Antonio (Luke Ganalon) is 7-years-old, and his grandmother Ultima (not the car, but actress Miriam Colon) comes to live with the family. She tells him that she’s dying, and in a cute way he tells her not on his watch. She smiles. Very early on, we realize she’s a witch. Instead of being in the kitchen cooking stuffed cabbage and Swiss steak like my grandmother did, she’s always working on potions and foods with secret ingredients.
When another man shows up talking about three witches that put a curse on his son, she moves in to help. She has the cure, and brings Antonio with her when it’s going to be given. What I can’t quite figure out is, she mentions that this can make other bad things happen because you’re not supposed to change his destiny. So…why did she help him?
The story takes place in the mid-40s in New Mexico, and this community where Mexican-Americans were living was recreated nicely. It’s an adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya’s bestselling Chicano novel. Luke Ganalon is excellent and so is the narration by Alfred Molina.
I enjoyed the moments where Ultima is teaching Antonio about nature and the world. She has a few interesting phrases she throws at him, and he really seems to appreciate all the life around him – whether that’s flowers growing or crickets. He also gets to witness death, when he sneaks out and sees a man shot by his family members.
There were a few interesting conversations about religion among the kids at catechism, but it doesn’t seem to question faith as much as it could. The movie plays it a little safe. This film adaptation also felt like it was a cable TV production, and was rather bland.
In a day and age when we’re hearing so much about bullying, I also felt the movie didn’t handle that story line so well.
There were other scenes that were done just right. The way the father seems so proud of his three sons that have returned from war, and they sit around having drinks and talking.
Whenever the camera shows us the owl, I thought about how creepy looking it could be. The thing can turn its head like Linda Blair, and can gouge out your eyes. Why not have some scary moments in this movie? Give us something!!!
I wasn’t very fond of the musical score, either.
This movie has its heart in the right place, but this very interesting storyline let me down.
I’m giving it 2 stars out of 5.
But I’m giving 5 out of 5 stars to Luke Ganalon, the boy who plays Antonio. I interviewed him, and here’s how that went.
Josh Board: Luke, I am your father!!
Luke Ganalon: (silence)
JB: Has anybody ever done that joke to you before?
LG: Well, yes…they have. Ever since I was in kindergarten, so many people have come up and done that to me. I hear it all the time.
JB: Okay. I just didn’t want you thinking I was making fun of you. My last name is “Board” so I’ve been made fun of since kindergarten. Anyway, I have to ask you how nervous you were when you went on your first audition. If I was a kid going in to audition for a part, I would be scared I wasn’t going to get it.
LG: I wasn’t that nervous because it was just a toy commercial. They just wanted me to do a lot of smiling and dancing around. I got that commercial. My parents kept telling me over and over, that I might go on 100 auditions before I got a part. Then I actually got that first one.
JB: How did you get the part of Antonio in Bless Me, Ultima?
LG: I auditioned two different times for the part of Antonio. I didn’t hear back for the longest time. Then I read three times for [another part]. I was learning lines the day before, and I’d go over them the night before to memorize them when I got back to the hotel. I ended up getting a call, and being told that I got the part of Antonio.
JB: What was the experience of making a movie actually like? Was it weird to be told to do a scene over and over again?
LG: It was a really interesting experience. I don’t mind doing takes over and over. The director, Carl Franklin [who also wrote/directed Devil in a Blue Dress], he used to be an actor. I think that helps. He took good care of me…of the whole cast. Sometimes when we did another take, it wasn’t to do it different, but for a different camera angle. It’s not always going to be a perfect take.
JB: Tell me a funny story of something that happened on the set.
LG: One time, when we were doing a scene in the church, I came out of the trailer with my outfit on. The clothes were really big on me. I was trying to keep the pants up as I was walking to the set. They had specific clothes the costume department gave us for that scene. When Juan walked out, he was walking like a penguin. His clothes were really tight on him, and we made eye contact. I knew right then what had happened. They accidentally had the clothes switched and he got my outfit and I was wearing his.
JB: I read in your bio that you sing in your school choir. What’s your favorite movie with singing in it?
LG: I don’t really have one. I like movies for movies, not so much for the singing.
JB: Okay, name some of your favorite movies.
LG: I really like Will Smith projects. He does a lot of good movies and he produces them. He’s a really great businessman. I also like Leonardo DiCaprio movies, and Denzel Washington. I’m doing a project right now that Eva Longoria is directing.
JB: I saw you got to work with Ernest Borgnine in The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez. He’s an acting legend, but I’m guessing you probably knew him from the voice he provided for Sponge Bob Square Pants.
LG: When I met him on the set, and I heard that voice…I just knew who that character was from Sponge Bob. It was an honor to meet him. I told him that my grandfather loved him in Marty [where he surprised everyone by winning the Oscar in 1955]. I told him that I hope I can someday get an Oscar nomination or Golden Globe. He told me that very few people win or get nominated. We had a good talk. It was so sad, because at the premiere he had already passed away.
JB: Well, it’s great that you got to meet him. And I’m glad I got to meet you. You’ve got a great career ahead of you.