Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Frida posterFrida (2002) chronicles the passionate and tempestuous private and professional life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek. It begins in 1925 in Mexico City, when Frida was 18 years old. She is portrayed as a free-spirited, sexually experimental young woman, the third of four daughters of a Mexican woman and a German Jewish man. It is at 18 that she first sees her future husband Diego Rivera, painting a naked woman in the auditorium of her university. The sensual and bright-eyed young Frida is cursed for the rest of her life in a bus accident which results in a broken collarbone, broken spinal column, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, broken leg, broken foot, and dislocated shoulder. An iron rail pierces her abdomen and uterus. These injuries will haunt her for the rest of her life, the extreme pain often rending her immobile for long periods of time, the abdominal injuries causing complications for her reproductive ability. As she heals, her father pays for her many operations and gives her canvases and paints to amuse her. After many months of recovery, Frida is able to walk again. She has been very prolific in her painting, and has received much praise from her family. To find out if her paintings are indeed good, she goes to look for Diego Rivera and asks him to critique her work. He is immediately entranced by its rawness, sexuality and symbolism. A friendship evolves between Frida and Diego, and Diego pulls her into his world of communists, artists, and political activism. Together they paint, protest, and party. Frida sees with her own eyes Diego's famous womanizing, and she sexually experiments herself, with women and men. Inevitably, Diego and Frida fall in love, beginning the tempestuous relationship that will last the rest of Frida's life. Frida is aware that Diego is incapable of being faithful to her, but she asks him to always be loyal. Despite the fact that neither of them believe in marriage, their love is so strong that they are married. At the wedding, Diego's ex-wife Lupe has an attack of rage, warning Frida that Diego belongs to no one but himself. Frida is enraged. She has high hopes for their marriage.

These waver when married life with Diego turns out to be hard. Lupe and Diego's children live above them and continue to be involved in Diego's life, which bothers Frida. Diego often comes home smelling of another woman, after having sex with his art models. Despite Frida's resignation to the fact, she is still repeatedly hurt. Diego's art is becoming world famous, and he is offered an exhibition spot at the new Museum of Modern Art in New York. Diego and Frida go to the United States together, living the exciting life of New York socialites for a while. Both Diego and Frida have love affairs in "Gringolandia". Frida becomes pregnant, and despite Diego's worry for her health, decides to try for the baby. She soon has a miscarriage, which causes her a great deal of pain, but which also inspires many of her paintings, which are grotesque and pain-filled. Diego is asked to paint the mural "Man at the Crossroads" by Nelson Rockefeller, which promises to be a huge success, but when Diego paints Lenin as a central figure of the mural and refuses to compromise his communist vision and change it at Rockefeller's request, the work is taken down. Frida's mother dies back in Mexico, and the two painters return to their home country. Here, they live in two separate houses, connected by a thin bridge. Everything is going well until Diego has an affair with Frida's younger sister Cristina, which Frida perceives as a true betrayal. She leaves Diego, and cuts all her hair off, which inspires the painting "Self Portrait with Cropped Hair", in which she sits in a chair with her hair all around her on the ground. Her sense of betrayal continues for a long time, until one day Diego approaches her and asks her a special favour: Leon Trotsky has been granted asylum in Mexico, and Diego would like to welcome him with her. Frida agrees, as Trotsky is one of her greatest heroes. Trotsky and his wife Natalya arrive and settle in to live with Frida and Diego in the famous Casa Azul. Frida and Trotsky bond through their suffering, spending time together, climbing the pyramids of Tenochtitlan. This leads to an illicit affair between them. This does not last long, however, as Natalya finds out and demands that the Trotskys leave the Casa Azul. When Diego finds out, he is extremely jealous and hurt.

The next event in Frida Kahlo's life is an invitation to Paris for an exhibition. In Paris she has many affairs and much artistic success, but she writes to Diego often and realizes how much she loves him. When she returns, he asks for a divorce. Soon after, Leon Trotsky is assassinated. Rivera is a suspect but because he is absent the authorities arrest Frida, and she spends a few days in prison being interrogated. Rivera pleads with President Lazaro Cardenas to get her released. Following this, Frida, who is living in the Casa Azul and painting, has an increasing number of health problems. Her toes are amputated because they are gangrenous, and the pain in her back and pelvis becomes so terrible that she is often in a wheelchair or bedridden. Diego and her remain friends, and eventually he asks her to marry him again. Frida's health becomes so bad that she cannot leave her bed. In order to be at her first solo exhibition in Mexico City, she is transported in her bed to the venue. Soon afterwards, in 1957, she dies. Shortly before her death, she writes, "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida". The final scene shows her bed flying up into a blue sky and being engulfed by flames, as she lies smiling peacefully on the pillow.

Frida is filled with the colourful symbolism and traditional Mexican culture that characterize her paintings. Often the scenes of the film morph into paintings in Frida Kahlo's style, showing the direct inspiration that the film takes from her paintings. The colourful traditions of Mexico fill the scenes of Frida: the skeletons and candles of the Day of the Dead ceremonies, the mix of Catholicism and indigenous superstitions, the incessant consumption of tequila and traditional Mexican food, and the constant traditional Mexican huasteca and corrido music. Just like Kahlo's paintings, Frida wears colourful Mexican garments and has pet monkeys and chihuahuas. But Frida puts a brave new twist on these Mexican traditions, with her radical political ideology, her sexual liberty, and her modern surrealist art. Frida contains a combination of the traditional notions of Mexico as well as very modern, very liberal Mexico. While Diego is a typical machista, with his constant philandering and jealousy, Frida is not the image of marianismo, with her open bisexuality and her own fierce independence. While Frida's family portrays strict upper-class Catholic ideals, the art scene in Mexico City is liberal, modern, and radical. The modern Mexico, however, is not anti-traditional; it relies on tradition as its foundation, like Frida's art. Mexico is not only the inspiration for Frida's art, it is the fertile soil which allows her to grow, it is her home and what she lives for. Frida's great sense of national identity and pride show Mexico to be a vital, inextricable part of her. Frida is Mexico and Mexico is Frida.

When Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo go to the United States, which they call "Gringolandia", they are surprised by the American way of life, by the immense ambition of the people, the success. Living in a snowy New York apartment, Frida is unhappy. Her miscarriage represents some kind of inner damage done by life in America. Despite the grandeur and modernity of the United States, Diego and Frida do not belong there. Their communist ideals do not go well with the opposing capitalism of the New York elite. In order to stand up for their beliefs and remain themselves, Diego and Frida must return home, to Mexico. For Diego, Mexicans are "as dumb as mules", and he claims to hate them, yet Mexico is his home. Diego and Frida and the other Mexican intellectuals are few compared to the United States or France, where there is true economic and cultural development. However, in the end, Mexico is the food for their minds, and what gives meaning to their lives. Frida's greatest pride is to have an exhibition in her home country, Mexico. It is her and Diego's home.


Four Days in September

Four Days in September posterFour Days in September (1997) is based on Fernando Gabeira's book O Que E Isso, Companheiro? (What is this, Comrade?), which tells the true story of his involvement in the kidnapping of American Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick in September of 1969. The kidnapping was an act of resistance to the military regime that had been in power since 1964, and Gabeira's involvement in it has left him unable to acquire an American visa and enter the United States since '69. After the kidnapping, Gabeira was exiled from Brazil until the regime ended in 1979. He is now an active Brazilian politician who helped found the Brazilian Green Party and is a federal deputy for the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The film begins with a montage of black and white pictures of Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s, with the song "Garota de Ipanema" playing in the background. The viewer is informed of the 1964 military coup and the subsequent suspension of civil rights and freedoms by the junta in 1968. The first scene shows the streets of Rio full of protesters, yelling for the end of dictatorship. Among them is young Fernando Gabeira. Following this are scenes of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon and the celebration at the American Embassy in Rio, where Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick cuts a cake in the shape of the moon and is congratulated by Brazilian diplomats. Fernando and his friends Cesar and Arturo are watching the space transmission on T.V., pointing out critically that the United States is using their space program as a weapon in the Cold War. It is clear that these three young men are Communists, the very kind abhorred by the military government. When the T.V. is turned off, Cesar and Fernando inform Arturo that they are joining the armed resistance against the military government, and that they would like him to join. Arturo refuses, saying he does not want to risk his life. The following scene shows members of the official resistance movement blindfolding Fernando and taking him to a safe house, where he is introduced to his fellow recruits in the radical leftist MR-8 organization. They are all introduced under false names. The group consists of a pretty young woman, Renee, and three young men, Julio, Oswaldo, and Brandao. Oswaldo is Cesar's false name, but Cesar and Fernando pretend not to know each other. The leaders of the group are the beautiful tough-talking Comrade Maria and the muscular Marcao. Fernando falls in love with Maria at first sight. The revolutionaries' job is to forget their old lives, their friends and family, and fight the military dictatorship by creating civil unrest using guerrilla tactics. Their first job is a bank heist, which is successful except for the fact that Cesar is captured by the police after being shot in the leg while trying to escape. He is tortured and interrogated by secret service agent Henrique, but since he knows only false names, the interrogation is useless. The members of MR-8 are frustrated with the lack of media coverage their bank heist has received, and realize they must do something of more consequence to get attention for their cause. Fernando comes up with the idea of kidnapping the American Ambassador, which is sure to get international media coverage.

Experienced guerrilla fighters Jonas and Toledo join the group and help plan the kidnapping. Renee makes a contact with the head of security for the American Embassy in order to get the necessary information for the job. When the group has set up a safe house and been provided with the necessary supplies, they execute the kidnapping, blockading the Ambassador's limousine and taking him blindfolded to the safe house. Their demands to the military government are the release and transport to Mexico of 15 political prisoners, including Cesar. If these demands are not met within 48 hours, the ambassador will be killed. The following hours are stressful and strange for the kidnappers, who sit silently in the house, sweating, and waiting. During this period, Maria gives in to Fernando's advances and they have a passionate encounter. The Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick is revealed to be a very educated, kindly, and courageous man, for whom Fernando and Renee especially have much sympathy. He is treated kindly by all the kidnappers, who wear black hoods over their heads so that he cannot see their faces. Elbrick is allowed to write a letter to his wife to prove that he is alive, as well as being given food and drink. Fernando spends some time talking with him about politics, a conversation which convinces Elbrick that his kidnappers are just young kids caught up in an ideological fervour, and fundamentally good people. Jonas and Toledo question Elbrick, using Fernando as a translator, and ask him if the U.S. supports the military government. Elbrick answers that the United States does not support any non-democratically elected governments, and that military juntas are supposed to be in place for a short time only. This answer pleases the kidnappers. The news reports MR-8's actions favourably, reading out their demands to the public. This makes the group very happy, their political message finally being transmitted country-wide. When Fernando goes to get some food at a nearby pizza place, the taxi driver who gives him a ride tells him that the kidnappers are heroes for the Brazilian people.

