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My Family (Mi Familia)
By Katherine Trujillo, 16, Notre Dame Acadmey

My Family (Mi Familia) tells the story of how Maria and Jose (the Sanchez parents) meet, fall in love, and then struggle to raise their family in East Los Angeles. Jose, a gardener, and Maria, a nanny, work hard to provide for their family even though they are often treated as second-class citizens. Because of their struggles you empathize with their situation. For me the most poignant crisis arises when Maria gets deported to Mexico simply because some bureaucrats think that she, as a Latina, is taking away jobs from white Americans.

Even though the movie portrays the struggles of a Mexican-American family, the performances are so heartfelt that the movie transcends racial boundaries. And while the movie focuses on the Sanchezes, the viewer inevitably witnesses Los Angeles changing around them. The city shifts from being completely anti-Latino in the 1930s to being mildly accepting of them (so long as they’re in East L.A.) in the 1950s.

The 1950s were a time of T-birds, Pachuco suits, poodle skirts and (at least in L.A.) timeless mariachi songs. The Sanchez family now includes Paco, Irene, Chucho, Toni, Memo and Jimmy. Chucho, the eldest, is a popular and suave gang leader who influences his younger brother Jimmy to follow in his footsteps. Chucho, ever-charismatic in spite of his flaws, doesn’t believe in busting his butt like his dad, and sells drugs.

Suddenly, it’s the 1980s and Los Angeles is full of gangs, drugs, poverty and civil unrest. The movie’s focus shifts from the family to the youngest child, Jimmy, a troubled soul trapped within a macho cholo exterior. He cruises through the graffitied streets of East L.A. covered in tattoos. Jimmy maintains some order in his life when he marries a lively Salvadoran nanny. Eventually, her love heals the wounds left over from his brother’s death.

Ultimately, the story of the Sanchez family extends beyond the confines of East L.A. The family’s struggles and successes, while influenced by their Mexican heritage, reflect the hardships and joys that make up most families. My Family (Mi Familia) depicts a universal family through complex characters that are as socially diverse as this vast city. In the end, the viewer finishes the movie anxious to uncover the stories hidden in this cultural oasis we call L.A.

By Jessica Gelzer, 16, Granada Hills Charter HS

Los Angeles is a city in which everyone’s got a camera phone, home phone, e-mail and instant messenger, but yet they are islands unto themselves, indifferent and apathetic. As they struggle to make their way in the sprawling metropolis, they recede from each other. Michael Mann’s Collateral exposes this isolation of Los Angeles, our isolation.

Accelerating us through this action-packed film is a taxi driven by the optimistic Max (Jamie Foxx). Max is dedicated to his job, even though it’s not the best, and he’s great at finding the quickest routes through jam-packed L.A. But his hopeful attitude changes when he picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise), a sleek man with the features of a gray-coated coyote. He turns out to be a hitman hired to kill five witnesses of a massive drug smuggling ring, or as Vincent says, he’s "taking out the garbage." His attitude toward people makes Max twitch, eventually making him realize just how detached one person is from another. Meanwhile Vincent wonders why would someone "get bent out of shape because of one fat guy?"

Max is a typical, struggling Angeleno. He is barely making ends meet with his job and needs an escape. In his car visor, he keeps a picture of an island with crystal blue skies instead of our smog. This simple picture serves as an escape from Los Angeles, ironically a place where many wish they were. Rush hour traffic on the 101 and 405 keeps Angelenos trapped in their cars, which become their islands on wheels. "Island on Wheels" is the name of the limo company that Max wants to create and has been dreaming of for 10 years.

The music is used as a commentary on the city’s diversity. The genre switches as each victim is killed—Spanish-flavored music for the Latino man, jazz for the black club owner in Crenshaw and techno in the club in Koreatown. When Max feels most insignificant, the lyrics "I can tell you why people die alone" from Audioslave’s song "Shadow on the Sun" is blasted. After that, all you hear are Vincent’s cold-blooded words: "A guy gets on the MTA here and dies. You think anybody’ll notice?"

Rebel Without a Cause
By Katie Havard, 15, New Roads School (Santa Monica)

As James Dean’s character races along the cliffs of Los Angeles in one of Rebel Without a Cause’s most dramatic scenes, he’s more like the flowers that grow along the canyons he speeds by than the car he speeds in. He isn’t a cold, tough-as-nails unbreakable machine. He’s beautiful but toxic and fragile. Like the city he lives in, he’s this whole mess of vices and sadness just under a seemingly perfect surface.

Rebel Without a Cause shows a Los Angeles, where you can be, as James Dean’s character was, beat up and picked on and miserable, but you can also meet Natalie Wood and fall in love (in the space of a few days, no less.) In our image-obsessed city a lot of the times, it matters more to people what is happening on the surface versus what is really going on. James Dean, like so many Angelinos, spends much of his time trying to be something that he’s not—a jaded, hardened, tough guy—and projecting this image leads to having to defend it (the chicky run, or drag race) resulting only in misery. This film is a cautionary tale to us teenagers to stop trying to be things that we are not.

Anyone can easily identify James Dean (leather jacket-clad, hair slicked back, smoking dejectedly) as the epitome of 1950s cool. However, in this movie his character, Jim Stark, is an outcast and a loner, and not in a good way. He is, in fact, quite the loser. And a mentally unstable loser at that. He’s the new kid in town and the kids in his new school are less than welcoming. Before his first day of school he gets harassed inside the walls of his rich, secluded neighborhood in the hills. They pull a knife on him, too. Unfortunately, everything that could possibly go wrong from here on out does, and the movie ends with the main characters still in a mess.

Los Angeles is doubtless filled with a million rebels without causes who deal with the apathy of day-to-day teenage life by creating drama that stems from seemingly arcane origins. It might be best to avoid these guys, if only to avoid them tearing you apart.