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Drug Lord: The Legend of Shorty Shares a Compelling Look at a Mexican Cartel

Jesus Christ was the only muthafucka who couldn’t be bought, and they crucified him,” says one of the interview subjects in Angus Macqueen and Guillermo Galdos’s compelling but ultimately unfulfilling documentary on Mexican drug cartel legend Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán.

The interviewee’s succinct blend of reverence and blasphemy speaks to the depths of official criminality in Mexico, underscoring what journalist Anabel Hernández terms “a stew of corruption” that has no bottom. For over 30 years, Guzmán ran a global drug empire that generated hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much of the violence that now racks Mexico has roots in his bloody rise to power — a rise that many in the film (especially the kickass Hernández) say was aided and abetted by government and law enforcement figures in both the U.S. and Mexico. Macqueen and Galdos structure the film around their efforts to garner an interview with Shorty, a quest that has them dart across both the U.S. and Mexico, interviewing dozens of people (cartel figures, lawyers, DEA spokesmen) along the way and piecing together Shorty’s blood-splattered narrative. (His mom, of course, thinks he’s a misunderstood good guy.)

Energetically edited, the film makes smart use of crime scene photos, old Zorro film clips, and narcocorridos – the popular folk-style ballads that glamorize drug lords. The film’s abrupt ending leaves many crucial questions unanswered, but that weakness doesn’t detract from its overall power. Hernández’s telling of the story of the young woman brought to the imprisoned Shorty to be his pass-around sex slave is especially haunting, crystallizing as it does the human cost of the drug trade in a single ill-fated body.

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DEAD PAN

Dia De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is certainly Mexico’s most macabre holiday, but also it’s most colorful. Food and drink abound, making it a culinary celebration as well. Let your taste buds do the celebrating as downtown taco joint Tacombi teams up with Mex and the City to present this feast. Chef Jason DeBriere and Margarita Carrillo Arronte design a special menu for the occassion, and all guests receive a copy of Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook. Mingle with a tequila in hand and check out the altar by Melissa Godoy Nieto and performance by Cristina Kaminis.

Sat., Nov. 1, 7 p.m., 2014

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Mount Kimbie

English electronic duo, Mount Kimbie create reflective post-dubstep sounds utilizing dreamy compositions, mangled r&b samples and field recordings. After signing to the seminal British label Warp, the band released their second album Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, featuring contributions from King Krule, to critical acclaim last year. Sadly, Kai Campos seems to have run afoul of the U.S visa processing system and cannot travel to New York. Hence, their scheduled live show at The Wick will instead be a two-hour DJ set from bandmate Dominic Maker — his first in North America.

Sat., Aug. 30, 11 p.m., 2014

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YEAR OF THE DRAGON

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is based on the legend of an ancient Chinese patriot-poet who was banished from his state for advocating reforms. Wandering in exile, he drowned himself when he heard his homeland had been invaded. Local fishermen couldn’t save him, but to prevent his body from being eaten by fish, they threw rice dumplings into the water as an offering to his heroic spirit. Their race to save him is the inspiration for this yearly festival. Last year’s event featured more than 120 dragon boats, many now made of fiberglass for speed, from all over North America. Races occur over the course of days, with non-stop performances on shore that include tap dancing, comic routines, and Rectifist, a Chinese heavy metal band. Don’t miss this morning’s show by the Chinese Ensemble of New York, the only fully Chinese orchestra in the United States.

Aug. 9-10, 10:30 a.m., 2014

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You Will Cry, But The Amazing Catfish Is More About Finding Family Than Losing It

Claudia Sainte-Luce’s semi-autobiographical indie has a knack for subverting stereotypes without making a big deal about it.

Like the one that depicts HIV as solely the affliction of gay men, various needle-type junkies, and hard-living urbanites, or the other that suggests there’s no stable middle class in cartel-dominated, border-wild Mexico.