Unbeknownst to Fernando, the purchase of a large number of pizzas raises suspicion, and the police are informed. This leads the secret service to discover the location of the safe house. They do not, however, invade, because they are afraid the Ambassador will be killed. As the deadline for the ransom approaches, the kidnappers must decide who will kill the Ambassador, and none of them wants to do it. Jonas, who hates Fernando, instructs Fernando to do it. Minutes before the deadline, the authorities contact the group and agree to their demands. Fernando and the Ambassador are relieved that no one has to get hurt. The following day, television footage of the 15 political prisoners arriving at a Mexican airport convinces the kidnappers that their work is done. They prepare the Ambassador for his release. Renee has washed his clothes and helps him get dressed. When he is ready, they drive to the Maracana Stadium, where a soccer game has just taken place, to release him. On the way, the secret service follows them in a car, but a police vehicle cuts the secret service off, insisting that the Ambassador return home safely. Elbrick is released among the crowds of soccer fans, and the kidnappers escape unscathed. In a touching scene, Elbrick is reunited with his wife Elvira, who is sick with worry. For the following month, the kidnappers must remain completely in hiding, but Fernando is so desperate to see Maria that he goes to her house to spend some time with her. At this point, the police barge in and capture both young people. Eight months later, however, another resistance group kidnaps the German Ambassador and demands the release of Fernando and his comrades. The demands are met, and Fernando, Maria, and the rest of the kidnappers are sent to Algeria. They are granted political asylum in Britain. Democracy returns to Brazil in 1989.

The Communist ideology that pervades this film portrays a very leftist-oriented Brazil. The leftist movement in Brazil is strengthened and intensified by the opposite reactionary traits of the military government, a strength that has remained in Brazil until today. The backlash against the military government in the film is a stronger foundation for this Communism than is the Cold War; in no part of the film do the revolutionaries allude to the Soviet Union or Marxism. Theirs is a unique Latin American leftist movement. However, in order for this movement to gain a voice, it must involve itself with a main actor in the Cold War, the United States. Unexpectedly, the capitalist pig that the young communist kidnappers expected in the Ambassador turns out to be a dignified, kind, and intelligent man with whom they can discuss their ideological views. And so the Cold War is shown to be an absurd concept in Latin America, a war that is largely irrelevant to the social and political dynamics of its nations and only causes damage with its rhetoric. The film shows a Latin American left which is not related to the Cold War, but to the nature of its people.

The fact that the Ambassador's kidnapping is the main cause for attention to the resistance movement in Brazil shows that the United States is of central importance to politics in Latin America. Brazil's plight seems to be ignored by the world until America is involved. The film puts emphasis on the validity of the Brazilian struggle, and of Latin American politics in general, with or without the United States' involvement. The fact that the Ambassador is truly external to the Brazilian political conflict of the 60s and 70s implies that the United States does not belong in Latin American politics because it too is fundamentally external to Latin America's political environment.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Four Jills in a Jeep

Four Jills in a Jeep posterThe US war propaganda film Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) is introduced in the opening credits as a tribute to the performers who had the privilege to go overseas and entertain troops during WWII. The story is based on the actual experiences of Hollywood actresses Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair, who all play themselves.

The women are at first in Hollywood doing an exclusive live radio show for troops overseas. These actresses sing and swoon over men they haven’t met, as the soldiers ‘over there’ gather around their radios, listen intently, and reminisce about being back home. After the show concludes, Kay talks to jazz band orchestra leader Jimmy Dorsay (also played by himself) behind the scenes and they realize that they are both to be stationed in London within the next few days. Kay sadly reveals that she can only go if she puts together an ‘entertainment unit’ to help her cheer-up the troops; however, all problems are solved when she overhears Martha, Mitzi, and Carole telling Colonel Hartley that they’d be keen to go overseas and help the men. Kay recruits the three beauties and they fly to an American camp just outside of London.

Living the life of a soldier isn’t quite what the Hollywood actresses had expected as they get introduced to 5:30 am wake-up calls, canons, rain, and helmets. While walking to the Mess Hall, Carole loses her boot in the mud and enlists a passing soldier to help her regain her boot. The officer, Ted, immediately falls for Carole, even though he cannot understand why he finds her so familiar. After she leaves, he realizes that it was Carole Landis and nearly plants himself face first in the mud with a silly, star-struck expression on his face. The women are faced with the business of a working war camp as they attempt to brighten the men’s spirits. Their efforts are commendable and they try their hardest to support in any way they can. At one point, Mitzi runs into her ex-performing partner Dick Ryan, now a lieutenant, and they begin a loving bicker like old times. Carole encounters Ted again and the two promise to meet up once he is back on a 24-hour leave. A few days later, the girls all receive a bout of letters and Kay breaks protocol by letting them know that their beaus can meet them tomorrow night in London where they are all scheduled to perform. The ladies relish the elegant concert as Dick performs with Mitzi, Kay flirts with Colonel Hartley, Carole passionately kisses a persistent, but charming, Ted, and Martha convinces several high-ranking officials that she would love a chance to be stationed with the men on the front lines in Africa.

The next few days find Carole eagerly awaiting Ted’s return from his mission during a Christmas concert. The troops all gather in the Mess Hall to listen to the live radio broadcast from Hollywood which features a swooning song by Betty Gable and a hip-knocking, singing and dancing number by Carmen Miranda. The soldiers in the camp then allow the ladies a little rest and relaxation while they perform songs and musical numbers in their honour. Unfortunately, the performance is cut short when a siren sounds to announce that there is a plane about to make an emergency landing. Carole rushes outside just to see the plane hit the ground and explode. She fears the worst, until Ted appears at her side wishing her a merry Christmas and the two embrace. The next scene is at Ted and Carole’s happy wedding. Everyone is happy and enjoying the celebration until some telegrams arrive telling the ladies that their request to be posted in Africa has been granted and they must leave immediately. This spoils the newlyweds’ honeymoon plans, but Carole insists that she is a valid member of the U.S. Army and must obey orders at all times.

