Reel Critics: Two Film Festival favorites impress

I've been going to the Newport Beach Film Festival since its inception, and I have to say that this year's crop of films has been the best yet. I hope these two will find their way to more movie theaters soon:

"Mariachi Gringo" – with this title, I expected a satire. But I loved this tale of a blue-eyed Midwest dude who becomes fascinated with the guitar playing at a local Mexican restaurant. The owner takes Edward (Shawn Ashmore from "X-Men") under his wing and teaches him the true artistry of mariachi music.

Edward hops on a bus to Guadalajara with its famous Plaza de los Mariachis, where he meets lovely Lilia (Martha Higareda) and finds his passion in mariachi and Mexican culture.

Featuring wonderful musical segments, notably by singer Lila Downs, "Mariachi Gringo" charmed the audience and gave me a newfound appreciation for the soulfulness of this "soundtrack of life." It also gave me a look at beautiful Guadalajara, where my father was born. Dad would have been proud.

"Swerve" – this Australian spotlight film about a briefcase full of money was a lot of fun. It's hard to imagine a film noir in the harsh Outback, but this story of a decent guy in the wrong place at the wrong time gives us all the elements of a classic hardboiled crime story.

There's the random witness (David Lyons) to a fatal accident, the beautiful woman (Emma Booth) who can't be trusted, and her husband the sheriff (Jason Clarke) who seems easygoing but is said to have a dark side.

There is black humor, murder and mayhem galore in "Swerve," which lives up to its title with all the nifty plot twists and double-crosses.

In some ways it reminded me of"The Maltese Falcon"but with a lot more grit.


Now playing in cinemas...

"The Raven"is a well crafted period piece set in the 19th century. It centers on a series of horrific murders that mimic plots of several gruesome stories by Edgar Allen Poe. A psychotic killer is on the loose and Baltimore police ask the author of the novels to assist in their investigation.

John Cusack is in top form as the legendary troubled writer. Poe's accounts of strange deaths depicted in "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" are just two of many that come to life as the serial killer terrifies the city.

This costume drama has great production values. But the high brow look is punctuated with grisly portrayals of the bloody homicides that justify the R rating.

It's a macabre exercise that's professionally done, but only for fans of this genre.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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