33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2005
Movies about entertainment icons can be very promising, but at the same time misleading.<br />
Such can be said about the talented 17 year old Ritchie Valens (Richard Steve Valenzuela) of Southern California. The Ritchie Valens story is one of which many know the end, but not necessarily beginning or the middle.<br />
When you see La Bamba, it's important to keep in mind that, unless you are already familiar with the Ritchie Valens legacy, the film will forever distort the image and persona of a 1950's star.<br />
For example; Ritchie did not have a gilrfriend named Donna. The band Valens performed with up until a few months before his demise (including the bandleader) were close friends of Ritchie's until the end. Ritchie did not have constant premonitions about his fate. On the contrary, he lived his life as happy as can be and struggled, as many other music performers of his day, with a sometimes dishonest manager who sought to make a buck out of a talented but innexperienced teenager.<br />
But, why is this movie worth noting? Because it perpetuates Ritchie Valens' legacy and music. This is something important since Valens is a pioneer figure from the early days of rock n' roll. His untimely death after only eight months into his professional career placed his music and legacy in momentary oblivion. The dated news reports of February 1959 listed Valens as the biggest star of the three who were killed in a plane crash (Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper were the other two). At the time of his death Ritchie had the number one song in the popular music charts for the West Coast and the number two song in the nation.<br />
In his brief but remarkable career Ritchie Valens caught the attention of rock n' roll fans around the world. He appeared in various television shows and before live audiences throughout Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Honolulu and Canada. Audiences perceived in Valens a style innovative to the music world. Unlike the other rock n' roll artists of his time, Ritchie Valens was neither Anglo nor African-American. He was of Hispanic descent (particularly Mexican Mestizo-Indian). This didn't go unnoticed by the young public. They loved him. In a time when Mexican-Americans faced a lack of visibility in the U.S. pop culture, Valens did not seek to hide his ethnicity. On the contrary, he flaunted his "Mexicanism" wearing a Mariachi-stlye outfit before an audience whom he serenaded with an unheard of, new version, of rock n' roll in Spanish!<br />
Valens left quite a music legacy. Even though he could neither read or write music, he was a very talented musician. He only knew three or four guitar chords and used these as the basis for all his songs. While it was rare for early rock n' roll performers to pen their own material, Ritchie was known to do exactly that. His talent even landed him a spot on the silver screen. He appeared alongside Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson and Eddie Cochran in a motion picture by Alan Freed set for release in August 1959. With his "Donna/La Bamba" single Valens was able to accomplish something that few rock n' roll musicians, like the Beatles, have accomplished: a simultaneous double-sided hit. Interesting enough, one of his albums stands as the only live concert rock n' roll album of the 1950's.<br />
His achievements inspired others to follow. The fellow Californian Band, the Beach Boys, had their big break playing for a Ritchie Valens Memorial Concert in Long Beach, California and went on to have a successful career. Los Lobos, Chan Romero, Carlos Santana, and Los Loenly Boys, amongst others, have expressed themselves about the influence Valens has had in their music. Ritchie is considered by some today as the father of Chicano Rock. Something distinguished since by the time he was only seventeen. In only eight months he went from playing in a neighborhood band to key-billing in a major rock n' roll tour across the Midwest. One can only wonder what would have been had he not suffered that tragic accident in 1959. He might have gone on to be one of the a major recording stars of the 1960's.<br />
However, unlike Elvis Presley or John Lennon, at the time of his death Ritchie Valens lacked a well grounded fan base. The public loved Ritchie but they were barely getting to know him. Most of his material was released posthumously. The radio D.J.'s refused to play the music of a deceased artist. Whereas other artists have momentarily grown in popularity after their death Ritchie Valens' music experienced the opposite. As time passed, Buddy Holly, who at the time of the accident was working on a comeback to the music scene, came to be remembered as the most promising artist that perished that day. In time, Valens became the footnote to the Holly story. Yet, Chicanos throughout the Southwest never forgot Ritchie Valens. They often memorialized him in barrio murals depicting the Mexican-American experience and their Pre-Columbian roots. Yet, it was not until the late 1970's with the Columbia Pictures' The Buddy Holly Story and even more so in this New Visions motion picture production by Luis Valdez, La Bamba, in the late 1980's, that interest in Ritchie Valens was reignited in the general media. Today, a star with Ritchie's name lies in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was recently inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and a documentary about his life has been released on DVD.<br />
