A Valentine to the City of Chicago
Review of the film "south loop", playing at the L.A. Independent, May 30
I can't do justice to the feeling I get when I discover a film, so I will do my best by putting it in writing. I just saw "south loop", the new film by John Rangel. Now, I've never claimed to know enough about film to write a review. I may be a critic of many things, but a film critic I am not. So what you're about to read is my reaction to a film, a film that when it was over, I wanted to run out of the theater and tell as many people as I could they needed to watch it.
Published on LatinoLA: May 30, 2011
"south loop" is a small film that you won't be able to see at your local Cineplex, not even one of those independent theater chains that show nothing but foreign films. "south loop" is like finding a vintage piece of jewelry that you love at a flea market. You can't believe you found it. How did no one else find this? In fairness, I was invited by a friend to attend the premiere of the movie. I knew nothing about this movie, I never heard anything about any of these actors, and I wasn't really thrilled about seeing a movie about our economic meltdown. However, it was Memorial Day, I didn't have anything else to do and at least the theater sold alcohol, so I said what the hell. Boy, did I make the right decision that day.
"south loop" felt like I was watching a documentary. It just felt so real to me, at times voyeuristic even. I saw intimate moments, moments that I kept telling myself, I know what he's thinking, I've been there. I can't tell you the last time I went to the movies and I felt like a movie was speaking directly to me.
"south loop" is the story of Rick Torres, who is unemployed and with the help of his caring and loyal girlfriend, Teresa, gets into the real estate market. He starts making a lot of money and decides, he doesn't need her anymore. He dumps her. He moves into this great new condo overlooking Navy Pier and gets a new girlfriend, the sexy Cynthia. Then the real estate market crashes and all hell breaks loose.
Look, that was a real general and some might say vague description of the plot , but "south loop" is not about plot. "south loop" is about behavior. It's about observing behavior.
Rangel uses many different tactics to illustrate this theme of observation. For example, in many scenes he places the camera so far away from the action that you feel like a fly on the wall sometimes. You're hearing something or seeing something you shouldn't. He also uses photo stills in a way I've never seen used before in a film, once again implying that these characters are under surveillance. The photo stills also mark introspective moments in the film, hinting at this sense of regret as the film goes along.
The cinematography by Kirk W. Johnson is very seductive. "south loop" is a valentine to the city of Chicago. I've never been to Chicago, but this film almost serves as a travel commercial for the city. They way he has shot this film makes the city of Chicago one of the central characters of the film.
The performances vary in the film. They're all great, some are more natural than others, but to me it added to the realism of the film. Some of the characters felt like they were searching for what to say, like in real life, when we don't know what to say. Quetta Carpenter was heartbreaking as Rick's first girlfriend, Teresa. She conveys her love and loyalty for Rick with such grace and dignity. The scene where she confronts Rick as to why he hasn't asked her to move in with her is devastating.
Ellen Fliesler as Cynthia, creates a real three dimensional character. She deftly handles her career ambition along with her desire to be in a successful relationship. If you watch her performance close enough you'll see how seamless her transitions are. Watch her during the dinner scenes and she demonstrates in each one where the relationship stands.
If there is a star of the film, it's John Rangel. The film clearly belongs to him. They way he has structured the film, really puts you in the mind of the lead character. He has directed this film to every inch of its life. The combination of the performances, the cinematography, the music, he's the mastermind behind it all.
The film is far from perfect. The uses of fades to black are too frequent and too long, but that leads me to believe that they're there for a reason. I think it just went over my head. Also, I would have preferred more reaction shots, which leads me to my next point.
You're probably thinking, she hasn't mentioned the lead actor, he must be terrible. It's quite the contrary, he's quite impressive. I saved his performance for the end, because I feel his performance won't get the attention it deserves. Juan Diego Ramirez as Rick gives such an understated performance, that you don't realize until the end of the film, he's the key to everything. If you don't believe him, then the film doesn't work. There's nothing showy about his performance. In fact it may seem like he's not doing anything at all. He doesn't use actor tricks to try to get people to like him. His character is quite unlikable. He stays true to form and he's in every scene of the movie.
But it's those eyes, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul, Ramirez eyes are the windows to "south loop" soul. He can convey any emotion through those eyes. Perhaps, it was those eyes that limited the reaction shots because they revealed too much, but there is sense of a wounded soul that he permeates through the film. Whether it is through the voice over or that shot of him on the phone desperately trying to hold onto to Cynthia . It's his performance that reminded me of past boyfriends. It's his performances that made me look back on past relationships. It his performance that made me remember "south loop".
"south loop' is a movie that I would love to watch again because I think it's meant for repeated viewing. I would love to go back and see what I missed. "south loop" is the kind of film that I picture myself walking into on a rainy day in Paris in an old theater house. It was a film that gave me a nostalgic feeling. Perhaps I got that nostalgic feeling because I know that there's no place in L.A. I can walk into on rainy day and watch "south loop".
"south loop" is available for purchase on DVD at www.southloopthemovie.com.
Check them out on facebook at south loop the movie.
Follow them on twitter at southloopfilm.
Playing March 30 2011 at the L.A. Downtown Independent