Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango

Even if I told you to picture a Mexican version of Natural Born Killers starring Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem with shades of voodoo mysticism, tons of pulpy brutal violence, transgressive taboo vibes and shades of From Dusk Till Dawn it wouldn’t prepare you for the visual audacity and narrative viscera that is Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango, a scrappy mid 90’s bit of cult nihilism based on a book by Barry Gifford. Gifford, you may recall, also wrote the book that David Lynch based Wild At Heart on so many of the same characters appear here for a kind of fascinating “Lynch/Gifford extended universe” vibe. Rosie Perez is Perdita Durango, a vivacious wayward outlaw girl who hooks up with Bardem’s Romeo, a psychopathic, voodoo practicing criminal who has been hired by evil crime kingpin Marcelo ‘Crazy Eyes’ Santos (Don Stroud) to facilitate the black market delivery of stolen human fetuses for cosmetic industry (I swear I’m not making the shit up). The two of them hook up along the way and get up to all sorts of lurid shenanigans including kidnapping a teenage couple (Harley Cross & Aimee Graham), raping them both and forcing them to tag along on their bloodthirsty swath of carnage and mayhem across Texas and the Mexico border. James Gandolfini shows up as a dogged DEA agent hellbent on stopping them and nailing Santos, and he hilariously gets hit by multiple speeding vehicles only to keep on truckin with a neck brace, then a leg brace and so on. There are also scattershot appearances from musician Screamin Jay Hawkins, filmmaker Alex Cox and a young Demien Bechir as a Vegas crime kingpin who meets a spectacularly gory end at the hands of Bardem. He is unbelievable as Romeo, I didn’t think I’d ever see a film where he has a more ridiculous haircut than his mop in No Country For Old Men but it happened, he looks like a an angry tumblr maven with his hyper cropped bangs here, and he tears into the role with a kind of unhinged ferocity and rambunctiousness I haven’t seen before in his mostly restrained career so far. Perez is like a Latin Harley Quinn as Perdita, all pissed off fury and sudden violent sexual energy in a total tour de force. This film won’t be for everyone: it’s incredibly subversive and deranged, there are explicitly shown instances of human sacrifice, rape, child abuse and domestic violence, not to mention the overall dose of supremely bloody gun violence and just a generaly lurid, deliberately unsavoury tone that stems from Gifford’s often shockingly tasteless yet somehow captivating work. But it’s a lot of fun too, there’s heaps of hilariously subtle dark comedy thrown in, a ballistic firestorm of a soundtrack, a host of deliriously over the top performances from the excellent cast and all manner of bizarre, arbitrary, surreal and eclectic sideshow-freak elements that make this an eccentric trip to hell with two demented individuals who you can’t decide whether to run from in horror or party with as they’re that much fun.

-Nate Hill

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

CHE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Che (2008) began as a personal project for actor Benicio del Toro around the time he was making Traffic (2000) with Steven Soderbergh. Originally, he planned on making the film about iconic revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara with Terrence Malick and its focus was to be on the disastrous Bolivian campaign in 1967. Malick eventually dropped out to go off and make The New World (2005). Soderbergh helped out Del Toro by agreeing to direct and in the process expanded the film’s scope by depicting Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution as a way of explaining his motivations for going to Bolivia.

Amazingly, Soderbergh raised the $58 million budget entirely outside of North America, which allowed him much more creative freedom. The result was a four-and-half-hour epic that refused to champion or demonize Che and instead opted to objectively depict his rise in Cuba and his fall in Bolivia. This approach ultimately doomed Che’s chances in North America where, despite breaking the film up into two, more digestible parts, it received limited distribution. Predictably, it divided critics and was criminally ignored by all of the major award ceremonies – rather fitting for a film about someone who refused to rest on his laurels, always hungry to get back to the jungle and get back to work.

I think that the key to understanding Del Toro and Soderbergh’s take on Che comes from an interview with director where he said, “Clearly this is a guy whose priority is going into the jungle and starting a revolution. That is the most important thing in his life … If you take away all the words and just look at what he did, the guy kept going back into the jungle.” Del Toro and Soderbergh were faced with the daunting task of making a film about an iconic historic figure, someone whose image has graced countless t-shirts and posters. Che is an extremely polarizing figure and so it makes sense that they would step back and take a more objective look at the man. Then, it would be up to the audience to decide how they felt about him.

Those looking for a crowd-pleasing underdog story a la Erin Brockovich (2000) will be disappointed by Che. The famous Argentinean is not as easy to like as the scrappy Brockovich. As depicted in Che, he’s a much more complex individual. He cares about the cause and those that fight with him but does not feel the need to show a lot of emotion. When he’s in the jungle it is all about the task at hand and living in the moment. Che never loses sight of what his objective is and his conviction never wavers, not even in the face of death. He’s like a Method actor that stays in character on and off-camera during a shoot.

Part One juxtaposes Che’s efforts to remove Batista from power in Cuba in 1958 with him addressing the United Nations in 1964 and in doing so we see Che in his element, putting into practice guerrilla warfare tactics, and we see Che the superstar espousing his beliefs to the media in New York City and the international community at large. At first, the Bolivia campaign as depicted in Part Two starts off well enough with Che sneaking into the country and meeting with his fellow revolutionaries. We see them get supplies and train in preparation for the task at hand. However, the country’s Communist party refuses to support an armed struggle, especially one led by a foreigner. The support of the peasants, so crucial in Cuba, is lacking in Bolivia, making food hard to come by. A feeling of dread creeps in as government troops gradually close in on Che, cutting off any avenue of escape.

