Born in East L.A. – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: Born in East L.A.
Release Date: 1987
Runtime: 85 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Shout Select (Shout! Factory)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 03/19/19
Director: Cheech Marin
Cast: Cheech Marin, Daniel Stern, Paul Rodriguez, Kamala Lopez, Jan-Michael Vincent, Lupe Ontiveros, Tony Plana
“Born in East L.A.” from 1987 was written, directed and produced by Cheech Marin. Marin is best known as one half of the comedy team “Cheech and Chong” with such films as “Up in Smoke“ (1978), “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie“ (1980), and “Still Smokin'” (1983). The story was inspired slightly by a true story that Cheech read about and would end up being first made into a music video for the group’s final 1985 studio comedy album (“Get Out of My Room“). The studio [Universal] liked it so much they asked Marin if he would consider writing and starring in a feature-length film, and even make what would be his directorial debut. The only consequence was he had to do the film without his comedy partner and tone down the comedy style he was famous for.
The story here is that of a Latino man named “Rudy” (Cheech Marin) that lives with his mother (Lupe Ontiveros) and sister. It’s very important to point out that Rudy is a legal American citizen. As we are first introduced to the character he’s being reminded at the dinner table by his mother that she and his sister will be going out of town for a bit and leaving him in charge. She also informs him that he needs to later go pick up his cousin named “Javier” (Paul Rodriguez) that doesn’t speak much English. He’s shown a picture of this cousin that has just arrived from across the border.
Being given this new information was enough to make Rudy end up forgetting his wallet when he left the house that morning. That’s something that is very important to remember here. After finishing work at his job Rudy goes looking for his cousin at the address he was given only to find a group of workers that get raided by customs for all being undocumented. In the whole mass confusion of things, the head customs agent “McCallister” (Jan-Michael Vincent) finds Rudy hiding and asks for his identification to prove he’s really a legal citizen. Unfortunately, Rudy forgot his wallet that morning – as you might remember, but he forgot.
Sadly, Rudy isn’t given a chance to prove his citizenship and is deported with the undocumented workers back to Mexico. Once he arrives in Mexico he tries to get them to believe him without any luck and even makes some phone calls that don’t prove to help either. Rudy is just stuck in Mexico and has to find a way to get by, which is where his unlikely friendship and employment from an American named “Jimmy” (Daniel Stern) comes in. Jimmy hires him at first to work for him and the two develop a bit of a friendship, and he tells him he can offer to help him get a coyote to smuggle him back across the border (home). Along the way, Rudy will meet a lot of people but one that stands out the most to him is a young woman named “Dolores” (Kamala Lopez) and I’ll leave it at that.
It’s a very unique comedy that gives you the perspective from a legal American citizen who managed to get deported in a time period where forgetting his wallet was all it took. Well, it wasn’t just forgetting his identification as much as it was lacking it while having the color of skin that fit the profile and also being in the wrong place at the right time. It was just bad luck from the start, down to those creepy Jesus eyes. You get some pretty much unforgettable performances here from the likes of Daniel Stern, Paul Rodriguez, and even Tony Plana.
The movie is a comedy first and foremost from Cheech Marin’s approach but it does have a realistic look at immigration. Is there a hidden message? Watch the damn movie and find out for yourself. I’m not spelling it out for you here. I will, however, state the obvious here and point out that it’s very ironic (and fitting) that this film is just now getting released on Blu-ray, at a time when it’s ever so much more appropriate. It’s easily one of the finer films that Marin has done on his own. I’m so happy to finally see this get released on Blu-ray and to see that it has been justice, as you’ll read more about below.
Movie Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
“Born in East L.A.” is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as it was shown theatrically. This was shot on 35mm film using MovieCam cameras using spherical lenses.
The first thing you’ll notice in the opening first moments of the film is some occasional visual imperfections left in like dirt, hair, and scratches. Thankfully that clears up for the most part as the movie progresses along. There’s a healthy amount of film grain here, preserved nicely. This comes with a pretty solid black level and it has a pretty vibrant color palette, as you’ll be reminded by the blue L.A. Dodgers hat all throughout the film. The amount of detail here can be pretty nice for a 1987 film, especially during facial close-ups. There’s really not too many visual imperfections left in here, at least as much as what you’ll see in the opening of the film.
It’s not just a solid high def visual presentation but it also has a very nice amount of film grain left in and a newfound amount of detail that never was present before on the DVD release. It’s a very nice improvement for those who will be upgrading from standard definition.