When the ladies arrive in Africa, the troops can’t believe their eyes. This camp is far more dangerous than the previous one in London, and the ladies soon find themselves lending a hand in the casualty unit, from sterilizing instruments to scrubbing floors. At one point Mitzy feels faint, but Kay tells her to imagine she’s back in Hollywood working on a motion picture. Love follows the ladies to Africa as well as Kay runs into Colonel Hartley once again and Dick tracks down Mitzy in order to profess his love to her. The women are tired after a long day of volunteering, but still muster the strength to do a stunning performance when the soldiers request it of them. Suddenly alarms sound and bombs begin dropping which sends everyone to the trenches to hide. The women are terrified as the troops are ordered to counter-attack. As the noises and lights of the fighting slowly fade away, the four actresses are offered a chance to return to a safe country while they can, but these determined females instead all opt to stay and see the boys through their tough times away from home.

During WWII, Brazil was seen by the American population as a perplexity among the allies. For all intensive purposes, the South American country was certainly a huge asset to the US, but it’s true relationship with Germany still remained hazy in the popular eye. On this note, Carmen Miranda’s minute role in Four Jills in a Jeep is also portrayed in a light which lends an image that is very foreign, despite the fact that she is in support of US troops. From the palm tree back-drop to the customary Carmen Miranda attire (complete with extravagant head-dress), this legendary Brazilian performer is depicted as a tropical illusion in the midst of blonde songbirds and American soldiers. Her appearance in the film, which seems to be completely unnecessary, raises the question of ‘Why?’ Could it be to give the men overseas the sensual thought of spinning hips? Or perhaps a peek into the tropical vacation that the soldiers can look forward to when they go on leave? The most obvious detail about Carmen’s performance is that she remains in the US while the American stars are overseas and in direct contact with the heroes that they support in the war. And so it appears acceptable to have a foreign performer give a show, but not to send her over to be with the troops in person; a fact which shadows the reality of America and Brazil maintaining good relations during WWII, but with Brazil always staying quietly out of focus as a friendly face on the sidelines.

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Real Women Have Curves

Real Women Have Curves posterReal Women Have Curves (2002) challenges the cultural stereotypes which are thrust upon a generation of young Chicanos growing up in America but still living in the shadow of Mexican tradition. It is clear from the first scene that Ana García (America Ferrera), a graduating high school student, does not get along well with her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), who appears to be constantly complaining about some bodily ailment so that she can persuade Ana, out of guilt, to listen to her woes and care for her. This time Ana steadfastly refuses to play her mom’s warped game, and instead leaves to catch a series of buses to head out of her Mexican neighbourhood and into Beverly Hills where she attends high school. In class, the students excitedly talk about what they will do to continue their education. At Ana’s turn, she exclaims that she’s looking forward to backpacking in Europe. This prompts her teacher Mr. Guzman (George Lopez) to approach her after class and inquire as to why she hasn’t handed in any college applications. Ana quickly replies that her family can’t afford it, and then ironically heads to a greasy fast food place to quit her job. Upon returning home that evening, her family surprises her with an intimate graduation celebration. Here her mother’s character begins the first of many jokes throughout the film regarding Ana’s weight. Ana simply rolls her eyes, as if she’s heard it a thousand times before. Carmen then interrogates Ana about quitting her job before finally deciding for her that she will work at her sister, Estela’s, clothing factory to earn money. Ana is clearly an intelligent girl and is reluctant to work at such a mindless job. Suddenly, as if in answer to Ana’s aversion to the factory, Mr. Guzman appears at her party to talk to Ana’s parents about Ana attending university; but is quickly informed that they need Ana to contribute to the family’s income.

The following day, Ana begins her employment of ironing the dresses that are produced at her sister’s factory. Here she is introduced to her co-workers, a handful of Mexican-American women, who are also barraged by Carmen with unappreciated insults about being overweight. Ana insists to her mother, a seamstress in the factory, that she’s only going to work there until she can find another job. Meanwhile, as she questions her sister about the cost and profit of the beautiful dresses she irons, Ana realizes that Bloomingdales sells the dresses for $600 while the factory is only paid $18 per dress; thus giving the factory the status of ‘sweatshop’, a term which Estela refuses to acknowledge. The seamstresses enjoy their gossip, but when the focus of the conversation drifts, on account of Carmen, to Ana’s weight, Ana intentionally burns a dress with the iron and storms off down the street, only to be coaxed back after another round of guilt from her influential mother.

Ana then secretly hands in university applications to Mr. Guzman, and as she leaves his office she runs into her classmate Jimmy (Brian Sites) who gives her his number, causing the introverted Ana to become embarrassed and hastily flee. Ana finally gathers the courage to plan a date with Jimmy, of which her understanding Grandpa keeps a secret in order to not alarm Carmen. When the young couple is finally unaccompanied in a Mexican restaurant, Jimmy can’t stop staring at Ana’s large breasts, and it is apparent that, due to his teenage hormones, he finds them to be two of Ana’s more stunning features. The two have an awkward yet enjoyable date which ends with a first kiss and a shower of self-esteem and optimism for Ana. On a following date, Ana confides to Jimmy that she is always at odds with her mother, especially concerning her physical appearance, to which Jimmy replies with sincere complements as well as the upsetting news that he will be leaving to go to college in 2 weeks. Back at the factory, Estela is in a panic because she has lost half of her employees (who all belong to the same family) as one of them is getting married and so they have all decided to move back to Mexico. At this news, the remaining workers must work twice as hard, with no immediate pay, in order to finish the dresses before the deadline. Ana manages to gain a loan for Estela through their father after the dress manufacturing corporation refuses their request for a cash advance. A few days later, Mr. Guzman appears at Ana’s house once again, but this time with the news that she has been accepted to the prestigious Columbia University in New York City on a full scholarship. Ana is elated and holds her ground in order to see her educational dreams through when her parents express that they are disinclined to have their family break apart by having her move to New York.

