MSPIFF Reviews ~ My Sailor, My Love & Flamin’ Hot (and a Secret Screening!)

My Sailor, My Love

Director: Klaus Härö
Cast: James Cosmo, Bríd Brennan, Catherine Walker, Nora-Jane Noone
Synopsis: A retired sea captain and his daughter must reassess their strained relationship after he begins a new romance with a widowed housekeeper.
Thoughts: On my way into the screening of My Sailor, My Love, I glanced at the audience rankings of films screened so far at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival and noticed it had found its way into the Top 5. That set the bar a bit high for this delicate, if predictable, Irish romance that isn’t out to recreate the Claddagh but will win over audiences hoping to warm their heart by its welcoming hearth.

Nurse Grace (Catherine Walker) finds her marriage as unfulfilling as her weekend trips to visit her burly barnacle of a father (James Cosmo). Emotionally withholding is the nicest way to describe his attitude toward her, not that Grace throws around good vibes, either. Both find their lives changed when Grace hires local widow Annie (the glowing Bríd Brennan, a Tony Award winner) to help Howard tend to his house on the Irish seaside.  

Sparks fly when Annie and Howard initially meet, and not the kind you’d imagine would lead to the late-in-life love affair that develops, all while Grace watches, glowering from the sidelines. Director Klaus Härö’s film is at its best when we’re focused on the tender developments between Annie and Howard as both navigate something new. On the other hand, it feels like it’s battling against its good intentions each time it involves Grace (which is no thumbs down on Walker, who is terrific) and her sour woes.

Audiences looking to be transported for 105 minutes will be appropriately enthralled by Robert Nordström’s lush cinematography of prime Irish real estate in My Sailor, My Love, and Michelino Bisceglia’s gossamer score matches the changing of sensitivities. It’s all a bit of a pat package that is likely headed in the direction you think but may take a curve or two. It’s a journey worth taking, especially seeing actors like Cosmo and Brennan presenting such strong work.

Flamin’ Hot

Director: Eva Longoria
Cast: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera, Tony Shalhoub, Matt Walsh, Pepe Serna, Bobby Soto, Jimmy Gonzales, Brice Gonzalez
Synopsis: The story of Richard Montañez, the Frito Lay janitor who channeled his Mexican American heritage and upbringing to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a snack that disrupted the food industry and became a global phenomenon.
Thoughts: Aside from the occasional episode of Unwrapped on the Food Network, I had never thought much about how the snack chip industry decided on its flavor variations. I definitely hadn’t considered the crucial ways culture could also factor in as influential.  Then a pure audience-pleasing flick like Flamin’ Hot gives that fresh perspective on how consumer tastes for a spicy favorite have been molded – and it wasn’t by lab techs or corporate yes-men.  Instead, it was a blue-collar worker with a vision that rallied his family, community, and colleagues to work together toward bringing something bold to a bland landscape.   

When Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) joined a California branch of Frito-Lay as a janitor in the early ‘80s, he was married with two kids and desperate to stay off the streets.  Narrowly avoiding jail time for errors in his past, he had his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez), who stood by him and encouraged him never to settle.  Naturally curious about mechanics and self-possessed enough to ask engineer Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert) to teach him what he doesn’t know, he spends the next decade learning how everything in the processing plant works while holding down his maintenance position and never receiving a promotion. 

As the Reagan ‘80s give way to the Bush ‘90s, the economy is hurting, and there are rumors Richard’s plant may shut down if they can’t compete with a plant in a neighboring town.  Inspired by a video from the company CEO (Tony Shaloub, who I swore was Bobby Cannavale for most of the film) as well as his youngest son’s reaction to biting into a spicy piece of elote, Richard sees the gap that’s always been present between the product his company produces and the Latin community he’s a part of.  Where’s the spice?  All around him, he says he sees people buying Cheetos, Doritos, and Fritos but then dousing them with hot sauces to give it an extra kick.  If Frito-Lay could tap into that market by creating a desirable flavor, maybe the potential cutbacks and shutdowns wouldn’t have to happen.  But how can Richard, a janitor on the lowest rung, make his pitch to the CEO when he has no way of contacting him? 

Actress and producer Eva Longoria (who I’m pretty sure has a millisecond cameo; see if you can catch it too) makes her feature film directing debut with Flamin’ Hot. I was initially concerned that the narrative (and narration) wouldn’t take a breath long enough for an audience to take in the story being told but it finds its footing when Richard’s adult life stabalizes.  This isn’t so much a rags-to-riches story because Longoria and screenwriters Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette (adapting Montañez’s book) prefer to stick with Richard and family up until Flamin’ Hot took off and went on to become a billion-dollar brand.  The essential parts of the story are how the Montañez family pooled their resources and know-how to figure out a solution to the complex equation in front of them. 

Flamin’ Hot takes place over several decades, so expect to see several changing wigs and styles, which can sometimes lend the film to a TV movie of the week look.  Some of that feeling is dissipated with the performances of Garcia (an actor who can be confident one moment and vulnerable the next) and Gonzalez (the film’s secret weapon of strength) and nice supporting turns from Haysbert (when is he not good?), Shalhoub, Bobby Soto, and Jimmy Gonzales. 

One more thing to add – I think it’s a shame this is going straight to Hulu and Disney+ without getting at least a short theatrical run.  Released by Fox Searchlight, Flamin’ Hot should be granted wider theatrical exposure. Seeing it with a large audience helped it through overly sentimental moments that might play too sweet if you watch from home.

Secret Screening

Director: Can’t Say!
Cast: I promised!
Synopsis: No!
Thoughts:  Look, I took an oath.  No, really.  They made us raise our right hand and everything.  I’m only including this Secret Screening segment for three reasons. 

The first is to thank The Main Cinema and staff for doing such a bang-up job so far with this fest. It isn’t easy to run a movie theater when it’s not showing 150+ movies in two weeks, but everyone I’ve encountered, from the front of house to concessions, has been excellent.  And shout out to all the #MSPIFF42 volunteers!

The second is to give major props to the MSP Film Society and their programmers for securing this screening and then swearing us to secrecy.  You had to jump through many hoops to get it here, but we all appreciated it. And now we have something to share.

The third is to encourage you always to attend the secret screening when offered.  It’s your opportunity to stick your neck out and go for broke.  I had no clue what would be playing, but unless it was a single shot of an ant crawling up a log for 100 minutes, I wasn’t going to run for the hills.  Once again.  Always go to the secret screening.

P.S. If you wanted a clue, you’ve already been provided one. And not by me.

Where to watch My Sailor, My Love

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