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The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández Blu-ray Review

The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández (2012) movie poster The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández

Theatrical Release: December 7, 2012 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Elia Petridis

Cast: Ernest Borgnine (Rex Page/DJ Ricochet Rex), Carla Ortiz (Solena Ardaya), Arturo del Puerto (Alejandro Ramirez), June Squibb (Irma Page), Dale Dickey (Denise), Audrey P. Scott (Clementine), Tony Plana (Dr. Joaquin Dominguez), Barry Corbin (Mr. Walker), Reynaldo Pacheco (Miguel Pacheco), Ashley Holliday (Rita Guerroro), Larry Manetti (Walker Jr.), Nathalie Kelley (Pretty Annie/Elaine Bennett), Alex Fernandez (Bandito), Dylan Kenin (Cowboy/Young Ned Pritchard), Robert Morse (voice of Burt), Pierre Gonneau (Coach Radke), Graciela Guerrero (Solena's Grandmother), Eduardo Ricard (Vicente Fernández)

Buy The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández from Amazon.com: Blu-rayDVD

It's depressing to think about how few actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood remain with us today.
Most of those who do have long been out of the limelight: Shirley Temple, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, Luise Rainer. That makes it extremely easy to appreciate the living legends still working at an advanced age. It's always a thrill to see Mickey Rooney or Eli Wallach pop up in a new film. Likewise, it was a delight to see Ernest Borgnine continue to act into his nineties.

Borgnine's death last summer from renal failure took me by surprise. True, he was 95 years old, but Borgnine did not look or act his age. Always a bigger man, he maintained a healthy weight and did more than just the occasional cameo. His 21st century filmography would be impressively full for an actor of any age. Borgnine wasn't just working for the sake of it either, but seizing worthwhile opportunities still coming his way: the hit retired CIA agent action-comedy Red, an Emmy-nominated guest spot in the series finale of "ER", even a long-running voice on "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Borgnine began turning up in films and television in 1951, then in his mid-thirties. His career arguably peaked shortly after that with appearances in two out of three consecutive Academy Award winners for Best Picture. The latter of those, Marty, gave him the title role and the Oscar for Best Actor out of his only nomination. Borgnine remained active for decades to come, filling prominent roles in westerns (Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch), action movies (The Dirty Dozen), disaster flicks (The Poseidon Adventure), horror films (the original Willard), and the war sitcom "McHale's Navy." The actor rarely enjoyed the leading man status that Marty gave him, but he fared well in any other faculty from heavy to lovable goofball.

My appreciation for Borgnine is the one and only reason I requested The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández for review. I first heard about this film years ago and was excited to learn it would give Borgnine another leading role. Sadly, it would wind up being Borgnine's final film. Not too surprisingly considering the 13-year history of distributor Indican Pictures, The Man would get an extremely limited theatrical release, grossing just $6,249 in two theaters from the end of last year into the beginning of this one. This week's DVD and Blu-ray release will be the first that many are hearing about this and even that seems a long shot based on it not yet being available from Netflix or Redbox, or even having cover art featured on Amazon. All that places a greater burden on this review to call attention to the final credit of Borgnine's illustrious 61-year film career.

Rex Page (Ernest Borgnine) shares an appreciation for an obscure old spaghetti western movie with his playful granddaughter Clementine (Audrey P. Scott) in "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández."

Borgnine plays Rex Page, a cranky old man obsessed with watching his old, worn VHS of A Good Man Killed Bad, a western whose leading role he nearly landed. Rex's acting career never really took off, something he continues to regret as an aging grandfather. A wiping mishap leads Rex's family -- Irma, his wife of 47 years (June Squibb), daughter Denise (Dale Dickey in her most normal role to date), and beloved, soccer-playing granddaughter Clementine (Audrey P. Scott) -- to check him into the Rancho Park nursing home.

There, Rex's ethnic slurs offend the all-Latino immigrant staff. But their relationship warms when Rex realizes that he actually briefly met their most revered singer, Vicente Fernández, considered "Mexico's Frank Sinatra." Rex's titular claim, achieved back in Chicago in the mid-1970s when he was DJ Ricochet Rex, makes him an instant celebrity with the friendly nurses, whom he regales with the details of his sighting and handshake.

Rex's newfound popularity disturbs Mr. Walker (Barry Corbin), a nasty, seemingly healthy card shark whose family owns the facility, which he believes entitles him to walk all over (or should that be roll all over, as he rides a motorized wheelchair) everyone at the hospital. The staff dislikes but fears Walker and his only ally is Joaquin Dominguez (Tony Plana), a vindictive doctor whose specialty appears to be sexually harassing the nurses in front of unconscious patients.

