Reviews

Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna)

B.J. Carter

This film comes harrowingly close to emotional pornography, but somehow never crosses that line.


Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna)

Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: America Ferrera, Adrian Alonso, Jesse Garcia, Kate Del Castillo, Eugenio Derbez
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: The Weinstein Company
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-06-17
Website
Trailer

In his scattershot Hollywood expose Bambi v. Godzilla, David Mamet spends a chapter dissecting the “affliction drama” as a two-pronged attack on the viewer’s sensibilities: It appeals to both the viewer’s desire to be politically fashionable and his intention to be compassionate.

When the film delivers the goods, the viewer rewards himself for feeling compassion for little more than a contrivance designed to solicit compassion from him in the first place. All in the name of entertainment.

The affliction drama is a trap, then. Should the viewer fail to identify with the conflict presented onscreen and instead focus on the contrived nature of the film, he is a cynic and therefore cannot be saved. Should the viewer identify with the fictional presentation of the conflict as veracity, he goes to political heaven.

In her debut feature, director Patricia Riggen pits her hero against all the familiar signposts of patriarchal authority -- law enforcement, white people, and in this case, common sense -- in an attempt to solicit compassion she doesn’t have to work for. To use another Mamet metaphor, this is like “demanding free dessert at a restaurant because one’s aunt is dying of cancer.”

The monster, then, is not the Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) but Riggen’s film. Naturally, the monster wins.

This is a compliment as backhanded as they come, but a compliment no less, for whileUnder the Same Moon comes harrowingly close to emotional pornography, it somehow never quite crosses the line. There is a naivety about this film that makes it nearly refreshing, as though it does not realize that by choosing such a sanctimonious narrative to examine the hot-button issue of immigration, it undermines any humanizing efforts it assumes. Under the Same Moon attempts to combat the intense vilification of immigrants legal and illegal in the current political climate with their sanctification. Neither schema leaves much room for honest examinations of humanity in all its flawed glory.

Instead we get Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), an indelibly smart, brave nine-year-old living in a Mexican village with his ailing grandmother (Angelina Paeleza). He has never met his father, and his mother Rosario (the luminous Kate del Castillo) has been hard at work as a cleaning lady in Los Angeles for the last four years. The only communication Carlitos has with his mother is a weekly phone call in which she describes the neighborhood she is calling from and how much she misses him. She promises they will be reunited soon.

His grandmother coughs so often that it’s clear what must happen next; one morning, Carlitos will walk into her bedroom and try to wake her up, only to realize that she was more sick than she let on. With no immediate family to rely upon, the only course available to Carlitos is a treacherous border crossing to find his mother.

The idea that Under the Same Moon should be the story of estranged love – between mother and son -- is a good one, perhaps too good, for while it renders the conflict emotionally accessible, approaching the universal, , it relies heavily on a series of contrivances to get there.

The dramatic obstacles that follow run the gamut of believability; the Mexican-American students who smuggle him in their minivan (America Ferrara and Jesse Garcia) are apprehended at the border for unpaid parking tickets, and the vehicle is impounded with Carlitos stuck inside. He gets kidnapped by a junkie, falls in with some drifters looking for work, and has a few run-ins with INS and LAPD.

Throughout, we are acutely aware that Carlitos is not in any real danger because the script makes clear his fate: He will be reunited with Rosario, it is only a matter of time. Thus, the script appears to be going through the motions. It presents the hero's desires and the obstacles keeping him from fulfilling those desires, but it does so robotically, alerting us to the fact that we are engaging in fiction when it should pull us into the unfolding drama. As Carlitos escapes each trap, we await with only mild curiosity the appearance of the next obstacle.

The film inter-cuts these events with Rosario’s struggles in L.A., and here it more organically presents conflict. With the dream of bringing Carlitos to America rapidly fading, she considers marrying nice guy Paco (Gabriel Porras) to help out with green card privileges. When she cannot go through with the wedding, she decides to go back to Mexico. She has no idea that her son is already halfway across Texas and her mother is dead.

But just when the script is about to trip over itself for good, the actors come blazing to the rescue. Newcomer Adrian Alonso does more than just play cute; he adroitly exposes the inner turmoil of a character who has been forced to grow up too fast, too soon, and in the most intriguing Act II development, he enlists the reluctant help of a disillusioned Mexican worker named Enrique (Eugenio Derbez).

Derbez’s Enrique is the best device the film offers. He is the foil to the script’s ardent sentimentality, rolling his eyes every time Carlitos does or says something precocious, which is fairly often. Like the skeptical viewer, he is immune to the boy’s charms -- at first. Carlitos gradually wins him over, and the chemistry between the two actors is so strong that it all but excuses the obligatory nature of Enrique’s character in the first place, namely that of father-figure in lieu of Carlitos’ real father (who bafflingly makes an appearance anyway). The two of them set out to find the neighborhood Rosario calls from with only Carlitos’ imagination as their guide.

Even at this most charming juncture, the film cannot help its more self-aggrandizing tendencies. One shot in particular of Enrique and Carlitos walking up over a hill towards the viewers, the sky limitless and blue behind them, underscores the film’s inflated sense of importance as it veers clumsily into mythopoesis.

Nonetheless, the fated reunion is admirably staged. Sharing the screen for only a few moments at the very end, the look of pure longing that Carlitos and Rosario exchange across the busy intersection that separates them is almost enough to make the journey worthwhile. Almost.

The DVD extras include a documentary on a series of murals erected in the film’s honor and a “making of” featurette in which Adrian Alonso admits to being in love with Kate del Castillo. He is just waiting for the right moment to tell her…

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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