Perdita Durango

*Originally written in 2003

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Based on Barry Gifford’s novel, Perdita Durango follows the exploits of the mysterious, dark, sexual creature of the same name- a woman with a violent and criminal past (who incidentally pops up for a few scenes in Wild At Heart, played by Isabella Rossillini). Full of unlikable characters, violence, voodoo, and sex, Perdita Durango is an intriguing film which attempts to say something about the state of the modern, vapid, white American whose lives are defined by the shows they watch, and the kids who have no real opinions of their own. Unfortunately, we must sympathize with this group as they have been kidnapped by the malevolent Perdita and her lover Romeo – even more despicable, yet charismatic people. The kids here are very annoying and it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for them, and just when we think we are disgusted by Perdita and Romeo, we find ourselves rooting for them. It is a strange film, messing with our conceptions of good and evil, and by the end we have the feeling that there is no good or evil, only stupid and lucky.

Perdita, played by Rosie Perez, meets the mysterious and deadly Romeo (Javier Bardem) who is planning to hijack a truck load of fetuses and bring them over the boarder from Mexico to N. America. They team up and have a fiery partnership which eventually leads to lots of dark sex and some semblance of love. Before they can do the job, Romeo needs human victims to sacrifice to his Gods so they will give him favourable odds. They kidnap two typical naive American teens, Duanne and Estelle, and begin their journey. As they travel, they pseudo-bond, but each time you think they will become friendly and the kids might be saved, the two Mexicans soon show their dark sides again. On their tails are some DEA agents, (including James Gandolfini), the girl’s obsessive but stupid father, and a couple of groups from Romeo’s past who want him dead. Things are looking bleak for all concerned, and perhaps not even Romeo’s Gods can intervene.

Banned and cut to shreds in many countries for its violence, nudity and use of other shows and films, you may find it a challenge to find a copy of this. It is dark, there is quite a lot of violence and sex and drug-use, but there is a wry sense of humour throughout, and everything is so fantastical and bizarre that it is difficult to take any of it seriously. The performances of Perez and Bardem are both extremely good, full-bodied,  so we are drawn to them more than any other character, they seem so frantic and their faith is so strong that we cannot help to enjoy a few scenes they have. Gandolfini and Alex Cox are also good in smaller, comic roles, the two kids do everything they can, but are just there to annoy the viewer. There are many bizarre and funny moments – Estelle’s father’s final scene is one of the best moments. Definitely a film for those willing to see something out of the ordinary, it is rewarding and has some strong performances, good action, dark humour and an insane plot.

Have you seen Perdita Durango? Let us know in the comments!

Heli – DVD Review

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Another gritty Mexican drama highlighting corruption, violence, and the growing impossibility of innocence remaining innocent, Heli is a gripping, well acted piece which will hopefully do well around the world with foreign film aficionados. Heli is the title character, the young man who acts as the alpha in his meager household – living with his wife, child, sister, and father. He and his father have simple, manual labour jobs which keep them at a distance from the apparent all-encompassing threat and allure of drug dealing which surrounds their town. He is having marital struggles with his wife (luckily the film doesn’t go down the terrible trope of showing the wife having an affair), while his young sister is just experiencing the first adolescent pangs of love and lust with an older boy.

Really, this is a film about outside interference. Heli just wants a stable family with an easy life – obviously things could be better, but in a town like his the tendency is that things could be much much worse. When her sister’s boyfriend makes the mistake of stealing some local gangster’s drug stash, all hell breaks loose for Heli. The second half of the film is Heli’s heroic struggle for survival, his refusal to have his own morals and hopes compromised by thugs or police, and his desire beyond his control to have things back to the way the were. In this section of the film we get a number of fairly violent and dark scenes which contrast in a startling way to the more mundane first portion. That isn’t to say the first half is boring, rather it contains many more lighthearted moments, and takes the time to let us learn and care about each character before tearing it all down. The scenes of violence are handled very well, feeling much more real and alarming than the torture porn cousins it resembles.

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The making of documentary gives interesting insight into a director I didn’t know, showing the casting process of mostly first time actors who have basically no experience in the business and instead more closely resemble their characters. It’s interesting to watch their thoughts on the film-making process as they go through it for the first time. The director is clearly a skilled storyteller with a strong handling of character and a good eye for a nerve-jangling moment or memorable shot, and the actors are all very convincing in their roles. I’d recommend this to anyone looking to branch out into foreign or Mexican film, to fans of films like Amores Perros, and to fans of good movies in general.

Have you seen or heard about Heli? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Embodiment Of Evil

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I surprised myself when I realised I had never seen a José Marins film, given that I’m a fan of all things horror, cult, weird, and gore. I’d heard of Coffin Joe before but never knew the extent of his ‘importance’ in this feverish section of the movie community. I suppose The Embodiment Of Evil is not the best place to start as it is the third part of a trilogy, but as this is hardcore, grindhouse stuff watching five minutes can be just as enjoyable or sickening, enlightening or boring as watching an entire series.

Coffin Joe is a rather messed up Undertaker whos has spent the last forty years growing his hair and nails in an asylum/prison after murdering countless people. His life has been led by his quest for the perfect woman; a woman he believes his good enough to give birth to his son and heir. Unfortunately for him every woman he meets fails to live up to his high standards and they inevitably get torturted, murdered, and if they’re lucky, eaten. After forty years though he is deemed safe and is released. Met by his own version of Igor (Bruno) he returns home to find he is something of a legend and hero to all the local maniacs. Immediately he begins his quest once more, sending out these followers to bring him back the choicest slices of women in the land.

Of course this is little more than a thank you to fans in finishing a beloved trilogy, a cash in on the recent trend for gore and grindhouse, and an excuse to chuck a pile of blood over the screen. Luckily for me i’m all for that sort of thing. Where such films are concerned I usually don’t care for much of a plot as that is never the point; all you need to know is where the bad guy is and what he is going to do to his victims. I’m not a fan however of poor acting, no matter how campy or how pointless the film may be and there is some poorness here. Joe has been around for decades though and knows what his audience expects, skulking around like every Vincent Price, Bela, Karloff etc character there has ever been. His character is interesting to an extent though nothing we see is particularly shocking, new, or frightening. I would have expected a few shocks but at least there is plenty of gore. There are a few particularly nice scenes, nothing as inventive as Argento but still fun to watch. Thankfully the production values are high enough that it doesn’t become a pain to watch, there are some nice, funny attempts at artistic, surrealist stuff but on the whole it’s how many die and will Joe get what he wants. If you’re a fan of this type of movie you’ll get something from it. If not you’ll likely never see it or be horrified or bored. Overall a decent attempt, a fond farewell (perhaps) to a much loved character and one whose history I will have to delve into later.