This new bout of audacity motivates Ana to buy condoms and reveal to Jimmy that she is ready to have sex, which is extremely against the family tradition of waiting until marriage to have sexual intercourse. Before they begin, Ana turns on the light and stands in front of a mirror so that they can both see what she really looks like. This act gives her a sense of worth which leads to the most memorable scene in the movie when, back at the factory, the summer’s heat is so intense in the work room that Ana removes her t-shirt to work instead in her bra. Her mother is appalled but Ana quickly recruits an entourage of Chicana workers to remove their clothes as she exclaims that they are all women with the same bodies. Then, much to Carmen’s disgust, the women begin to lightheartedly compare their bodies’ imperfections and Ana announces that her weight says, “Fuck you!” to anyone obsessed with appearances because she would rather be respected for what she thinks, rather than how she looks. Carmen leaves in disgust and Ana flicks on some Spanish music as the women contentedly finish working on the order in their underpants. Ana has gracefully allowed her relationship with Jimmy to be seen for what it is as they both head off to different schools and are forced to keep only the memory of their experiences together. All of Ana’s family has given her their blessing to chase her dreams in the big city; all except her mother who is so distraught at Ana’s departure that she doesn’t even swallow her pride enough to say good-bye. And so Ana leaves her family life behind and enters into an exhilarating life change. The last scene shows her walking the busy streets of New York with an air of confidence and a sense of self which permeates every part of her being.

The film highlights the differences between Mexican and American culture and how Chicanos, in particular, deal with this daily disparity. The neighbourhood around the factory is teeming with Mexican customs, from the busy outdoor markets to mariachi bands for-hire, which is in direct contrast to the Beverly Hills community, representing the successful American dream which Ana aspires to be a part of. However, the movie places these dreams in direct correlation to the confidence in one’s appearance. North America has long been known for its obsession with the ‘perfect female figure’, generally represented by a body as thin as a plank of wood, which is difficult to attain for someone like Ana who was born with a curvy, Latin body type. Ana’s appearance is accepted by the male figures in her life, but is seen by her own gender as being undesirable. This contrast in turn portrays an upside-down perspective on the normally joyous family life of Latinos, which has now been poisoned by Carmen’s longing for Ana to be thin in order to obtain a husband. The divergence between mother and daughter becomes clear when Carmen reveals to her husband that she finds it unfair for Ana to be able to go off to university while Carmen has had to work hard labour for close to forty years; thus illustrating the difference in traditions of the older Mexican generations and the younger Chicano generations.

The dresses from the factory offer a different insight into the Chicana mentality when Ana notes that she only irons the beautiful dresses but will never wear them. Such a statement corresponds to the Chicano community as the foundation of an economy which many Chicanos can’t truly enjoy due to financial struggles. This issue of cheap foreign labour is emphasized in the ‘sweatshop-like’ environment of the factory. The dresses also symbolize the transformation of Ana’s self-confidence. Upon first arriving at the factory, Ana wistfully studies a size 7 dress on a mannequin, until her mother comments that she will never be able to fit into it and that she is too big for her own good. After Ana’s self-esteem increases over the course of the movie, her sister gives her a sexy red dress as a present. At first, Ana refuses saying it will never fit her, but Estela insists that she made it exclusively for Ana so that it would fit her body perfectly. The message here to Chicanas is clear: Do not try to fit someone else’s expectations, whether they are the expectations of your country or of your family, because there is always a way to fit into your own unique persona without any adjustments; just as when Ana proudly declares to her mother, “This is who we are. Real women.” With curves.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Straight to Hell

Straight to Hell posterStraight to Hell (1987) is the brainchild of Alex Cox, a British director who was shunned by Hollywood after the production of his unconventional and politically-loaded film, Walker (1987). Straight to Hell, a homage to Spaghetti Westerns with offbeat humour and a punk rock cast, scandalized and bewildered critics, but attained minor cult status and can at least coax a smile from Sergio Leone fans.

Straight to Hell has a tagline promising “A story of blood, money, guns, coffee and sexual tension,” and though not having a plot to speak of, delivers generously on all accounts. The film opens with hitmen Willy (played by Dick Rude), Norwood (Sy Richardson) and Simms (Joe Strummer) botching a job and taking off with Norwood’s pregnant girlfriend Velma (Courtney Love) to avoid the wrath of their boss. As they are refueling their getaway car, they casually rob a bank then speed off into the desert. After night falls they spot a small town; they bury their suitcase of cash on the outskirts and decide to lie low. In the morning do they discover the strange nature of their hideout; Velma is accosted by a boy with apish expressions and a London accent who warns her that “bad men” are coming. Suddenly two pick-up trucks carrying a whooping band of marauders clad in mariachi suits descend upon the town. They have been out pillaging and plundering, but their loot unexpectedly consists of coffee beans and espresso-making paraphernalia. It turns out that the town is by-and-large populated by the gunslinging, incestuous, coffee-addicted McMahon clan, lead by the white-suited Frank McMahon.

The xenophobic McMahons quickly have Willy, Norwood and Simms in a gun-toting standoff. However, in a fluke the trio kills an American gangster who was threatening Bruno McMahon and Angel Eyes McMahon, earning Frank’s gratitude. Cox introduces the “sexual tension” promised in the tagline when Simms bursts into the hardware store, owned by a bizarrely French-accented couple named George and Fabienne, and sparks instantly fly between Simms and Fabienne. Simms uses a pretext to get George out of the room then the couple pounces on each other, neck-biting furiously enough to draw blood. The four newcomers are invited to the McMahon’s nightly ritual of coffee binging and singing around a banquet table. In the following days, the sexual tension mounts as the three men watch a scantily-clad Fabienne seductively soap-up her husband’s motorbike, Simms fools around with Frank’s wife, and Willy has a futile crush on Louise, one of Frank’s female miscreants. We are reminded that the trio are criminals at large when two Mexican police officers arrive to look for them. Another man shows up claiming to represent their boss, is scapegoated for the recent murder of Grandpa McMahon and hung in the town square. The audience can anticipate the final shootout scene when an American real-estate entrepreneur appears out of nowhere and bestows a suitcase of machine guns upon the three men.

On the final day, George shoots Angel Eyes who was trying to coax Fabienne into having sex. Thinking that one of the outsiders shot Angel Eyes, the McMahon clan mobilizes for a wild shootout against Willy, Norwood and Simms. The chaotic shootout, throughout which the McMahons keep slurping coffee from their little white mugs, continues until almost no one is left standing. The trio turns unexpectedly treacherous as a badly-wounded Willy and Simms hobble off to where the money is buried, leaving Norwood trapped in the cross-fire, and then Simms shoots Willy. Simms is then shot by Velma who has eloped with Frank, but their life as millionaires is cut short when they discover that their getaway car has no breaks and they careen off a cliff. The final scene shows the remaining characters departing from the town, Norwood and Fabienne in a truck of female McMahons and the boy with the London accent with a truck full of corpses, as the town is claimed the property of Farben Oil with a large new billboard.

In copying the Spaghetti Western convention of filming movies in Spain that are set in Mexico, Cox parodies how directors often use foreign places interchangeably with no regard for their geographic and cultural differences. For example, Cox makes it clear that Straight to Hell is set in Spain; the robbed bank is called Banco Central de Almeria and standing outside the town is the iconic Spanish statue of the bull silhouette. At the same time, the hardware store is full of Mexican knickknacks and the police officers look and sound stereotypically Mexican. Cox methodically manipulates and spoofs a number of the expectations cinemagoers may have about Latin America or Latin Americans. For example, the McMahons are clothed in Mexican mariachi suits, which is something American villains in old Westerns have been known to do, prompting the question of why this cultural garb should be associated with criminality. Whereas in many Westerns set in Latin America, the sought after resource is gold, in Straight to Hell it is coffee. This seemingly absurd twist prompts the audience to envision the modern coffee trade in the form of Old Western gold thieves.

Furthermore, Cox embeds a critical message about the violent underbelly of American corporations abroad. We notice that the American real-estate tycoon, after appraising that the town could be “just like America” once they build a 7-11, out-sources his dirty work to the protagonists by giving them suitcase of machine guns. We see no more of this character, but once the two factions have annihilated each other, his clean-up crews arrive and his company billboard is erected. Cox is famous for his condemnation of the American-funded Contra War in Nicaragua, another out-sourcing of violence by American foreign policy. For a film that some critics accused as one big “in-joke” for its cast and crew, Straight to Hell has a great deal of under-the-surface complexity.

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Moro No Brazil

Moro no Brasil posterMoro No Brazil, "I Live in Brazil" (2006) is a documentary musical journey that delves deeply into the heart of Brazil. Finnish writer and director Mika Kaurismaki covers 4000 miles of Brazil's musical terrain looking to discover and expose its musical diversity and richness. It begins in Helsinki, Finland, in 2000, with a bleak scene of a snow-covered city with a lonely Kaurismaki standing outside, wind whipping all around him. The following scene shows an open jeep bouncing through the Brazilian bush under the hot sun, a smiling Kaurismaki in sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt at its wheel. Kaurismaki is in Brazil to make a documentary about samba, from its roots to its modern manifestations in funk and rap. He begins in Pernambuco, in the northeast, the poorest region of Brazil. There the Fulni-o indigenous group shows Kaurismaki the origins of the samba. To them, music is a way of keeping alive their history; all the songs tell of their people's story, from genesis to colonization to the modern era. Many of the Fulni-o mourn the fact that modern "white" Brazilian music replaces the indigenous music in many young people's lives. The Fulni-o's entire social structure is based upon music, something that is demonstrated by the fact that the small village has 14 musical groups. Kaurismaki leaves Pernambuco behind and heads to Caruaru, the capital of forro music. Forro elaborates on the samba of the indigenous people by adding many different wooden percussion instruments as well as flutes, accordions, bells and whistles. There, a young musician Silverio Pessoa tells Kaurismaki of his childhood and how his music is based on growing up in a Brazilian village with his grandmother. He explains that music makes the poor people of the region strong and courageous, and gives them a livelihood. The experience culminates in a big nighttime concert where Silverio and a famous forro singer Jacinto Silva perform a great concert and all the people of Caruaru dance the night away.

On the way to their next stop is Silverio Pessoa's home, where Silverio relives his childhood and the music that permeated every element of his and the other villagers' lives. They stop in a village outside Recife, where the black cultures of the coast have developed Maracatu, which is a secret, mystical song and dance that becomes a profession for those who perform it. The colourful costumes that go with the Maracatu are clearly African-inspired. Kaurismaki and Silverio head into Recife, where they meet Antonio Nobrega, who explains to them the perfect symbiosis of Brazilian music with dance and physical movement. He plays a specific style of samba called the frevo, which incorporates the fiddle and the tambourine. Another character they come across is Ze Neguinho do Coco, who plays the samba do coco, inspired by Africa, the Indians, the forests, and the fisherman of the north Brazilian coast. He makes his money by teaching children, educating them in the essential cultural value of music. The music he plays has given him his name; it defines his identity. When Kaurismaki finally makes his way into the heart of Recife, he interviews a duo of brothers, Caju and Castanha, who play the embolada, which they claim is the basis for all modern rap. They have played together since they were children, improvising all their lyrics from the scenes they see in everyday life. Also in Recife among the favelas (shantytowns) the documentary-maker and Silverio find dancing schools where children learn to sing, dance, and play drums and instruments since they are tiny. One of these is called "Comrades in the Struggle", a group that gives poor children from the shantytowns a sense of solidarity and belonging. The other is Maje Mole, a girls' "ballet" group which rescues young girls engaged in prostitution and drugs and tours them around the country to dance their unique "ballet". In Recife, people are primarily black, and they claim that "Brazil is black".