La Bamba deserves a special place amongst Rock n Roll movies. But hopefully it will inspire viewers to look into who Ritchie Valens was and why he has earned his right to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2003
I saw La Bamba the other night for the first time in many years, and was delighted to see how well it had held up. Of the many tragedies in the history of rock, there are few more bitterly poignant than that of Ritchie Valens, and director Luis Valdez makes us feel the full force of the tragedy. He makes us love not only Ritchie (Lou Diamond Phillips) but also his supportive mother Connie (Rosana De Soto) and his troubled brother Bob (Esai Morales), then ends the film as he should, on a note of raw, unmitigated grief. On the way to the tragic end, however, we also get marvelous recreations of vintage rock songs by Los Lobos, Brian Setzer, Marshall Crenshaw, Howard Huntsberry and others. Seeing La Bamba again brings up a smaller tragedy: why Phillips, Morales and De Soto didn't become bigger stars, as they clearly deserved to become from their performances in this movie. Only Phillips came at all close to stardom, and for every step forward he took--his change-of-pace villainous role in Courage Under Fire, his Broadway triumph in the revival of The King and I--he took two steps back with some straight-to-video flick. But in any case you can still see them in La Bamba, and laugh, cry, and applaud.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
La Bamba is my favorite movie of all time hands down. Of all the films I have seen not many reached me the way La Bamba did. I first saw this movie back in the summer of 96 when I was 17-years old and I fell in love with this movie and also became a big fan of Ritchie Valens. No joke I would watch this movie every single day it was on. La Bamba was a staple part of HBO's line up and even if it was on twice a day I would watch it. For me, each time I saw the movie it felt like the first time. I would drive my friends crazy with having to watch it even after I recorded the movie they figured I wouldn't watch it as much, but I still did.
At the time I was actually learning the guitar and I never really played at all and this movie inspired me to actually practice and not only that, but it also inspired me on wanting to be a filmmaker. I really can't think of any other movie that reached me on this deep of a level. Like I said in the opening of my review La Bamba is hands down my favorite movie of all time. For starters it has some truly great music; La Bamba is about having a dream and not letting anyone stop you from reaching that dream. It's about love and family.
The screenplay by Luis Valdez was excellent; the characters are great and each of the main players all add to the movie. None of the characters are just there. Each character plays a crucial part of the movie. While yes the story does revolve around Ritchie played amazingly by Lou Diamond Phillips, but in many ways movie is actually Bob's story played by Esai Morales who pretty much steals the show. There is a bond between the 2 brothers, but there is also tension. Bob is always in Ritchie's shadow despite being older and I was really able to relate more to Bob in many ways than Ritchie. Ritchie was sort of the Golden Boy, while Bob was sort of the outsider.
I think at some point in our lives we have felt like we were in someone's shadow, either it be a friend, family member or co-worker. The more Ritchie finds success the more Bob falls into this despair as all the attention goes to Ritchie and he's sort of forgotten about. The movie may revolve around Ritchie, but it's very much Bob's story. And Esai Morales gives a terrific performance. La Bamba is about going for your dreams and not letting anyone stop you from reaching them. We all have dreams in life and most of us are too afraid to try and make them come true. Ritchie had a dream in life and wouldn't let anything keep him from that and I hold that close. La Bamba gave me and still gives me the courage to go after my own filmmaking dreams.
As director Luis Valdez creates some truly touching scenes and some truly inspiring moments. When making a Bio-picture normally certain parts are played up more for dramatic effect and Valdez does that here, but it works well. A lot of the scenes with tension between Bob and Ritchie comes from real life and comes from the own personal experience between Luis Valdez and his own brother. The love story between Ritchie and Donna played by Danielle von Zerneck are possibly the strongest scenes of the movie and shows a time of innocence.
Prior to this movie I knew who Ritchie Valens was and I knew his music, but I wouldn't be able to place the music with the artist. All the music in the movie that Ritchie sings is performed by Los Lobos who did justice to the original music, but I sought out the original versions by Ritchie and loved it. On my guitar I used to play Donna, Come on Let's Go and La Bamba non-stop. Nothing can top the opening lick in La Bamba.
