians spanning several generations, many of who were now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s to record the album. At that time, Ibrahim Ferrer was shining shoes for cash, Rubén González suffered from arthritis and didn’t even have a piano, and many others who frequented the club had settled into a quiet life. Notable musicians not yet mentioned that joined the project were guitarist Eliades Ochoa, bassist Orlando “Cachaito” López, trumpet player Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, laúd player “Barbarito” Torres, timbales player Amadito Valdés, and singers Compay Segundo, Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, Pio Leyva, and Omara Portuondo, among others.

The album was a revival of forgotten songs that the musicians enjoyed playing from back in the day. They even recorded at EGREM Studios in Havana with an atmosphere left untouched since the 1950s with original instruments and equipment. The album was finished in only 6 days, and to everyone’s surprise, became an international sensation and has sold over 8 million copies! It won a Grammy award and launched the members into stardom.

Shortly after the album, a documentary was filmed featuring footage of recording sessions, interviews with the charming musicians at various Havana locations, and film of the only two concerts that were performed by the original lineup in Amsterdam and New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The highlight of the film is seeing the reactions of the Cuban musicians, many that had never left Cuba in their entire lives, in the middle of New York City. The documentary itself went on to have tremendous success grossing over $23,000,000.

The phenomenon of the Buena Vista Social club caused a revival of Cuban music world wide, opening up Latin American music to a new audience. It also spawned many solo spinoff albums from the various members. If you haven’t yet heard about the Buena Vista Social Club, make sure to further check out their story and music. It is the rich Cuban culture on display.

Kinky (the band) Biography

In this week’s music feature, we return to rock with a profile on the Mexican band Kinky. Originally formed in Monterrey, Mexico in 1998, Kinky blends rock, electronica, as well as Latin music to form a unique funky sound. They are a five member band comprised of guitarist an lead vocalist Gilberto Cerezo, lead guitarist Carlos Chaire, keyboardist Ulises, Cesar bassist Pliego, and drummer Omar Góngora. Their songs are mostly sung in Spanish with occasional English.

I was first introduced to Kinky back in 2008 at a Southern Comfort Music Festival in San Diego, California. Of all the bands that played on that long day, Kinky put in the best performance with an energetic set that sent everyone into a frenzy jumping and dancing. When I got home, I was online searching more about them and I’ve been listening to their music ever since then.

In 2000, they were discovered by famed British producer Chris Allison who at that time had already produced for Coldplay, Fila Brazillia, the Beta Band, and others. They soon released their first album on Allison’s label Sonic360, self titled Kinky, and since then have built an international following. Their music has been featured in various commercials, TV shows, movies, and even video games. They have released an additional three albums with Atlas in 2003, Reina in 2006, and Barracuda in 2008.

Kinky is still going strong these days. If you ever get a chance to see them, make sure to check them out.

Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) Movie Review

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Year: 1997 Runtime: 117 minutes
Rating: Rated R for some strong sexuality, language and some violence.
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
IMDB rating: 7.8/10 Tomatometer: 84%

Abre Los Ojos is a command that translates in English to “Open Your Eyes”.  It is the original film that the remake Vanilla Sky is based off of, only better.   At just the age of 25, Alejandro Amenábar, made one of the greatest Spanish films of all time.  Abre Los Ojos is a psychological thriller that messes with your mind.  The story shifts in and out of reality.  It’s a puzzle to figure out what is real and what is not.  Is what you’re watching really happening, is it a memory, or is it a dream? 

The movie stars Eduardo Noriega  as César, a handsome and wealthy playboy, used to having everything his way.  In the beginning of the movie, we see César at his fancy birthday party which is crashed by an obsessive fling, Nuria, that just won’t go away.  His sees his best friend has brought the beautiful Sophia, played by a young Penelope Cruz, to the party.  César starts chatting to Sophia in an attempt to shed Nuria (and to possibly gain a new conquest). 