You can be sure that Rex will challenge the facility's unsettling power structure, but not before joining the nurses for a July 4th Vicente Fernández concert, auditioning for a new western he desperately wants to be part of, voicing his fears that he'll never amount to anything, and making amends with his family.

Mr. Walker (Barry Corbin) is not used to the fearless talking to that Rex gives him. Dr. Dominguez' (Tony Plana) notion of professional decorum is making sure the patient is unconscious before putting unwanted moves on nurses like the saintly Solena (Carla Ortiz).

The Man is the second film written, directed, and produced by Elia Petridis, following his obscure 2006 debut How Henri Came to Stay. Petridis' short resume and empty biography on IMDb give no indication as to how he came to make this film and with some accomplished, recognizable cast members.
But it's easy to see the project's appeal for Borgnine, a one-time cinema cowboy who as a nonagenarian probably saw few leading role offers that weren't Hallmark original movies come his way.

This film shows promise early on, its animated opening credits emulating the style of a spaghetti western and its first scene establishing Rex's character. Some things get amateurish, and despite the unusually wide aspect ratio and few moments of profanity (including one unexpected F-bomb), it isn't too far removed from the made-for-TV fare that geriatric actors settle for.

The acting is spotty at times, seemingly due to the insufficient takes commanded by the tight budget. The tone is erratic. The conflict is unsavory. The editing is often a bit off, and the movie could use about ten minutes of pruning. Still, the movie has its heart in the right place and ultimately makes for a suitable swan song for Borgnine, albeit resorting to tearjerkery near its end.

The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.47:1 Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($24.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's picture, which measures to a non-standard 2.47:1 aspect ratio wider than any movie in decades, cannot hide the low budget. The video is marred by some specks and some grain at times, but it stays mostly clean, if not as sharp as you'd like. Rather than one of Blu-ray's lossless formats, sound is only offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo 2.0. The former was fine, delivering some atmosphere, adequate consistency, and decent clarity. The Blu-ray lacks both subtitles and closed captioning, which seems like an especially bad choice considering the subject matter and potential audience.

Darren Brandl and his iPhone give us a peek behind-the-scenes in the untitled featurette. The theatrical trailer uses more spaghetti western theming to tout the film's biggest claim to fame (Ernest Borgnine's final performance).

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's bonus features begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Elia Petridis and producer Darren Brandl. Petridis does the bulk of the talking and has plenty to say, revealing the thought he gave to casting roles big and small, the title design, the depiction of Latino culture (which is not his own), and paying homage to classic films (he proves to be very knowledgeable cinematically).

Of course, he also talks about working with Borgnine at the end of his life. Brandl points out some general filmmaking tenets and shares facts unique to this fast, cost-conscious production. Those who are relatively new to filmmaking bring greater enthusiasm to their commentaries and this one is no exception.

On an indie film, a behind-the-scenes featurette could range from a glorified trailer to a substantial documentary. This one (4:12, HD) falls somewhere in between, shot by producer Brandl on his iPhone. It gives the production the feel of a film school project, but the B-roll footage is not unwelcome.

The Man Who Shook's theatrical trailer (2:23, HD) is gladly included.

The menu also adds HD sneak previews for A Green Story, Happy in the Valley, Ranchero, This Binary Universe, and Falling Away, the environmental first and urban last of which play automatically at disc insertion. A "Play All" option is conspicuously absent.

Playback of the film starts automatically, leaving the Blu-ray's static, silent main menu, not to show up unless summoned until after the end credits. Encoded for all three region codes, the disc doesn't support bookmarks, but does resume unfinished playback of the film. There are no inserts or slipcovers to jazz up the plain blue keepcase, whose cover art recycled from a creative western-flavored poster design now seems guilty of misleading customers to expect something other than a nursing home dramedy.

Ernest Borgnine waves goodbye in the poignant final scene of his final film.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The longevity and appeal of Ernest Borgnine goes a long way to redeeming The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández. The slightly unpolished film's faults are too large to ignore, but do get overshadowed by Borgnine's touching final film performance, which may be reason enough to try and track this down for a viewing.

The Blu-ray lacks some standard and should-be standard touches, and its feature presentation isn't as terrific as those given to bigger studios' contemporaries, but it offers a generally pleasing release of the film, highlighted by an unusually passionate commentary.

Buy The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernández at Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Reviewed May 1, 2013.



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