Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Mar 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Culture Shock

film_LaMissionVibrant Latino culture, family drama, explode in 'La Mission'
It may be Benjamin Bratt's name above the title, but the Latino community in San Francisco's Mission District is the real star of La Mission. As viewed through the camera eye of writer-director Peter Bratt (the star's older brother), the Mission is an E-Ticket ride of cultural vitality: vibrant, colorful murals sprawl across every wall, Aztec dance troupes and Mariachi bands are out performing on the street at all hours, and a sleek parade of extravagantly restored, airbrushed and detailed lowrider cars prowls the neighborhood seemingly every night, winding up with a fiesta of music and dancing. Every interior is painted in vivid, sun-drenched colors and decorated with altars and family photos.

At times it all seems a bit too perfect and benign (in this alternative SF, it's always sunny, without a trace of wind or fog). But filmmaker Bratt's vision of explosive cultural celebration and pride is meant to offset the typical Hollywood depiction of the Latino American experience within a familiar crime- and gang-infested urban barrio. Violence factors into Bratt's film, but his story is a character study about a man coming to terms with his heritage and himself when fate deals him an unexpected wild card.

Benjamin Bratt plays protagonist Che Rivera with a nice mix of jaunty cool and layered intensity. A Muni bus driver with a torso full of tats who's lived in the Mission all his life, he has a reputation as a tough guy. He doesn't put up with teenage gangsters playing loud rap music on his bus, and he's a recovering alcoholic who's done hard time for the crimes of his youth. But he's well respected in the neighborhood, greeting and bumping fists with everyone as he strolls down the street. A snazzy dresser who dances around his tidy apartment while ironing his clothes, he's also a talented artist who paints saints and folkloric figures on the cruising cars built by his mechanic brother.

Somewhere along the way, Che has also managed to raise teenage son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez) on his own. The kid's a straight-A student who isn't into gangs or drugs, plays basketball, and has just been accepted into UCLA. As a graduation present, Che is decorating a classic car for Jes that bears the motto: "The Best Friend I Got." Che is completely devoted to his only son, so it comes as a big shock when he discovers that Jes is gay.

This not only assaults Che's sense of his own masculinity (even though he spends all day hanging out in the garage with his buds—mostly single, divorced, or henpecked—discussing how "confused" modern women are), there are vicious little homies in the 'hood just as eager to assert their own machismo by targeting the "faggots" in their midst. Che's instinctive reaction is so swift and brutal, Jes has to move in with his sympathetic uncle for awhile until his pop cools off.

Unfortunately, once this story arc of rage and rapprochement is established, filmmaker Bratt doesn't now how to grow it; he just keeps hitting "Repeat." Father and son reach a fragile truce and renegotiate their camaraderie until the next time the kid mentions, hello! he's still gay, and Pop goes ballistic again. It's a good thing Benjamin Bratt's onscreen charisma manages to retain viewer empathy with Che most of the time, even though the character is stuck spinning his wheels in the same rage/regret plot rut. We even sort of get it why adversarial new tenant, Lena (Erika Anderson), a young black "hipster" who represents the gentrification of the neighborhood, could be drawn to Che's soulful inner self (their relationship evolves at a thoughtful and credible pace), even though she despises his violent steak.

film_la_missionThe devotion of Jes and his Anglo lover, Jordan (Max Rosenak), is nicely done too, although it's a bit disturbing that these 17-year-olds can go out drinking and clubbing all night in the Castro. Still, the Bratt brothers make an honest attempt to explore the roots of fear, rage, and evolution within their culture in a story of one man's struggle to come to grips with himself.

(Benjamin Bratt and filmmaker/UCSC grad Peter Bratt will be on hand for Q&A after the 7 p.m. screening of La Mission on opening night, Friday, April 23, at the Nickelodeon.)

LA MISSION ★★1/2 (out of four)

With Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, and Erika Alexander. Written and directed by Peter Bratt. A Screen Media Ventures release. Rated R.117 minutes.

Watch film notes >>>

 

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by Spell-check, April 28, 2010
"even though she despises his violent steak."

Does this mean that she is a vegetarian and he can cook up a mean steak?

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals