Posts Tagged Michael Pena

“Cesar Chavez” – Movie Review

Today is Cesar Chavez day, a state holiday in California, Colorado, and Texas.  This holiday is in honor of one of the greatest community activists, in recent history, and it is intended to promote community service.  Here is the review on the movie recently released on Chavez’s life and work.

The movie chronicles the civil rights struggle of Chavez, and his steadfast commitment to securing fair living wages and decent work conditions for farm workers, through civil disobedience, and other non-violent means.  The story begins in 1962, in Delano, CA.  Chavez worked in the fields until 1952 and then became an organizer for the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group.  In 1962, Chavez left the CSO and co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), later called the United Farm Workers (UFW).  Very early in the struggle, Chavez insisted that they would challenge the growers and rich lobbyists strictly through non-violent means.  Despite the boycotters facing many challenges, including arrested under false pretext, getting beat up by the police, getting shot at by the growers, and being doused by pesticides, Chavez insisted that under his leadership, they will not resort to violent means.  “You always have a choice”, he said.  And yet when people resorted to violence, he went on a fast, insisting that he would only break his fast, if every single member would sign a pledge of non-violence.  He also realized the strength in numbers and says, “we need an army of boycotters”.  Chavez also realized that if divided the farm workers will succumb to the growers, but with collaboration and unity, they will succeed.  He supported Filipino American farm workers and won their support.

This is a beautiful movie that chronicles his struggles that inspired millions of Americans to stand up and fight for social justice.  When the growers decided to bypass the American market and sell to England and countries in Europe, Chavez traveled to Europe and made his case directly to the people there and won their support in boycotting grapes from the US.  Chavez’ ultimate triumph in getting growers to the table and get them to accept the demands from the workers, for social justice and fairness, is indeed a heartwarming testament to the tenacity, commitment, and power of one individual to change the world.

Michael Pena is fabulous in his role as Cesar Chavez.  America Ferrera in her role as Cesar’s wife, Helen Chavez, packs quite a punch.  Helen Chavez supported her husband’s struggles but she was also torn between this struggle and her role as a mother.  When her son, Fernando (Eli Vargas) was getting picked on, in the school, on account of his father’s struggles, she became a lioness, coming to the rescue of her son.  During his teen years, Fernando Chavez, alienated from his peers, due to his father’s struggles, blamed his father and turned away from him, which deeply pained Chavez.

Cesar Chavez has left a giant legacy and he has been commemorated in a number of ways.  He has been a recipient of many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and there is a portrait of Chavez in the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C.  There are books on Cesar Chavez, colleges named after him, parks and roads named after him, and postage stamps and navy ships named in his honor, and more.

This movie beautifully tells the story of the intensely challenging reality of the American farm workers’ lives, during 60’s and 70’s, and Chavez’s role in getting the society to acknowledge the harshness of their life and agree to certain fair wages and living conditions.  While there is an important history lesson embedded here, there isn’t a single dull moment in the movie.  Director Diego Luna has done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of Chavez’s long civil rights struggle and balancing it with a peak into how his struggle impacted other workers and his own family.  On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie a 4.8 and I assert that it should be must-see movie for students of American History.

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American Hustle – Movie Review

The movie “American Hustle” is based on a series of real events that took place surrounding what was dubbed as the Abscam Washington scandal that rocked the nation during 1970s.  American Hustle is a movie about quintessential hustle for money, power, royalty, plunging necklines, head full of hair, and ego and power, characteristic of the capitalistic west. Director David O. Russell has done a brilliant job, and the movie has a stellar cast to represent all the memorable characters.  Entry of each character scales what is at stake and builds the excitement.  Here is a spoiler alert for the entire review below.


The movie begins with the story of a brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (superbly played by Christian Bale) who figures out “how easy it is to take money from desperate people”.  Rosenfeld is hilarious, subscribes to his own set of principles, and is obsessive about his hair.  (He is not the only one obsessing about hair but more on that later).  Rosenfeld decided he needed a partner with some polish and finesse to grow his con business.  He promised to secure mega loans for his trusting clients, some of whom got duped twice.

Amy Adams is superb in her role as Rosenfeld’s partner in crime, Sydney Prosser, who later becomes his mistress.  To their clients, she goes by as a Brit, Lady Edith.  She is nobility; smart, successful, flashy, and beautiful, who meticulously curls her hair, and dresses in exquisite clothes with plunging necklines.  While enabling her lover, Prosser was not fully aware of the extent of his crime, until the feds targeted her and had a warrant for her arrest.

And so enters another colorful character, FBI agent Richie Di Maso (played by brilliant Bradley Cooper).  Di Maso promises to drop charges against Rosenfeld and Prosser, if Rosenfeld would work with the FBI to uncover a bigger crime, involving politicians and other public figures.  Rosenfeld agrees and the trio become new partners in crime with a goal to “trap” other high profile figures.  If obsession with hair is any indication of vanity, DiMaso is as obsessed with hair as his other two partners.  He is also obsessed with getting as many convictions as possible, regardless of costs in money or ethics or relationships.  Lavish schemes are hatched, meetings are organized, money needs are identified, and Di Maso cajoles, begs, promises success and ultimately succeeds in convincing his budget conscious superiors to shell out money for a grand front, replete with dome Perignon, authentic Louis XVI furniture, and even rented Lear Jet with (Mexican American FBI agent Michael Pena) ridiculously funny, fake Arab Sheik.

The target of elaborate scheme to entrap the rich and famous begins with the beloved, popular, and family man; the charismatic Mayor of New Jersey, Carmine Polito (played beautifully by Jeremy Renner) and eventually involves several politicians and Mafia bosses, including notorious and violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro).

Even from such a stellar cast, Jennifer Lawrence manages to steal the thunder in her role as Rosenfeld’s wife.  Her husband refers to her as “Picasso of passive-aggressive karate”.  With her passive aggressive tactics, she holds Rosenfeld tightly on a leash, so he cannot leave her, but she isn’t afraid to hook up with a mafia  underling and naively spills secrets, almost giving away the FBI sting operation.

I think enough secrets are spilled here.  Watch the movie to learn about the scandal where the FBI agent himself got caught up in ego and greed and kept raising the stakes, a scandal that in the end trapped him in his own greed; a scandal that resulted in real-life, in sixteen convictions, and brought down famous people, hustling to acquire more of everything they had plentiful.  With terrific star power, fantastic mix of mystery, evil, greed, and comic relief, this can quite possibly be the best movie of the year.  I rate it a 4.8 on a 1 to 5
scale, with 5 being excellent.
.Movie night

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