Movie Review ~ Mixtape (2021)


The Facts:

Synopsis: When a young girl accidentally destroys the mixtape that belonged to her mother, she sets out to track down each of the obscure songs on the cassette.

Stars: Gemma Brooke Allen, Julie Bowen, Nick Thune, Audrey Hsieh, Olga Petsa, Jackson Rathbone, Diego Mercado, Anthony Timpano, Kiefer O’Reilly, Lucas Yao

Director: Valerie Weiss

Rated: NR

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Well darn, here we are in the second week of December and it’s at this point that a lot of smaller movies are going to slip through your fingers.  There’s a silver lining to it, though, because usually this means you’ll find these movies after the first of the year, call them a hidden gem, and forget that I told you about them months earlier.  Don’t worry, I won’t be mad at you…too much.  Here’s one such film that I’ll tell you about now, but you may not make time for right away.  I think you should give it a try now because it’s better and far more adult and meaningful than it’s wacky marketing make it out to be. Whatever the case, be sure to scribble down Mixtape so you don’t forget entirely.

Based on an original story by Stacey Menear and directed by Valerie Weiss, the film is set during a time I know quite well…the final days of the 20th century when we all felt as if the world was either going to end or some horrible disaster would occur.  While all the adults were freaking out, most of the youth were going about their daily business, like Beverly Moody (Gemma Brooke Allen) who just wants to survive the perils of Middle School.

Living with her mail carrier grandmother (Julie Bowen, Life of the Party) ever since her parents were killed in a car crash when she was barely a toddler, Beverly never knew anything about her parents and her grandmother isn’t that willing to talk about them, especially her daughter with whom it appears she had a fraught relationship with and unresolved issues.  Exploring a basement full of junk, Beverly finds an old cassette tape of music and promptly ruins it, but not the paper insert listing all the songs.  At a local vintage music store run by Anti (Nick Thune, The Right One) and with the help of several new friends she picks up along the way, Beverly begins to gather the songs passed between her parents and gains some insight into who they were at the same time. 

At its barest bones, Mixtape is an adolescent dramedy focusing on a girls need to find out more about her parents and having to work around a grandmother that still hasn’t come to terms with the loss.  Digging deeper, there’s a true maturity to the screenplay from Menear and the performances Weiss gets out of her young actors that elevates Mixtape to a higher level than what it initially appears to be.  There is a lot of loss to be dealt with here, not just between two generations of mother and daughter but of communication between grandmother and granddaughter.  The two only have each other to lean on and they get along wonderfully…but this one huge elephant in the room only grows bigger and has begun to take up more space than they have to offer. 

I’ve searched for a better word but perky is the best way I can describe Allen in the lead…it just comes to mind when I think of her animated performance and the way she can switch from the humorous to the hurt.  She plays well off of her older co-stars and just as nicely with the other young actresses playing her unexpected partners in crime who also do some growing up through helping Beverly.  Thune is also notable, mostly for not making his older guy hanging out with younger girls (not by choice, they kind of force their way into his store) come off so non-creepy.

Honestly, I went into Mixtape thinking it would be a lot like Moxie, the Amy Poehler-directed girl power picture from earlier in 2021 but I wound up liking this one far more than that.  It’s got a sweeter heart and a deeper story to tell.  When you do make your way back to Mixtape and press play, remember who told you about it first and, like most of the “sad” mixtapes were signed, think of me always! 

Movie Review ~ The Wall of Mexico

The Facts

Synopsis: A wealthy Mexican-American family decides to build a wall around their ranch to stop townspeople from stealing their well water, which is rumored to have unusual properties.

Stars: Esai Morales, Mariel Hemingway, Jackson Rathbone, Alex Meneses, Carmela Zumbado, Marisol Sacramento, Xander Berkeley, Moises Arias

Director: Zachary Cotler & Magdalena Zyzak

Rated: NR

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I’ve mentioned it here before but I think it’s worth repeating here: at film festivals, it pays to have good time management skills.  That’s really the only way you’re going to maximize your full potential of seeing as much as you can in the often short time frame that is allotted for screenings.  Apart from choosing your films carefully, you need to make sure you’re also selecting the right films at the correct time of day so your energy is matched with what you’re seeing.  It doesn’t always work as well as it should when you factor in availability and sheer unavoidable bouts of fatigue but when everything lines up you’re in for a gold star viewing experience.