Lou Diamond Phillips made his screen debut, but if not mistaken he actually shot Stand and Deliver first, but this one came out first. Lou Diamond gives a performance of a lifetime. His performance is so real and inspiring. I would rate this performance as one of my all time favorites. By the time I saw La Bamba I was already a fan of Lou Diamond, but this movie made him one of my very favorite actors of all time. Esai Morales though pretty much steals the show like I stated before. Rosanna DeSoto as Connie, Ritchie's mother is excellent and Joey Pantoliano as Ritchie's manager is excellent, but Joey Pants always delivers. Elizabeth Pena also gives a good performance as Ritchie's ex-girlfriend who is now with Bob, which creates some uneasy tension.
I'll be the first to admit the final act always gets me teary-eyed. The death of Ritchie and Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper was so tragic. Buddy Holly is one of my all time favorite musicians. When Ritchie's family and friends hear the news over the radio it's just so tragic. Sleepwalk, played by Santo & Johnny is so hauntingly beautiful and really adds to the scene; Bob walking across a wooded bridge and stops and screams Ritchie's name never fails to give me the chills.
La Bamba is truly a great and uplifting movie that is really tragic, but again very uplifting. Ritchie was only 17-years old when he died and I remember being freaked out since I was that very age when I first saw the movie. At that age death isn't something we think about and it was quite creepy. This may be clichéd, but Ritchie may be gone, but his music and impact will never be forgotten. His life inspired this movie and this movie inspired me.
Without a doubt La Bamba is my very favorite movie nothing for me comes close. I can watch this movie everyday and never once get tired of it. Each time I see the movie it feels like the first time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2003
La Bamba is one of my top 25 favorite films. Lou Diamond Phillips comes across for real. I was surprised when I saw a picture of the real Ritchie Valens. I had forgotten what he looked like (when I was a teenager). Lou doesn't look like him, but who cares? This is a great suspension of disbelief.
Esai Morales doing a great job as the troubled brother Bob. it is easy to feel his pain. And it is almost impossible to tell the difference between Los Lobos' rendition of the title song and the original Ritchie version. The hint is in those couple of seconds of silence that Los Lobos does near the end. And then there are those excellent imitations of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Jackie Wilson and others.
The DVD has two feature-length commentaries that are worth listening to. Beyond this, I have also turned on the Spanish-language track and watched the film a few times that way. If you have some understanding of both languages, it helps to show how they get the nuances across it slightly different ways.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2011
I must admit that I was charmed with this DVD. I'd seen the film many times but this DVD really did it for me.
Why? Because of the extra features. The features show clips of Ritchie's family during the making of the film.
Many of them made cameo appearances and the audio commentary mentions them when they appear.
What also is interesting is Ritchie's girlfriend Donna. She does appear in the extra footage. This contradicts the previous reviewers comment that he didn't have a girlfriend named Donna. He did, though the film makes it clear that there were problems. If you listen to the audio commentary you'll discover that Donna's parents later divorced, partly because of her father's racism.
Ritchie's brother Bob also appears in the extra footage and he's rather blunt and honest as he recalls himself during that time period which is wonderful. Bob really was like that at that time. What's really nice to know is that he eventually cleaned himself up and became a drug & alcohol counselor. (Though that was sometime after Ritchie's death)
So, if you haven't seen the film, buy this DVD. If you already have a copy of it, this version of the film with the extra stuff makes buying this version deffinately worthwhile.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2010
The haunting strains of "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny (a song which, in actuality was introduced the summer after this story ends) begin the tale of Ritchie Valens(played by a winsome and determined Lou Diamond Phillips), and the complimentary recreation of the teen rocker's legendary score by Los Lobos sets director Luis Valdez's presentation on fire.
Jolted out of bed after yet another bad dream of a real-life incident in which a section of one of two colliding planes fell and killed his friend as he was on a playground, a recoiling young Ricardo Valenzuela begins his day, helping his family pick produce in an orchard (although there is apparent dispute about his ever having had that occupation) in the Northern California of 1957.
Shortly thereafter, the hardworking teen and his family, including his mother, Connie(Rosanna De Soto) and his sisters (Katie Valdez and Gloria Balcorta) are reunited with the bad seed of the family, Bob (Esai Morales), newly released from jail.The relationship of the two half-brothers is raucously playful. But the marked differences between their two personalities will determine their destinies.
