The Hola Mexico Film Festival, examining new and interesting trends in Mexican cinema, both from a commercial and artistic point of view, works because it melds different genres together to give an interesting diversity, even within a one day personification at the central Teatro Montalban in the heart of Hollywood.
“Tin Tan“, a documentary on one of Mexico’s comedy film legends from the 1950s, is an exceptional journey of music and mambo. While the fawning over the late star can get a little bit too one-sided, the interrelation of all the films clips and access to co-stars and families, as they are now as well as then, provide an ample view. The most interesting time during the early 50s shows the Latin influence that permeated through places like Cuba and gives a view into that time. More specifically it brings the camera crew briefly into Cuba today (with the blessing of the government) to give a faded glimpse of what it once was. While the later aspects, including retreating to Acapulco and making light comedies, is reflective of great performers growing older, it doesn’t take away from the obvious talent of the man balancing somewhere between Desi Arnaz and Jerry Lewis.
“Presumed Guilty” takes the angle from the complete other end of the spectrum in a fairly substantial way in questioning the errant legality and “gulity until proven innocent” precedent of the Mexican justice system using the example of a convicted murder named Tono who was arrested “because they picked him” even though the place where he was working was impossible to get back and forth from to commit the crime. The throughline basically works on the point that once you are accused, you are guilty. The perception comes from a pair of Mexican-born lawyers who challenge the system and get the ability to shoot in the courtroom. While the prosecutor and judge seem to be smiling (as if not getting it), the detectives who continually say they “don’t remember” disregard the actual fairness of what the system could be. After the guilty charge is maintained, the lawyers/filmmakers actually cross the line and join the defense side after they finish law school at UC Berkeley. They overturn the aspect in appeals court but, from what was heard at the festival, the entire overview has become a headache for them in terms of the politics of working in the country. While apparently akin to professional harm to this husband and wife, it provides a fascinating look inside a flawed bureaucracy.
“The Cinema Hold-Up”, which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this year, does retain formulaic aspects but pushes the notion of what life means to youth in Mexico while structuring it within a thriller structure of sorts. What makes it different is its ability to leave the flaws of its characters open, despite any problems they have created. The central plot ploy revolves around staging a hold up at the local movie theater but the film is truly about each of the three central characters and their one girl friend watching their reflective points of life. The lead, who looks like the Mexican version of Milo Ventimiglia (of “Heroes”) is trying to deal with life away from the gang. He’s kicking rock but still indulges in weed. His brother is a crackhead and his mother doesn’t understand him. The quieter, more sensitive one of the group doesn’t have as many problems. He is just unlucky in love, especially when an older woman leads him on and he gets the crap kicked out of him. The last guy, a black kid, has the most diversity. His brother was run out of town so he has to make his bones or check out. He tries to put up a brave front but modulates between this and self-loathing. He is intimidated and he tries to push back but he is not that type of guy and he falters. The girl simply likes the boys, especially the lead, and seems akin to experiencing this sense of danger until her mother realizes the problems are mounting. Ultimately the resignation places the three boys back on their hidden stoop again. The humor in these their daily life, and their obviously good qualities, like buying mom a television or even treating a would-be mugger (who isn’t very good at his job) to tequila shots, give the film a brevity that makes you relate to these kids in a more real way.
“We Are What We Are” is not necessarily clear in its ability to dictate what it is doing but obviously creates a style and a structure that comes off with dexterity. When the patriarch of a family dies, the ritual of what they must do to keep alive is argued and must be kept active. The idea of who must be the leader structures back and forth. The most dynamic and thereby the maestro of the scenario is the younger sister who understands what must be done and ultimately how to survive. While the way that they select their prey balances on notions of social exclusion and/or conformity, the dynamic of familial power and emotion ultimately plays into the ritual. The mother would have them shrivel and die per se because the father would kidnap whores but would have his way with them before he killed them for the family to eat. The dichotomy of that versus the wife working with herbs and then killing a whore her boys bring home with a shovel provide a definite paradox which is only helped by the continually moving camera, exceptional editing and dexterious shots which both draw the characters out and keep the audience at bay.
A secret screening was announced just the day before for midnight the following day. What offered itself was a glimpse into new Mexican comedy mainstream cinema as it is happening which is an interesting experiment in Los Angeles. “Saving Private Perez“, an obvious play on “Private Ryan” takes an interesting road with Don Julian, who is supposedly the most powerful underworld figure in Mexico, who must undertake a rescue operation to save his brother who has been captured while serving in the American Army in Iraq. The film plays for laughs while trying to balance some human drama which is undeniably a hard mix but has resounded in the Mexican cinema since it has become the biggest of the hit down there so far this having just been released 9 weeks ago. It resounds with “The Dirty Dozen” tendencies but with “Naked Gun” and “Top Secret comedy” to boot. One of the funniest additions within the film is their contact in Instanbul who has pink sunglasses and blonde hair along with his machine gun. The character simply provokes laughter especially when their truck hits a landmine going across the Syrian desert because his hair becomes one large frizz. While definitely not highbrow, like “Austin Powers” “Perez” knows its genre providing enough fun while still retaining a slight emotional connection.
The Hola Mexico Film Festival, which itself as a traveling film festival, understands that not all films need be utterly dramatic but work well with both a sense of purpose, history or genre that makes them both thought reflecting as well as entertaining.
“Edge Of Darkness” as a project was supposed to be a return to form of Mel Gibson. When it came out people weren’t quite sure at times what to make of it. Gibson did look older but he seemed to gain youth throughout the film. The same aspects are viable on the BD release. The beginning of the movie shows the man looking defeated (as that is part of the function of the character) but he seems to ramp it up from there. This is Mel returning to the revenge genre. This is a hard boiled approach which many people maybe didn’t expect. It wasn’t the normal Mel humor. The one thing that tended to throw this reviewer off was the inclusion of the ghosts whispering to Mel’s character Craven in the film. It seemed to be too much of a plot ploy. However some of the extras reveal later it to be an integral part of the original book. However on the surface it comes across as lazy storytelling through and through. Despite this, the shooting at the beginning of the film and especially the hitting of the girl in the car near the beginning of the 3rd act are particularly jarring and show how good a director Martin Campbell can be. This film for the lead creatives however seemed to be more of an exercise of being still. The different featurettes explain this specifically. There is a very brief reference that actor Ray Winstone makes to coming in late since apparently his role was originally supposed to be played by Robert De Niro who left a week into shooting. What this tends to do is place the film squarely on Gibson’s shoulders. Howard Shore, who did the music for “Lord Of The Rings”, talks about building a score which for this film means starting off with tinges of mourning and then creating the tension as the momentum builds. The film was adapted from the “Edge Of Darkness” miniseries which Campbell also directed. He had a specific writer working on it for nearly 12 drafts. Then Graham King brought in William Monahan who had done “The Departed” who was able to bridge certain elements and add the Bostonian flavor which was always key. Gibson speaks that he saw the story as a 17th century style revenge tale where at the end every body goes out including the hero. The deleted alternative scenes don’t necessarily lend anything much to the plot though the beginning golf scene which DeNiro supposedly shot and now has Winstone in it shows the blend of humor needed which might not have the been the right spark. “Edge Of Darkness” works a bit better on second viewing because its intention by its makers is very clear on the disc but still skewed perhaps a little too unbalanced despite an effective turn by Gibson. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.