Trying economic times calls for innovative bed buddies, and L.A.–based Maya Entertainment has teamed with Blockbuster for the Maya Independent Film Series, a national touring series kicking off this weekend in Los Angeles. The festival’s goal is to give a platform to Latino films that might otherwise fall through the distribution cracks. The touted crown jewel in the seven-film program is director James Cotten’s The Line, written by R. Ellis Frazier and starring Andy Garcia, Esai Morales, Ray Liotta, Armand Assante, Bruce Davison and go-to character actor Danny Trejo. Although tricked out with an intermittent female apparition, a subplot about Afghani terrorists and some clunky dialogue on geopolitics, The Line is really a standard crime family tale in which two (nonblood) brothers violently battle for leadership of a Mexican drug cartel while the ailing don/patriarch offers words of wisdom from his deathbed. It’s absolutely fine popcorn fare, and the cast is clearly having a ball, but two other films in the series are far more adventurous. Mario Muñoz’s taut thriller Bajo la Sal follows a detective as his hunt for a serial killer leads him to a mysterious woman with a connection to the killings, and to a darkly offbeat kid who works in his family’s funeral home and makes animated slasher films with Barbie- and Ken-style dolls. Baja is smart, tense and inventive; scenes from the “slasher film” are genuinely disturbing. Carlos Enderle’s Crónicas Chilangas explores the nature of obsession through three different characters: a verbally abused, overweight housewife addicted to porn; a schizophrenic who models himself on the lead characters from Men in Black (and hears voices telling him to hunt space aliens); and a spoiled young man who fakes his own kidnapping in order to get his hands on his trust fund. Fast-moving, and alternately hilarious and touching, Crónicas is most impressive for the way it fully fleshes out all three lead characters and their storylines, doing so with carefully observed and assembled detail. (Nuart)

LA Weekly