Ritchie, polite, respectful, and determined to be a successful rock and roll star, plays his guitar at every opportunity( including his sister's birthday party) and stays focused on his goal.
Bob, on the other hand,hot-headed, and alcoholic, seduces young Rosie Morales(Elizabeth Pena), who goes with the Valenzuelas when they move to a new residence. The two have a very tempestuous relationship that cannot be described as an honorable one.
We observe the support of Ritchie's family as his mother arranges for him to perform in the bar where his father drank himself to death, and he plays at school dances. Even Bob backs him on the drums at one point.
After performing with a group called The Silhouettes for a time, a talent scout decides that Ritchie is the member of that group who has the real talent. Soon, Bob Keane( Joe Pantoliano) begins to manage his career, which begins to take off.
In the meantime, Ritchie courts a lovely car dealer's daughter named Donna Ludwig (Danielle Von Zerneck) whose father( Sam Anderson) being a product of his time, disapproves of their relationship, although her mother(Maggie Gwinn)seems slightly more empathetic.
An undercurrent to the story takes place when Bob, working as a garbage man takes home some cartoon cells that were discarded outside an animation studio, and gradually discovers his own talent as an artist. But Ritchie's success roars louder as time goes on, and Bob's resentment of his younger brother's accomplishments grows.
Ritchie's first recording for the Del-Fi Label is "Come on, Let's Go", and he reluctantly allows his name to be changed to Ritchie Valens to broaden the appeal he will have as star.
The rising young recording star does a radio segment with Alan Freed(Jeffrey Alan Chandler)where he is the topic of a trivia question, and personally delivers pizza to the winning contestant.He is able to buy his mother a new house, and her unbridled delight is a dagger in the heart of his less-successful older brother.
Donna, however, seems to be slipping away from his grasp, and her father denies she is home whenever Ritchie calls, much to Donna's own aggravation.
After confronting her at her home, Ritchie writes a song to prove his feelings about her, and sings it to her over a pay phone. Riding by on his motorcycle, Bob tries to get Ritchie to forget Donna by taking him to Tiajuana, where they end up in a brothel. While Bob displays the interests typical of men in such an environment, Ritchie is drawn to the music played by the band(Los Lobos in their cameo appearance), particularly, the song, "La Bamba".
Finding himself in unfamiliar surroundings when waking the following morning, he is greeted by an old mystic faith healer(Mike Moroff)who gives him and Bob a breakfast of rattlesnake and hands Ritchie a talisman, which he claims will help with his fear of flying.
Rosie delivers Bob's daughter while the two are away, and the next morning Connie gives her sons both barrels for their irresponsibility in not being there for Rosie in her time of need.
After performing "Donna" on "American Bandstand", Ritchie, however incorporates the lessons he gleaned from his South of the boarder stint into his work. Bob Keane reluctantly allows Ritchie to record the Mexican folk song he heard. Christmastime of 1958 finds Ritchie waiting to appear onstage in New York, where audiences are treated to performances of such now-legendary luminaries as Eddie Cochran(Brian Setzer)who would later write the song "Three Stars" honoring Ritchie and two others, the same year he was fated to become a fourth star in the sky, and Jackie Wilson( Howard Huntsberry) before Ritchie dazzles them with "La Bamba"--a moment that becomes the highlight of his career.
Returning home afterwards, Ritchie and his brother have a final and bitter confrontation during the Christmas party given to welcome Ritchie home.
While empathetic to Bob's situation, one feels that the least he could do is put aside his personal issues and be supportive of the family member who was doing the most to help his family rise from poverty. But Bob does not easily concede to any personal accountability for his actions.
There is one more romantic moment with his girl before Ritchie must leave for that fateful Winter Dance Tour, and there is a reconciliation with Bob during a phone conversation. At only 17, his future seems assured.
But as was noted in the tagline advertising this film:"Talent made him a star...Fate made him a legend."
The end of a supernova career is spent in the company of Buddy Holly(Marshall Crenshaw) and the Big Bopper(Stephen Lee), both of whom are expectant fathers.