Soderbergh maintains an objective stance by refusing to show any close-ups of Che. We always see him from a certain distance and often grouped with others. During the battle at El Uvero on May 28, 1957, Soderbergh conveys the noisy, chaotic nature of combat as men are seemingly wounded at random but there is never any confusion visually about what is going on. Twice during the battle, he takes us out of it by having a voiceover by Che where he espouses his philosophy of guerrilla warfare. With a widescreen aspect ratio, Soderbergh opens things up in Part One and this is particularly evident during the battle scenes. In Part Two, this all changes, as the smooth camerawork is replaced with hand-held cameras and a more standard aspect ratio which creates a claustrophobic feel and look. The long takes and deliberately slow pace may frustrate some expecting a more traditional biopic but I found it a welcome change from the cookie cutter mentality of most Hollywood depictions of history.

During the Cuban campaign it is evident that Che is very much a man of the people, whether it is making contact with and befriending peasants that he comes across in the jungle or treating a wounded comrade. However, Che eschews character development in favor of showing the nuts and bolts of a revolution. As Che says at one point, “A real revolutionary goes where he’s needed. It may not be directly in combat. Sometimes it’s about doing other tasks … finding food, dressing wounds, carrying comrades for miles … and then, taking care of them until they can take care of themselves.” The film takes this philosophy to heart by showing the day-to-day activities of Che and his fellow revolutionaries. We see him dressing wounds, the wounded being carried through the jungle and strategizing with his men and Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir).

Benicio del Toro effortlessly becomes Che and tones down his tendency to sometimes resort to Brando-esque acting tics (see The Way of the Gun) and plays the iconic revolutionary as a man confident of his own convictions. He conveys Che’s sharp intellect with his eyes and also does an excellent job with the physical aspects like his recurring asthma that constantly plagued him. Del Toro provides us insight into the man’s character through attitude, behavior and the way he acts towards others.

24a125_34547ac222f04702b5e68cb83dd8629cChe is ultimately a study in contrasts. What worked in Cuba did not work in Bolivia. Soderbergh’s film illustrates the differences. In Cuba, the revolutionaries were able to get the trust and support of the peasants while in Bolivia they feared the rebels. It must also be said that Castro played a key role in the success of the Cuban revolution and his absence in Bolivia, the galvanizing effect he had, is sorely missed. With Che, Soderbergh has created an unusual biopic that does its best to not try and manipulate you into feeling one way or another about the revolutionary. Instead, it shows two very different examples of the man’s philosophies put into practice and how they played out – one a success and the other a failure. Che was a polarizing historical figure long before this film came along and will continue to be long afterwards.

Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, came out at a hostile time in contemporary America. Tarantino joined marching protests against police violence; then the overly sensitive millennial online “journalists” chastised the film, and Tarantino, for painting shades of misogyny and racism. Tarantino was unfairly attacked by the extreme wings of each political party. Had no one paid attention to Tarantino films prior? Of course racism and misogyny plays a vital part in this film, because not only did those elements exist in the post-Civil War 1800’s, but also exist in reality.

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This film is a cataclysm of Tarantino’s self-indulgence. He constantly references his prior works (mainly RESERVOIR DOGS) while homaging Sergio Leone, Billy Wilder, and John Carpenter. His limited casting is formed of new Tarantino players: Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern who Tarantino has worked with twice prior; as well as his seminal ensemble made up of Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Bell, James Parks, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. Joining the Tarantino crew for the first time is Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, and Channing Tatum.

For as visionary as Robert Richardson’s cinematography is and Ennio Morricone’s Academy Award winning hypnotic score, the greatness of this film lies within one of Tarantino’s best screenplays and one of the best acting ensembles since GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Tarantino is one of the most talented actor’s directors who has ever sat behind the camera. He carefully crafts each character with an actor in mind, playing on their strengths and bringing out untapped potential from even the most veteran actor he’s working with. The cast is absolutely brilliant.

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Kurt Russell does the best John Wayne impression ever as the hard barked simpleton whose stupidity is even more outrageous than his facial hair. Russell is always a joy to watch, and Tarantino’s use of him are highlights in an already legendary career. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the best linguists to ever grace the screen. Tarantino’s dialogue has never sounded better than coming out of Jackson’s mouth (aside from Harvey Keitel). Tim Roth gives one of his best performances delivering an English shtick of Mr. Orange from RESERVOIR DOGS. Perhaps the most surprisingly great performance in this film is that of Michael Madsen playing a caricature of himself. I can’t say anything more about Jennifer Jason Leigh that hasn’t already been said. She should have won the Oscar.

Tarantino outdoes himself with THE HATEFUL EIGHT; the script is outrageously funny, giving these talented actors so much to play with. Only Quentin Tarantino would be able to craft an epic western built upon heightened paranoia that is three hours long, set inside a tiny cabin that is filled with eight larger than life characters, filmed with a wide angle lens that is constantly on the move. Tarantino has reached Terrence Malick status by making films for himself, not for an audience, or a demographic, and that’s what he has excelled since GRINDHOUSE. No one loves movies more than Quentin Tarantino. Oh, and about that overt racism in this film, did those people not stay until the end?

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