By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 11, 2018 at 3:36 PM

The summer movie season may still be weeks away, but cinematic excitement has hit Milwaukee early this year, with Marcus Theatres' second annual CineLatino Film Festival rolling film tonight at the Marcus Bistroplex before running through the rest of the weekend at the Marcus Shore Shore Cinema. 

The brainchild of Marcus Theatres president, CEO and chairman Rolando Rodriguez, CineLatino showcases Hispanic-focused and Hispanic-told stories on the big screen, from new animated favorites to iconic classics, Academy Award winners to goofy summer comedies – with half of the proceeds going toward local health and education efforts in the local Hispanic community. 

But with more than a dozen movies stretched out over the course of a long weekend, what should you see? Here are seven standouts from the CineLatino lineup. (Specific showtimes for each movie are all available on the Marcus Theatres' website.) 

1. "La Novia del Desierto"

Surrounded by the likes of Pixar, Guillermo del Toro and Selena, "La Novia del Desierto" (which translates to "The Desert Bride") is far from one of the bigger names at CineLatino – and its story is no grand epic either, telling the tale of a domestic employee, looking for a new path in life after the family she worked for sells their house, taking a journey into the desert after an accident. But this intimate, small-scale tale has won over some big raves from critics, with reviews calling it "a perfect cinematic short story" and "a charmer that locates heroism in a hesitant smile and dares to suggest that though you might have been diminished by disappointment in the past, what you are is still enough." It sounds like one of CineLatino's smallest entries might make its biggest splash.

2. "A Fantastic Woman"

CineLatino is stuffed with award-winning films, from Pixar's Academy Award-winning "Coco" to Guillermo del Toro's four-time Oscar-winning "The Shape of Water" and even del Toro's first awards season triumph, "Pan's Labyrinth," which scored three of Hollywood's cherished golden men just over a decade ago.

But perhaps the biggest and most important Oscar winner of CineLatino's selection is Best Foreign Film winner "A Fantastic Woman," which tells the story of a transgender woman coping with the death of her lover as well as the anger his family has towards her. In a time when transgender stories still struggle to make the big screen and transgender performers still battle for casting opportunities, the film's success – as well as Daniela Vega's star-making lead turn and history-making appearance as the first openly transgender presenter in the show's history – marks a significant step. And judging by its 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and placement on IndieWire critic David Ehrlich's much-ballyhooed best of 2018 roundup, its good intentions added up to a good movie. 

3. "Tesoros"

You don't have to sit through "Coco" again if you're looking for fun for the whole family at CineLatino. (After all, you JUST got "Remember Me" out of your head.) Take a look at "Tesoros," a live-action family adventure about a group of children hunting for lost treasure with the help of their small-town community.

Not only will sweetly heartfelt drama entertain the whole family, young and old, but it'll further support women in film. While the movie industry has made strides toward gender equality – and writer-director Maria Novaro is one of Mexico's most popular female filmmakers – there's still plenty of work to be done, and one of the best ways to push that forward is by empowering those voices and showing that there is an audience for their stories and perspectives. So support a good cause while watching a movie that serves as its own little bit of cinematic buried treasure.

4. "Una Mujer Sin Filtro"

If you've been following the movie industry, you know the U.S. box office is no longer the biggest game in town. "Pacific Rim" only got a sequel because it played like gangbusters in Asia. "The Fate of the Furious" made a billion dollars outside of the United States. Two of the top three grossing films of 2018 barely played in America. 

So, when it comes to global box office news, director Nicolas Lopez has been a big name, scoring hits in Mexico with last fall's "Hazlo Como Hombre" (which also got a big screen run here in the U.S.) and, most recently, with "Una Mujer Sin Filtro," aka "A Woman Without Filter," aka a comedy about a kind, modest woman taken advantage of by her co-workers and family who gets cursed (but really, blessed) with the ability to say exactly how she feels, #nofilter. The movie racked up big business in its original Chile before Loepz remade his film for Mexican audiences – and made even more bank, finishing at number two behind another famous Mexican name: Guillermo del Toro (more on him in a second).

The comedy's clearly tapped a nerve, so check out what the buzz coming from over the border is all about at "Una Mujer Sin Filtro."

5. "The Shape of Water"

I get it. It was easy to be freaked out of seeing the sexy fish monster romance movie when it was first in theaters. And you had a lot of other Oscar-nominated movies to catch up with when it was re-released into theaters for the Academy Awards, so maybe you saved the odd one with the fish sex for last ... and then it was gone.

But now you have no excuses: See "The Shape of Water," a dark yet delightful, occasionally brutal but always beautiful fairy tale tribute to movies, monsters and outsiders that could only be created by newly crowned Best Director Guillermo del Toro (whose "Pan's Labyrinth" is also showing at CineLatino and is also very much worth seeing on the big screen). The four-time Oscar winner is gorgeously told, filled with imagination, creativity and, above all else, del Toro's big beating heart in love with every oddball creation and character on screen. That's always been the key to all of his films's success. (Just ask "Pacific Rim Uprising.")

6. "Selena"

Famed Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez should be celebrating her 47th birthday on Monday, April 16. The Latin icon was tragically taken too soon, but what better time to celebrate her life, legacy and the music she left behind with CineLatino's "Selena" celebration Friday night, highlighted by a screening of the Golden Globe-nominated 1997 biopic at 8 p.m. Can't make it that night? Thankfully the movie – featuring Jennifer Lopez in a star-making turn – will show throughout the entire festival, paying tribute to the true pop culture trailblazer. 

7. "Overboard"

It's not very often Milwaukee gets to host a movie premiere – even more rare when it comes to Hollywood summer blockbusters. But that's exactly what's going to happen at the opening night CineLatino celebration Wednesday evening as Cream City cinephiles will get the first look at "Overboard," a gender-flipped remake of the '80s Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell comedy starring Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez, several weeks before its May 4 release date (and even before its official Hollywood red carpet premiere). 

We'll admit that, even with the gender swap, the plot – about an arrogant rich guy who gets tricked into thinking he's a poor woman's husband after he's washed off his yacht and loses his memory – has not aged well. (Gaslighting: not great!) But if there's anybody who can pull off the concept (again), it might just be Faris and Derbez. The former's always been an undervalued comedic talent, even with scripts that didn't deserve it, while Derbez has charmed his way to becoming one of the most recognizable names in Hispanic entertainment – and growingly in Hollywood too, scoring comedy hits like "Instructions Not Included" and last summer's "How to Be a Latin Lover."

The duo might just be enough to rinse any plot reservations right out of mind when it washes into theaters nationwide next month – or, if you're in Milwaukee, tonight. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.