The diagnosed-positive individual here is Martha (Lisa Owen), a suburban single mother of four, and her progressing disease is very much a family affair. During one of her regular, intermittent hospital stays, she meets Claudia (Ximena Ayala, whose reserved performance is enchanting), a clever but directionless twentysomething of the combat-boot-wearing variety.

The bond between the women develops when Claudia moves into Martha’s home as a glorified nanny-cum-surrogate mother to her children, a heartbreaking foreshadowing of a role made increasingly clear as the matriarch’s health continues to deteriorate.

But Sainte-Luce primes the story with enough comedy to avoid total doom and gloom, like the scene in which the prepubescent Mariana (Andrea Baeza) gets drunk for the first time in a Wal-Mart–like superstore, and young Armando’s (Alejandro Ramírez-Muñoz) habit of taking his pet fish out for walks.

Make no mistake, The Amazing Catfish is a tear-jerker, but ultimately it’s more about finding a family than losing one.

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How to Watch and Think about Alejandro Jodorowsky

Is it time, or will there ever be a time, to reevaluate Alejandro Jodorowsky? The appearance of his new film, The Dance of Reality, along with the doc Jodorowsky’s Dune, is spurring a rash of Jodo appreciations and reconsiderations (including, in all places, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, where I’m hosting a Jodo talk in June), and since at 84 the notorious charlatan has probably ejaculated his final mytho-anima warhead at us, the least we can do is attempt to account for his presence, and his perennial appeal. A unique cultural figure for almost a half-century, always dancing on the psychotropic fringes of cinema culture, Jodorowsky has never garnered a serious reputation as a filmmaker, but he’s never compromised his unmistakable arsenal of manias, either, and he’s never completely disappeared from view (despite distribution extinctions and industry skullduggery that would’ve buried someone less obsessive).

His remarkable career as a counter-culture provocateur and midnight-movie legend need not be revisited now, and neither, I think, do we need to shred his seven movies all over again for their very politically incorrect outrages, from strangely guileless exploitation of the handicapped to pure mucho-macho misogyny to the blithe butchering of hundreds of Mexican animals. (The rabbits alone…) Jodorowsky stands no chance of ever satisfying contemporary cultural norms in any broad sense, which is probably why those who love him love him dearly. He is a professional apostate, and has been from his first Panic Movement days. That has always been part of the problem – once you outgrow the need to shock your own mother, and break social taboos simply for the adolescent thrill of doing so, you naturally look upon those emotional strategies as being unsophisticated and juvenile. Which is a way of saying that I remember conceiving and outlining film and theater projects as a young teenage basketcase that were quite Jodorowsky-esque in nature. I recall them now as fondly as I recall the epic acne that mutilated my face.

Nothing can spell death for an artist quicker than having his work remind critics of ideas they themselves entertained as snot-nosed pre-adults. But perhaps this is also Jodorowsky’s grace note: He’s been the one cinematic voice who’s dared to retain what William Blake called “the auguries of innocence” – albeit spiked with freakshow giggles and buckets of cows’ blood. Is there no room in film culture for one unapologetic, megalo-mythic Ever-Teen? Formally, Jodorowsky’s films have always been stodgily assembled and sleepily paced, like pagan temple tableaux of limbless dwarfs, circus big tops, and baby hippos. But could their lack of narrative fluidity not also be a patience-demanding syntactical choice meant to ritualistically frame the movies’ totemic materials? Is Jodorowsky unable to make a dramatic narrative, or has he chosen instead to make films, like Kenneth Anger, that stand as mythopoetic objects in and of themselves?

