By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
With this review, I have now given a three star rating to five movies in a row. I am not sure how to feel about this right now. Perhaps I should feel okay, because normally during this time of the year, the pickings are slim when it comes to quality movies. For those unfamiliar with my ratings, a three star rating means that the movie actually is good, but definitely is not great. A film that earns this level of rating has enough flaws to make spending top dollar to see it a highly questionable act. Another thing I have considered very recently has to do with the diminishing quality of movie making and the improvement in the production of television programming. Once again, even though this film has some remarkable qualities, it also suffers from bouts of poor writing and occasional bad acting. Bless Me, Ultima has much to love, but enough to dislike to question why it is receiving the big screen treatment.
Based on the novel by Rudolfo Anaya, writer/director Carl Franklin brings this celebrated story of Antonio Mares and his mentor Ultima to the big screen. During World War II, Antonio grew up (Luke Ganalon) grows up in a large family with several older and younger siblings. When a curandera (medicine woman) named Ultima (Miriam Colon) comes to live with his family, she takes Antonio under her wing and has much to teach him about the world and about spirituality. Under her guidance, Antonio also learns much about the evil capable within people due to fear and ignorance.
The film’s story has much to offer in terms of comedy, suspense, supernatural events, etc. While most people can relate to the subject matter, I do feel that Mexican American/Latino people, or those familiar with the culture will identify with the characters and scenarios more as it reflects several qualities and traits of the culture, using both English and Spanish, along with slang expressions and vernacular. Carl Franklin does a descent job directing with some lovely cinematography by Paula Huidobro. Franklin’s script does have some issues with inconsistent writing, along with pacing problems. The movie feels a tad longer than it actually is. The cast also contains some inconsistencies regarding the quality of the performances.
Granted, the cast does consist of several child actors which is both necessary and forgivable, because their acting never irritates as they certainly are a hoot to watch. Luke Ganalon who portrays Antonio, actually performs admirably and has a bright future ahead in acting. Austin actor Diego Miro, who actually attended the screening, also proves himself in a supporting role as Antonio’s troubled friend Florence. Veteran actress, Miriam Colon, does a wonderful job as Ultima, the sweet, but strong and courageous healer. Also noteworthy, is the narration provided by talented actor Alfred Molina. The man has such an awesome voice, and his work as the story teller work gloriously. These are the real standouts of the cast with the remainder being a mix of adequate to not so great performances.
I am aware that this film probably got produced with a limited budget, therefore, lacked the finances to hire “cream of the crop” actors, especially for supporting roles. Still, I rarely pull punches when it comes to my critiques. The film does have some truly incredible moments, but also contains some of the opposite variety, once again feeling like a television “movie of the week”. I will give a reluctant recommendation of paying full price to audience members of the Latino community, and those who have a love for the culture. For others, I think it is worth a matinee or rental.