Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Can Mexico get any worse, movie-wise? View Amat Escalante's HELI and then we'll discuss....

If Oliver Stone's glossily over-the-top (and-up-through-the-asshole) Savages, followed by the more recent every-single-character-is-a-fucking-philosopher The Counselor didn't quell your desire for a visit to Mexico, then by all means take a chance on HELI, the new film from Amat Escalante (he's a Spaniard, actually), which has one scene of such shocking power and torture-porn possibili-ties that I think I can safely say you'll have seen nothing like it in either an arthouse or mainstream movie.

While this scene singles out the film for a queasy remembrance, Señor Escalante, shown at left, offers a tale of a poor and relatively uneducated family residing in the Mexican stix and characters who seem only marginally acquainted with the place in which they live and the people -- including their family, co-workers and friends (if they have any, that is) who live there, too. Perhaps this is exactly how it is in this area of Mexico. Still, at times, the movie's main character, the eponymous Heli, seems woefully unintelligent, at other moments, he's sharper than you'd expect. Ditto everyone around him, from his wife, his father, his younger sister, her older (but still a child) policeman-in-training boyfriend, and the police officers who "investigate" the slaughter that soon occurs.

You either, I think, accept all this and move on with the film, or you simply shut down as you wonder why you should pay attention to characters this dumb. You want to care for Heli (Armando Espitia, above) and his crew, but Escalante makes it more than a little difficult. His movie raises again the question: How do you make the lower classes real without seeming slow and/or boring? Ah -- just toss in a little uber-violence!

Do these folk know what cocaine is? Of course they do. Do they know about the drug cartels and the power these have. Most certainly. So why do they behave so stupidly, first to last? And why does not the cartel kill Heli when it has the opportunity? Well, then there would be no movie -- which, in the shape it's in, lasts too long by maybe fifteen minutes. I'd have been willing to sit even longer, though, had Escalante given me more genuine specifics.

As for the venal and corrupt police officers, at least the female of the two seems to want sex more than money, which is a switch of sorts -- while allowing us to view some very appealing cleavage, fully exposed: This filmmaker knows well what will sell his film. Despite his heavy-duty nods to the marketplace, I suspect Escalante is trying to be truthful to the behavior of someone like his main character, and so does not give him much of a backstory filled with undue exposition. Unfortunately, he doesn't give him much of a current story, either.

We're made privy to very little here -- not the younger sister's conversa-tions with her school mates, in which the boyfriend and cocaine tale would certainly come out and she'd be thoroughly warned about him and his actions. (If I know that local police officers and drug cartels are connected, I'd wager these kids do, too.) Likewise, Heli seems to have no friends at all -- on the job or elsewhere -- with which he'd share parts of his life.

So we go from event to event, most of them damned huge and life-changing (or ending). We're shocked, certainly, disgusted and frightened, and end up feeling, as we usually do, that Mexico is one of the larger cesspools of the world, for which there's no clean-up scheduled (or even possible) anytime soon. The cast, made up of mostly newcomers, achieves as good a likeness to reality as possible under these circumstances. (One of the investigating cops is played by the film's co-writer, Gabriel Reyes.)

From Outsider Pictrures, Heli -- which won the Best Director prize at last year's Cannes Film Fest and was nominated for the Palme d'Or -- opens this Friday, June 13, in New York City (at the Cinema Village), Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Noho 7), and San Diego (at the Digital Gym Cinema). In the weeks to come it will hit Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco. To see all scheduled playdates, click here and then click on Now in Cinemas near the top of the screen.

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