Looking El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), and Santa Sange (1989) this way doesn’t make them easier to watch, but it does reveal in their litanies of lumbering, Gomorrahic imagery an authorial strategy. You can see what he’s trying to do, even if it rankles you. But if that’s too rich for your blood, there’s still plenty of Jodorowsky set-pieces to reckon with, of a kind that moviemakers just don’t seem to have the walnuts to attempt anymore: just reconsider the section of The Holy Mountain depicting Conquest of Mexico as a public carnival show using live frogs and lizards (in costume), miniature pyramids, and very real explosives. That film proceeds through a lacerating takedown of Euro-Christian colonialism, ending up in a forest of ten thousand life-size plaster Jesuses and on the street, where the dynamic of occupying army vs. native peoples is played out as grotesque pantomine, under a platoon of crucified animal carcasses.

From there The Holy Mountain simply goes groggily, wearily bonkers, leaving the political symbology behind, but Jodorowsky has always been, amid his self-aggrandizing messiah scenarios and gratuitous everything, good for the occasional juggernaut movie moment. You may not treasure the full experience of Santa Sangre, say, but you remember the elephant’s funeral march. Even so, Jodorowsky’s world is all of a piece, and it has always seemed to me to be a hellish place to visit, a nightmare vision of Mexico (and by extension all of the Third World) as a post-civilized wasteland of cripples, corpses, fruitless rituals, and primal ruin.

As his films became more magical-realist and less apocalyptic (this includes 1980’s Tusk, an ostensible children’s film made in India that begins with one of its era’s most spectacular traveling shots), Jodorowsky’s imaginary landscape still retained a creepy After-the-Fall feeling, poisoned by human decadence and waiting to be swallowed by the abyss. I’m pretty sure this was not the filmmaker’s intention – Jodorowsky has always been on a mission to create new myths, and expand his audiences’ consciousness, and imagine new Christs and Buddhas, and save modern society from itself. He cast himself as a shaman time and again, and that’s what he wanted his film work to be, too – a path to enlightenment, to be employed alongside dope and Tantric sex and meditation and crazy costumes. But instead his films, including The Dance of Reality, are dreams of a world gone terribly wrong. El Topo remains famous as a stoner mind-fuck party movie, but it’s actually incredibly grim and disquieting; The Holy Mountain may be the most unpleasant movie ever made about salvation. Decades from now, that may be how Jodorowsky’s career is remembered – as one long, drunken, nauseating Day of the Dead parade.

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Mexican Muralists

Dorian Grey Gallery presents “12 Mexican Street Artists,” an exhibition featuring artwork in various mediums, and is curated by Luis Accorsi and Christophe von Hohenberg. These artists, some of them hail from Puebla, Baja California, Mexico City, and Sinaloa, highlight a new crop of emerging street muralists.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon. Starts: May 2. Continues through June 15, 2014

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BAND OF BROTHERS

Today, Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal are two of the most accomplished actors, directors, producers who infiltrated American cinema in the early ’00s in a wave of thespians and filmmakers from Mexico. However, back in 2001, when Y Tu Mamá También was released, these two young men were up-and-coming indie actors with a certain gleam in their eye, and we just knew they’d hit it big. The film, about two best friends on a road trip to a mysterious beach with a Spanish beauty who’s hiding a secret, went on to win a slew of awards, and became a classic coming-of-age film. Tonight, Nitehawk reminds us why we fell in love with Luna and Bernal in the first place — as if we could ever forget.

Wed., May 21, 7:15 p.m., 2014

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RAGING BULLS

You may not think soccer will one day be our national pastime, but the Red Bulls have staying power. After a rebuilding season last year — new general manager, new head coach, several new players — the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield for having the best regular season record. Alas, that didn’t get them into the playoffs, but it did get them into the CONCACAF Championship League, the most prestigious soccer group in North America, which is the path toward competing in the World Cup.

Sat., May 10, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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The Ataris

Pop punk nerds can rest easy now that the Ataris have reunited with their original line-up. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of their most successful album,So Long, Astoria, the midwestern band got back together last year to tour once more and play the album in its entirety across North America. With that, there’s a definite guarantee patient fans will finally get to hear hits like “In This Diary” and their spunky cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” played by all the people who contributed to making So Long so special.

Sun., March 30, 7 p.m., 2014