Video Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Audio here on this Blu-ray is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono, which seems honestly a tad damn bit odd considering the film was actually released in Stereo theatrically (according to IMDb). Still, the lossless mix is essentially put into two channels, so technically that is really Stereo – in a way of sorts.
From the opening bit of the film on out you’ll notice how well this sounds for a 1987 film in Mono, as the dialogue is obviously spot on. The music and sound effects here all sound pretty good. The sounds of echoes in a small room actually come across somewhat convincing and help to set the atmosphere during certain scenes. It’s a bit broader of a sound mix than most would expect from something in Mono (here in 2.0). This Blu-ray gets a solid and even at times slightly impressive lossless mix, no doubt about it, even for just a comedy from the late eighties. The music here, as mentioned, especially Cheech Marin‘s title track (“Born in East L.A.”) sounds somewhat impressive.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release are presented in both SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition) video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. They include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Cheech Marin and Film Historian Marc Edward Heuck
- Waas Sappening? A Conversation with Cheech Marin (31:19 – HD) discusses how this was inspired by a true story he read about while they were working on a Cheech and Chong album. We learn that Cheech didn’t even originally plan to direct the film, as he actually wanted Robert Altman to direct it but the studio wouldn’t even consider allowing it. Marin also discusses working with his co-stars Daniel Stern, Kamala Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, and Jan-Michael Vincent. Cheech ends this by actually saying that he wanted to make a sequel to this film, Born Again, that he claims to have written a screenplay for yet had a hard time getting the studio to sign on to it. Does he discuss the current events going on and how this film now is just as relevant today as it was in 1987? Watch and find out. Let’s just say that Bruce Springsteen and Neil Diamond both got what he was trying to do here and I hope you do as well. This is a very, very informative and enjoyable interview.
- Who You Calling Stupid? A Conversation with Paul Rodriguez (13:36 – HD) has the actor discussing how he met Cheech through when they were shooting the Cheech and Chong film Nice Dreams. Cheech asked him if he could speak Spanish and that is what pretty much helped land him this famous supporting role in the movie. Rodriguez discusses working with Daniel Stern and how he has also known real-life characters similar to the one he [Stern] plays in the film. Paul gets very sincere here at the end discussing the cultural relevance of this film today and his admiration for Cheech Marin with everything he has done in life, even when he went on Jeopardy. This is an excellent interview.
- What is Disco Bunnies? A Conversation with Kamala Lopez (14:25 – HD). The actress discusses, how she got the part, working on the film and acting opposite Cheech Marin as the love interest. She seems to have been very enthusiastic about working on the film and also seems proud of her contribution now looking back on it. This is a very heartfelt and touching interview. I’m so glad Kamala actually said what she did here and took this opportunity to make a statement.
- Extended Television Cut of “Born in East L.A.” (1:33:56 – SD) comes in just standard definition and a 4×3 (1.33:1) presentation but it includes a bit of additional material not even found in the theatrical cut of the film. True fans of the film will be pleased to see this is included, and I am one of those. It’s actually pretty decent video quality to only be in standard definition and from what appears to be a VHS source or such originally with interlacing. Is it watchable? Yes.
- Still Gallery (2:01 – HD) includes photos from scenes featured in the film and some behind-the-scenes shots from on the set, making the film.
- Production Notes (2:46 – HD) plays as a slideshow and is comprised of typed paper notes regarding the film that was sent to the studio (Universal).
- Trailer (1:27 – SD)
Overall the bonus materials here are great, with a new audio commentary from the film’s writer/director and star Cheech Marin included, as well as three new interviews, the extended TV cut of the film (in standard definition) as well as the trailer, a photo gallery and some production notes (as a gallery). It’s an impressive set of extras here for a film that’s making its debut to the Blu-ray Disc format. As a big fan of this film, I’m very happy to see this got the right type of treatment from the folks at Shout! Factory.
Bonus Materials Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
“Born in East L.A.” was a very unique comedy, that I’ve discussed and so have countless others over the years. It’s a film that still holds great cultural relevance as well as can bring you lots of laughs along the way. It does have a message deep down, and Marin did a great job of slipping it in the coffee so-to-speak as he refers to it.
In its debut to the Blu-ray Disc format the film looks a bit more than just solid, it at times can look pretty impressive for a 1987 film in high def. There’s a lot of newfound detail here never seen before on the previous DVD. The sound also proves to be a bit more than just solid, with a lossless 2.0 mono mix that does the film somewhat justice. Finally, you get a really impressive set of bonus materials here to make for a release that I would certainly recommend.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.25 (out of 5) for video quality
4.25 (out of 5) for audio quality
4.5 (out of 5) for bonus materials