At the 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest, I was having trouble making my schedule work and finding that I had a gap of time that went unaccounted for.  Then I realized that if I moved a few things around, I could start earlier in the day and add another film to my list, which is how The Wall of Mexico began as a simple gap filler but wound up being one of the more interesting and intriguing films I saw. Remember, this was back in October 2019 when all we had to worry about, pre-COVID, fiery protests, and the upcoming election were the harsh regulations being imposed against immigrations into the US.  So a movie with a title like The Wall of Mexico was bound to pique some interest at the outset and the good news is that writer/co-director Zachary Cotler rewards those who take the leap into the mysterious lives of the Arista family with a mostly unpredictable parable.

In an unnamed town running along the California border to Mexico, the Mexican-American Arista family lives an enviable life of privilege.  As the head of the family, Henry (Esai Morales) has provided well for his two daughters Tania (Marisol Sacramento) and Ximena (Carmela Zumbado, Need for Speed) who spend days lounging by the pool soaking up the sun and nights with a select group who party until they pass out.  Into this tranquil existence comes Tom (Jackson Rathbone, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), hired to work as a groundskeeper under the tutelage of Michael (Xander Berkeley, Candyman), the Aristas long-standing employee.  It isn’t long before Tom falls under the spell of the beautiful Tania and his crush on her doesn’t seem to surprise anyone, even when it strays into possibly dangerous territory.

If that were the crux of the story, Colter and his co-director Magdalena Zyzak might have had a fine if standard, film exploring the class differences between Tom and Tania but there’s something more on the agenda.  On the Arista property is a well, which seems to hold some sort of secret for the family in addition to serving as a frenzied curiosity for the townspeople that want to know what’s being kept hidden from them.  When the water level in the well begins to lower dramatically and it becomes evident someone is stealing the limited supply, Tom is assigned to help Michael build a wall around the Arista estate during the day and watch over the tank as an overnight watchman to catch the culprit.  As you can imagine, formally being walled out of something creates an even bigger uproar from the rabidly curious and increasingly irate townfolk, leading to a showdown with the town officials (led by Mariel Hemmingway in a brief cameo) and an eventual standoff.

With a run time of nearly two hours, Colter and Zyzak can’t quite sustain the energy or keep up the interest they’ve laid out for the entirety of the film but for a while there The Wall of Mexico gets a nice buzz going as you try to figure out, along with Tom, what’s truly going on.  Is the Arista well some sort of fountain of youth, aiding the Arista clan in their success, longevity, and glamorous looks? Or is it simply water and a valuable resource they choose to keep for themselves, which they have every right to do.  The questions are interesting and the answers feel resolved long before the movie wraps up

It’s good, then, that the cast is so worth watching and brings something more to the script than what was on the page, and that goes for everyone on screen from top to bottom.  Usually, the characters that enter a world foreign to them can be the dullest ones in the bunch but Rathbone finds some good moments throughout that feel special, giving the audience someone they can feel some kind of small relation to.  There’s also a bit of a kinship to Morales as the father just doing right for his family and protecting what he’s worked hard to cultivate.  A hard-working character actor for years, Berkeley is solid as always.  Playing the two wild daughters that take great joy in manipulating the men they love and loathe in their lives, Zumbado and Sacramento are of particular note because they seem to hold the greatest air of mystery for the longest amount of time.

While it’s not the politically timed piece it appears to be at first, there are so many underlying currents flowing through The Wall of Mexico and its left to the viewer to draw their own parallels between the events in the news and what transpires on the Arista estate.  Colter has crafted a neat little parable that reflects on our culture and today’s entitled society, it’s often right on the money and I’d imagine it’s a more uncomfortable watch now than it was when I first saw it nearly a year ago.