Mrs. Valenzuela learns of the tragic change in her family's fortune by radio, and Donna from her sobbing classmates.Rick Dees, as journalist Ted Quillan, covers the final chapter in this story.
The real Mrs. Valenzuela, who lived just long enough to see her son's story appear onscreen, makes a cameo appearance during a family gathering.
As nostaligia buffs and others await the arrival of the impending film on the Big Bopper's life, the final segment of the "Three Stars" trilogy, this riveting tale brings home the lesson of how a young star's life still continues to inspire, and how the joy in his music will live forever.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2005
If you've heard tunes from La Bamba, you'll want to watch the movie. If you've never heard the soundtrack, check out an MP3 here on Amazon sometime of "Donna" and "La Bamba". The music by this teenager really makes this movie.
The story of a boy who became a rock n roll star at 17, La Bamba is a good see not just for an historical account of the life of Ritchie Ricardo Valenzuela (Valens), but for the music and the feeling behind that music.
The movie rocks from the get go, with tunes like ''Rip it Up'', "Ooh! My Head", "We Belong Together", "Come on Let's Go", "Donna", "La Bamba" and more.
Superb performances by the riveting Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Ritchie Valens), the brooding and angry brother played by Esai Morales, and Rosana DeSoto who plays Ritchie's mom.
I got the dvd a month back and have seen it 6 times already, mostly using scene selections for the later views. Be sure to watch the special features including interviews with Ritchie's real mom as well as the real Donna. See if you can spot a cameo by Ritchie's mom in the movie.
A fun movie, very well produced, great full screen video quality, great music. I'm the kind of guy that loves musicals from Jesus Christ Superstar to Singing in the Rain, from My Fair Lady to Swing Time.. La Bamba, for me, is about the music by a kid who was born to sing.
Along with Ritchie's compositions (performed by Los Lobos), my biggest take away from the movie is this: music touches hearts the same way for everyone.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2005
For those Americans whose first exposure to Ritchie Valens was from LA BAMBA, they were treated to the very essence that made Valens the briefly shining star that he was. Director Luis Valdez correctly fused the major parts of Valens' life with some of the songs that rocketed Valens to the top. Lou Diamond Phillips has a breakway role as Ritchie Valens and plays him with just the right note of self-assured talent and the conviction that his talent will not be stopped by the racism that was then rampant in the music business. We see Ritchie Valenzuela trying to balance a musical career that will not tolerate Mexican-Americans with his equally strong grasp for the love of a blue-eyed blonde Donna, neither of which will be easy to achieve. Valenzuela learns painfully that no singer with a Latin name can hope to hit the top ten. He compromises by choosing an Anglofied version--Valens. But with Donna there can be no compromise. His breakout hit "Donna" is his clarion call that there are some principles that he refuses to give in on. Valens even learns to trust his instinct that tells him that a Spanish language song will be a bestseller. Hence, the "La Bamba" of the title, which is played by the real life Les Lobos during a footstomping jam session. Esai Morales as his weaker brother Bob pushes the film into soap opera territory, yet even here, Phillips as Valens keeps his feet and his voice solidly grounded in the basic business of the film. I had a bigger problem with the airplane crashing foreshadowing that intruded far too often. Valens' dreams of his own death in a plane crash gave the film an overheavy dose of inevitability. During the last night of his life, Valens shares center stage with the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, both of whom add their own verbal luminescence to the singing light that was extinguished far too soon. LA BAMBA is a musical paen to those fortunate few who possess the ability to shake us out of our chairs and deposit us on dancing in the aisles. LA BAMBA is one such movie.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Well, this doesn't happen very often with me, but this movie made me cry! Additionally-- and this happens even less frequently-- the movie gets my eyes watering every time I see it! Great music, great story (Richie and Bob's relationship is really the most important one in the film,) and powerful acting, it is one of the few movies that I would recommend everyone seeing. It makes me sad, angry and wistful every time I see it... what was, and what might have been...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2003
What a movie. It flows well and the caracters have appropriate affect. This is so surreal!! The rivalry, the music, the Latin influence, the racial issue all make this event in time so marked. I don't think it won an Oscar, but it should have. Granted I was 13 years old when this all happened and have a sense of the reality, but wow what a show stopper. Anyway, I still enjoy watching this movie and strongly recommend it to anyone. ENJOY.