He ends up taking Sophia back home to her apartment where they spend a magical night together that simply ends with a kiss.  She is different from all the other girls, and César has fallen for her.  As he walks back to his car, Nuria suddenly appears in hers.  She tells César that she also tried to hook up at the party to no avail and that she is still horny.  Against his better judgement, César hops in for a ride.  As they talk, Nuria is not happy with César’s answers to her questions and decides she will drive the car off a cliff and end both their lives.  But César survives the crash only to have his face badly disfigured; this is when his nightmare begins.

The film reminds me at times of the David Lynch film, Lost Highway, which as it happens was also released that very same year.  The viewer is left to deconstruct the story as it is unfolding.  As you’re watching it, you’re not exactly sure what is happening but the film certainly creates strong emotions in you.  When the movie ends, it is open to several interpretations.  It is  not clear cut.

Abre Los Ojos helped to establish Alejandro Amenábar as one of the premier directors in film today.  He has two other films, Tesis and The Sea Inside, that have also made the Spanish-Language.com top Spanish language films list which will be reviewed soon.  He also directed a film you may know with Nicole Kidman called The Others.

Abre Los Ojos is an amazing film although it is not for everyone.  If you like surreal films that mess with your mind like the Matrix, Mulholland Drive, Memento, Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and ones like these then you’ll probably love this movie.  It’s the kind of film that requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate.  It’s a great way to practice your Spanish, and I highly recommend it.  Check it out.

Maria Full of Grace Movie Review

Director: Joshua Marston
Year: 2004 Runtime: 101 minutes
Rating: Rated R for drug content and language.
Language: Spanish
Country: Colombia
IMDB rating: 7.6/10 Tomatometer: 97%

Maria Full of Grace tells the story of María Álvarez, an intelligent yet stubborn 17 year old girl living in a small village outside of Bogata, Colombia. The movie starts off by showing Maria at work at a flower factory where she prepares roses for shipment overseas. The conditions are not easy; she works as part of an assembly line that resembles a sweat shop.

Her family is struggling. She lives with her mother, sister, and her sister’s baby. Maria is expected to provide for her family and deals with a lot of family pressure. If it were not enough that she has pressure from work and from home, Maria discovers that she is pregnant and her loser boyfriend is in no position to care for her. What’s she to do?

By happenstance, she runs into a young man that suggests the possibility of her working as a drug mule, smuggling drugs into the United States by swallowing them in prepackaged balloon pellets. With no prospects at home, she decides to go ahead and accept the opportunity. Of course, everything does not go as planned and this small town girl finds herself all alone in New York City.

It is an extremely personal yet simple story. There are no special effects, no gun battles (I don’t even think there is even a gun shown in the entire movie), and no shifting time lines. Although it revolves around the Colombian drug trade, Maria Full of Grace does not glamorize the topic at all; neither does it fall into the trap of being cliché. And it doesn’t judge. It’s a story that could really happen, and unfortunately really does.

The movie has an independent feel to it and was filmed with a budget of about $3,000,000, so a lot of its appeal is the result of strong acting. Director Joshua Marston cast mostly unknowns and many of the characters are actually played by real people, including Orlando Tobin who in a role similar to the film, in real life, is a counselor to Colombian immigrants in dire situations. And Maria was played by the beautiful Catalina Sandino Moreno who was discovered at an audition, who gives an outstanding and powerful performance.

At times, the film feels like an episode of Locked Up Abroad if you’re familiar with that show on the National Geographic Channel. But in a lot of ways, it seems much more real. I suppose that is one of the great things about the film.

For you all learning Spanish, Maria Full of Grace offers much more insight into the culture than other films reviewed on this site. Especially at the beginning of the movie, it depicts Colombian everyday life the way it is for many. It’s in the details ranging from the local shop, showing the street food (arepas, yummy), the family dynamics, to a dance party. And by the way, the music is excellent. There are not a lot of Colombian movies easily accessible and so it’s also really interesting to hear the Colombian Spanish. You’ll notice it’s different than the Mexican and Argentine films I’ve reviewed.

I highly recommend watching Maria Full of Grace. It is a very powerful, intense, and compelling film. It gives you a little more insight into the economic background that causes a lot of good people to turn to the drug trade. Check it out and let me know what you think.