Monday, January 22, 2007

Cowboy del Amor

Ivan Thompson is one of the funniest characters ever captured on film…and he’s a real person. As the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Cupid”, he’s an old-fashioned matchmaker for American men and Mexican women, using throwback techniques that went out of vogue around the time of dial-up internet access. In this documentary, his humorous actions and corn-fed, whimsical sayings are as entertaining as any of the actual matchmaking, although viewers will follow at least one of his pairings with great interest as well.

The film follows Thompson on a couple of his matchmaking missions to Mexico starting from the point of his initial rendezvous with his American clients. Thompson doesn’t work in volume, he takes the personal approach of meeting and escorting each client deep into Mexico one at a time, usually booking cheap bus routes and staying in the same hotel room with his client. Once in Mexico, he takes out a personal ad in a local newspaper and then sits in his hotel room and waits for response. That’s it. No internet marketing, no advance calls, just a simple ad and a lot of hope. Surprisingly, he gets decent feedback and eventually sets up a dance card for his client, carefully penciling in meeting times in their hotel lobby for the duration of their stay. In the film, the women who respond to the ad are generally above average in both looks and career, while his clients are middle-aged or older and not particularly attractive, making it seem that the women are getting the raw end of their potential marriage arrangement. There’s no accounting for taste though, and nobody is forced into any potentially uncomfortable situations, so there’s always a chance for true love or at least mutual understanding as a result of this process.

Thompson isn’t only the president of his romance business, he’s also a member, as the film briefly touches on his previous marriage to a Mexican woman and his hope for a future marriage as well. He had the bright idea of using his own experience to help others long before the Internet revolution, and he’s remained fiercely loyal to his old-school techniques in spite of the proliferation of much easier and perhaps more effective matchmaking tools on the Internet. In his biggest success in the film, viewers follow the budding romance and eventual marriage of a couple introduced via his service. It’s a huge leap of faith for a Mexican woman to show up at the hotel in the first place, and another massive step for an American man to welcome her into his life in the US, but the film shows that under the right circumstances, a successful relationship can bloom under these extraordinary circumstances.

Director Michele Oyahon spends ample time on the relationships shown in the film, but also recognizes the incredibly entertaining character of Ivan Thompson and allocates sufficient time to simply capturing him in action. Thompson has no problem opening up to the camera, sharing hilarious tales of his prior adventures and narrating his current life situation as he leaves the US for a new home and a fresh start in Mexico. His business model doesn’t come close making him a rich man, but he gets great satisfaction out of his job and his ability to help others. He’s an endearing old-timer and viewers can’t help but hope that he finds his own true love again in his new home.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best of 2006

Movies - a lackluster year, but these are the five that I was most interested in forming a long-term relationship with through eventual DVD purchase

1) Children of Men - a realistic future with a frightening human defect. Astounding camera work

2) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - a bit of a guilty pleasure, but my most enjoyable popcorn matinee adventure since Raiders of the Lost Ark

3) The Descent - nothing scared me more this year

4) Hard Candy - almost as suspenseful as The Descent, and promises good things for their upcoming adaptation of the 30 Days of Night graphic novel

5) V for Vendetta - a competent adaptation of Alan Moore's complex, difficult graphic novel

Honorable mentions: 49 Up, Little Miss Sunshine, Lucky Number Slevin, Manderlay, Volver
Music - amazingly, my top 3 spots are the same artists as 2005: Danger Mouse, Beck, Jack White

1) Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere - was anything else even close?

2) Beck – The Information - Guero with a touch of Sea Change

3) The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers - nothing spectacular, but fun and probably got more spins from me than anything else this year

4) Ugly Duckling - Bang for the Buck - in an abysmal year for hip-hop, one that kinda mattered. Unapologetically old-school and damn good at it

5) Morrissey - Ringleader of the Tormentors - even better than You Are the Quarry

1) Battlestar Galactica - Seriously, why are you still not watching this show? Season 3 Ep 4 was the single best hour of tv this year

2) LOST - recovered nicely from the disastrous Season 2 detour with the other tribe

3) The Office - Season 2 was great, Season 3 isn't quite as strong, but still must see tv

4) Heroes - seems to still be trying to find its footing, but I'm in for the long haul

5) 30 Rock - I love Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin can do no wrong in this show

1) Girls (Image) – nearing its end in 2007, still with plenty of mysteries to resolve

2) The Escapists (Dark Horse) - Brian K. Vaughan takes a unique stab at the world of Chabon's Kavalier & Clay novel, mixing modern indie comic angst and romance with retro pulp adventures in a fascinating miniseries

3) Astonishing X-Men (Marvel) - not quite as astonishing as the first arc, but still the best X-Men comic being made today

4) The Nightly News (Image) - issue #1 was the best single issue of any comic this year...and it was the first effort by this new writer/artist. I can't wait to see what comes next for both him and his comic

5) Daredevil (Marvel)- Brubaker is still holding my interest
Graphic Novels

1) Sandman: Absolute Edition Vol. 1 (DC) – gorgeous presentation of Neil Gaiman's legendary source material, recolored and complete with exhaustive extras

2) Pride of Baghdad (DC) - Brian K. Vaughan strikes again, start forecasting his total Eisners tally now

3) Grease Monkey (Tor) - what if damn dirty apes were equalized with humans by a sympathetic alien race, then worked side by side with us on space combat training missions to protect the Earth? Crisp, clean lines, with funny and touching stories, a winning space opera

4) Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol. 1 (Drawn & Quarterly) - deluxe premier North American collection of Jansson's daily strips from the 50s. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 50 years for Vol. 2

5) Inverloch Vol. 1 and 2 (Seven Seas) - collected editions of ongoing all-ages fantasy webcomic, deservedly in print where it belongs. Lush, full-color art and an engaging story, fun stuff

Honorable mentions: Lost Girls (Top Shelf), Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics), Little Star (Oni)
Video Games – This was the transition year to the next generation, and Xbox 360 shooters owned it.

1) Gears of War (Xbox 360) - roadie runs, scary monsters, satisfying weapons, and the best next generation graphics so far

2) Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii/Gamecube) - I didn't play it yet, but I know I'll love it

3) Call of Duty 3 (Xbox 360) - as good as the superb Call of Duty 2

4) Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Xbox 360) - Sam Fisher makes a successful move to the next gen with a new look and some new tricks

5) Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360) - great graphics and control, interesting puzzles, a rewarding return to form for Lara Croft