Film Review: What to Watch in November (2021)

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It’s Awards Bait season! That time of the year when the studios and all the special houses release their most high-profile, serioso titles in a bid not to compete for your dollars (although that doesn’t hurt) but for such prestige awards as the Oscars and the much-maligned (rightfully so) Golden Globes, not to mention all of the film industry’s Guild awards—Producers, Writers, Actors, Directors, etc.—and the many film critics associations around the country who announce their own awards beginning in late November.

Our highlights for November include one such prestige title, two different takes on Mexico’s war against drugs, the latest from Lin-Manuel Miranda (who really needs to take a vacation), and two recently found cinematic treasures.

NARCOS MEXICO: SEASON THREE (begins streaming on Netflix on November 5)
All hell breaks loose with the arrest of drug lord Felix Gallardo (played last season by Diego Luna). Newly formed cartels duke it out for control of the country’s many territories leading to the emergence of new kingpins and the violence that afflicts that country to this day. This final season boasts an impressive array of directors including Wagner Moura (who played Pablo Escobar in the original Narcos and directed Marighella about the Afro-Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella), Alejandra Márquez Abella (Las niñas bien), Luis Ortega (El ángel), and last and certainly not least Amat Escalante (Heli, La región salvaje). And yes, that IS Bad Bunny in the trailer.


THE BITTER STEMS & THE BEAST MUST DIE (on Blu-Ray November 5 from Flicker Alley)
Two must-haves for the video collector and for devoted cinephiles. Restored by the Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive, the release of La bestia debe morir (The Beast Must Die, 1952) and Los tallos amargos (The Bitter Stems, 1956) promises to fill an important gap in our understanding of Latin American cinema history. Based on Cecil Day-Lewis’ (Daniel’s dad) novel, The Beast Must Die tells the story of Felix Lane, a mystery writer who decides to play detective after his nine-year-old son is killed in a hit-and-run accident. The clues he uncovers lead him to an affluent family, but will he go through with his revenge? Long considered missing before a print was discovered at a collector’s home in Buenos Aires and restored, The Bitter Stems centers on a fake correspondence school founded by a dissatisfied Buenos Aires newspaperman and a Hungarian refugee and the mystery woman who threatens to bring down their unique scheme.


SPENCER (in theaters November 5)
After giving us a Jackie Kennedy (later Onassis) who will fiercely protect, and control, the Camelot myth in Jackie (2016), and a mother who will do anything to recover her adopted son after she and her husband gave him back to the orphanage, even if it means burning down all of Valparaíso with a flamethrower, in the electric and quite insane Ema (2019), iconoclastic and hard-to-pin-down Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín now tackles another carefully controlled myth: Lady Diana. Do not, however, go in expecting a Masterpiece Theater-like tale of palatial intrigue or for that matter a facsimile of The Crown. Written by Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises), Spencer delivers a harrowing, troubling, and in the end compassionate tale of a woman trapped by tradition and by the media frenzy feeding it. The film is the portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, haunted by the ghosts of queens and the wives of future kings past, and by a decision that would lead to tragedy in a Paris tunnel years later.


GENTEFIED (begins streaming on Netflix on November 10)
Marvin Lemus’ and Linda Yvette Chávez’s love letter to L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood returns for a second season, picking up where it left off: the arrest of grandfather Casimiro (the great Mexican actor Joaquín Cossio, reason enough to watch the series) by ICE agents and the birth of Erik’s (JJ Soria) and Lydia’s (Annie Gonzalez) daughter. The family will also have to deal with the potential loss of their beloved taco shop while chasing after Bad Bunny at a Halloween Party.


PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN/NOCHE DE FUEGO (begins streaming on Netflix on November 17)
Winner of the Horizontes Award for Best Latin American Film at the 2021 San Sebastian Film Festival, an Honorable Mention in the Chicago International Film Festival’s International Competition for offering “a valuable and indispensable perspective on the costs of the drug trade,” and Mexico’s Official Selection for the Academy Awards Best International Feature Film, documentarian Tatiana Huezo’s first fiction feature takes us to Mexico’s poppy fields where girls wear boyish haircuts and their mothers do their best to try to protect them from the cartels. Prayers for the Stolen offers a much different take on the impact of Mexico’s drug war on its citizens than Narcos: Mexico.


ENCANTO (in theaters November 24)
You know that saying in Spanish “fulano está hasta en la sopa“? Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda ha estado hasta en la sopa in 2021. The ubiquitous playwright, actor and now film director (his film adaptation of the musical Tik Tik…Boom! about Rent writer Jonathan Larson is scheduled to hit theaters and Netflix in mid-November) has been everywhere. He appeared in two documentaries—Summer of Soul and Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, which he also co-executive produced—his musical In the Heights hit the screens this summer, in which he also played the piragüero, and he wrote songs and played the title character (a kikajou) in Vivo which is still streaming on Netflix… not to mention the countless live shows he’s been a guest in. So now comes his latest endeavor, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: an animated film for Disney about a magical family, the Madrigals, who live in the mountains of Colombia, the forces that threaten their power, and the one normal member of the family who can save them. There is no doubt that Miranda has a lot to be thankful for this year. But, kid, take a break.


Featured image from Noche de Fuego (Prayers for the Stolen)

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Alejandro has been active in Latino media since 1988 when he and a group of 12 independent producers launched Orgullo Latino, a weekly newsmagazine series in the Chicago Access Network. Alejandro joined ¡Exito!, the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language weekly, as a freelance reporter in 1993, where he wrote about entertainment and culture with the occasional foray into politics. He was also a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo, Arts & Entertainment and Friday sections. Part of the transition team that replaced ¡Exito! with Hoy, and in 2004 he became Senior Editor for all three editions of Hoy (New York, Chicago and LA). He currently is a freelance writer, editor and media relations specialist in Chicago.

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