The next stop is Salvador Bahia, where they sing and dance the Condomble, created by the African slaves who originally populated the city. They are inspired by the African god Orixas, which is a combination of all the different gods that each African brought from his or her tribe back in Africa. In Bahia, the people have mixed their gods, their religions, their influences, and their music. The samba means something different to every person, and through hybridization, is a constantly changing style. Kaurismaki also shows us the Capoeira, the martial-arts dance of Brazil. It is also danced in Rio de Janeiro, the next and final stop of the Finnish director's journey. In Rio, samba is a "state of mind", especially for Walter Alfaiate, a tailor and samba composer whose style is based on love, inspired by all the loves he has had and lost, the experiences that shaped his heart, and the ultimate lack of permanence in love. His protege is Seu Jorge, a young man who began living in the streets of the favelas and was launched into the world of music by Alfaiate and other samba-composers who saw his talent. In Rio, samba educates the young and the old alike. Rio's largest favela is Mongueira, where the people, although poor, keep the samba alive. An old woman, Dona Zelia, sings of her long lost love, her dead husband, and his guitar. The most famous samba school in Rio is here, a huge room full of young men and women with drums, making a resonant, multi-dimensional and energetic sound. Scenes of the Carnival are shown, in all its extravagance and noise. Kaurismaki's last focus is Ivo Meirelles, a young man from Mongueira who has created a funk group, Funk n Lata, with his friends. Instead of leaving the favelas like other successful musicians have done, he sets an example for the people there and remains, embracing his roots and offering music as a positive alternative to drugs and gang violence that are part of everyday life in Mongueira. The film ends with a lovely Brazilian woman singing "Juizo Final at a club in Rio. It is revealed that this club belongs to Kaurismaki, who after his musical journey throughout Brazil decided to remain there and make Brazilian music his life. His club gives opportunities to the numerous Brazilian music acts to showcase their talents and the Brazilian musical tradition.

The focus of this film is the vast diversity of Brazilian music, which reflects exactly the vast diversity of Brazil's people. The indigenous people with their painted faces and their grass skirts, singing and dancing in the jungle, are just as much Brazilians as the more Portuguese mulattoes of Rio or the blacks of Recife. Between these lies a spectrum of ethnic and cultural mixes that produce a dazzling array of musical styles which are expressed both in song and dance. And each region's music has been inspired to varying degrees by these different cultures. This heterogeneity is not only ethnic or musical, however; it is also economic. Highlighted in the film is the great inequality that Brazilians face. Poverty and lack of access to resources and education are portrayed as almost ubiquitous, with scenes of garbage and insecure living conditions in every place. Constant mention of drugs, prostitution, and crime reminds the viewer that life in Brazil is not all music and happiness; people's difficulties are made lighter by music, but suffering is deeply entrenched. Kaurismaki makes a point to highlight the issue of inequality in Brazil.

Samba is in every part of a Brazilian's life. Tiny children sing and dance in the streets, playing instruments with amazing skill for ones so young. Everywhere that music is played, people are listening, watching, dancing, and commenting. Making music is a collaborative process which includes everyone in the community and is a culmination of the region's history. Samba educates the people, many of which cannot get a formal education. It gives people a chance to lift themselves out of suffering, poverty, and crime. It includes every age level, from babies to young people, to the middle aged, to the very very old. No age group is excluded from musical life. In the streets of the favelas, impromptu concerts bring the whole community together to sing and dance at any time of day. It seems the entire country is buzzing with sound, movement, and rhythm; never is there an absence of music. To Kaurismaki, a synonym for Brazil is samba.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Companeros posterIn Compañeros (1970), directed by Sergio Corbucci, Franco Nero plays Yodlaf Peterson, a Swedish arms dealer who becomes unexpectedly involved in the Mexican Revolution. Compañeros has the extravagant shootouts and departures from realism typical of Corbucci’s style, but its most salient feature is a leftist political message that clearly condemns American capitalism.

The film begins with Yodlaf and El Vasco standing twenty paces apart, each with his gun trained on the other; as Yodlaf reminisces about how they arrived at this moment, the audience is brought back in time. It all began in Mexico when Vasco, who is a simple-minded peasant and Che Guevara look-alike, unwittingly won the approval of General Mongo, who made him commander in the town of San Bernardino. General Mongo is a two-faced revolutionary leader who is only involved for the money. Yodlaf, completely incongruous in San Bernardino with his refined speech and tidy apparel, has arrived with a train cart loaded with arms and ammunition to sell to General Mongo, but is soon accosted by student revolutionaries who ask him not to make the deal. They are acting in absence of their leader, Professor Xantos, who went to the U.S. to request help, but he was detained because the implementation of his revolutionary ideas would threaten American oil wealth in Mexico. Mongo, with revolutionary goals always second to lining his pocket, is desperate to open a gigantic safe that only Xantos knows the combination of. Yodlaf suggests that he retrieve Xantos from U.S. imprisonment, taking an unwilling Vasco with him, and that they later split the money inside the safe.

After crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico, news of their massacre of eight border guards and train heist reaches the ear of an eccentric villain named John. John and his men ambush the train, which is carrying only Yodlaf, and he begins to sinisterly reminisce about when they sold malfunctioning arms in Cuba and Yodlaf let him take the blame. The Cubans nailed his hand to a tree and left him to die would it not have been for his hawk Marsha, who freed him by gnawing the hand off. In retribution, John leaves Yodlaf hanging by his neck with only a shaky barrel under his feet. Meanwhile, three American businessmen offer Xantos freedom if he signs away all Mexican oil on a ninety-nine year contract should he become president, which he vehemently rejects. The thwarted men then solicit John to kill Xantos; they offer an award of $10,000 and they throw in an envelope of “loco weed” to sweeten the deal. Vasco rescues Yodlaf and they hatch a plan to kidnap Xantos. Vasco enters Fort Yuma via a prostitute-carrying carriage, sets the fort on fire, and amidst the scramble to extinguish the fire the pair escape with an unconscious Xantos on a stolen fire truck.

Riding back to San Bernardino, the trio has a couple of near scrapes with John. First, John captures Vasco and tortures him by trapping a sharp-clawed rodent in an upturned basket on his belly. They evade John a second time when their attempt to sneak past the Mexican border patrol disguised as monks turns into a wild shootout. Finally, John captures Xantos and is about to execute him when Yodlaf and Vasco, aided by Xantos’s followers, demolish the firing wall and whisk Xantos to safety. The noble Xantos chides his young revolutionaries for taking lives during his rescue; an ardent pacifist and patriot, Xantos cannot bear that any Mexican should die violently. For this reason, Mongo knows that he can lure Xantos into town with the threat of killing a group of prisoners. Yodlaf and Vasco follow Xantos and conduct an out-and-out massacre of Mongo’s men, ending with the death of Mongo himself. Yodlaf realizes that there is no money in the safe after all and steals the relic of San Bernardino, hoping to glean some profit from this venture. As Vasco threatens Yodlaf not to take it, the end of the film loops back to the beginning scene. John shoots Xantos in cold blood, which prompts Yodlaf to launch the relic into a trigger he had rigged on his train cart of weapons, causing it to explode and consume John in flames. Yodlaf makes motions to leave Vasco and the revolutionaries, but he changes his mind, perhaps prompted by the destruction of his material wealth or perhaps by a sense of compassion. Upon seeing the Mexican military advancing, he leads the charge against them with the impassioned cry: “Vamos a matar, compañeros!”

In Compañeros, Corbucci used the most American of film genres to give an explicit critique of American capitalism. In the film, the U.S. government and big business work hand in hand to exploit the natural resources of foreign countries; the military illegally detain Xantos while businessmen pressure him to sign over ownership of Mexican oil. Xantos is clearly disgusted by their under-handed opportunism. Many Westerns have focused on the Mexican Revolution, and the heroism of their protagonists is amplified when they abandon their profit-seeking goals to help the Mexican peasant rebels. Usually the characters of these rebels are not fleshed out, but Xantos is well-developed both in terms of his character and his ideological soundbites. He preaches pacifism and has a deep love for his countrymen, but at the same time professes distaste for nationalism. When Yodlaf finally opens the safe, he finds that Xantos keeps inside a pile of humble objects to symbolize the grain, soil and labour that will eventually bring them wealth. The allusion to Che in the character of Vasco, who evolves from a buffoonish shoe shiner to a stoic rebel leader, completes the infusion of leftist values into an otherwise familiar Western context.

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The Way of the Gun

The Way of the Gun posterThe Way of the Gun is a 2000 film from Christopher McQuarrie, director of The Usual Suspects. It begins with the introduction of our two protagonists, let's call them "Parker" (Ryan Phillippe) and "Longbaugh" (Benicio Del Toro), like the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They are a criminal duo, looking to make a buck in whatever situation they encounter, stealing their way through life. While at a sperm donation facility trying to make some money, they overhear a telephone conversation concerning a $1 million payment to the surrogate mother of a rich man's unborn child. Their interest is piqued, and they go to the fertility clinic they heard named in the phone call, planning to kidnap the surrogate mother for ransom. Unbeknownst to them, the parents of the unborn child are Hal Chidduck, a crooked millionaire, and his young trophy wife. The surrogate, Robin, is carefully protected by a team of bodyguards whose leaders are Jeffers and Obecks, two cold-blooded associates of Chidduck's. As Robin and her bodyguards are leaving the pregnancy clinic, Parker and Longbaugh attempt to kidnap her, but this proves difficult and results in a shootout. Jeffers tells Robin to go inside and up the elevator, as his priority is protecting the Chidduck's baby at all costs. She begins to do so, but then suddenly determinedly walks out the doors where the shootout is taking place, risking her life. Parker and Longbaugh manage to kill all Robin's bodyguards and snatch Robin, stuffing her into their car and driving off. Jeffers and Obecks have survived the shootout and follow the kidnappers in their car. The following car chase proves futile for Jeffers and Obecks, who are arrested by the police as they pursue the fleeing kidnappers. These scenes show the well-honed skills of Parker and Longbaugh in the art of reckless violence.

As the fugitives head south for Mexico, Jeffers and Obecks are bailed out of jail by Joe Sarno (James Caan), a seasoned operative and close friend of Chidduck's, a man who does all the dirty work necessary to take care of Chidduck's business. Sarno begins to coordinate the rescue of Robin, to whom it seems he is personally attached. Meanwhile, the fugitives are with Robin at a truck stop just before the border; as they rest, Robin starts to suffer nausea and pain, causing the kidnappers to call her gynecologist Allen Painter and order him to confidentially come to the truck stop to treat her. Allen Painter arrives and, at gunpoint, determines that Robin's sickness comes from dehydration and that she should be fine. When he returns from the examination, he heads straight for Chidduck's house, and it is revealed that Painter is Mr. Chidduck's son. At this point, Painter's phone rings and Longbaugh is at the other end, demanding a $15 million ransom for Robin and the baby. Chidduck is enraged because the payment of this ransom will lead a money trail back to the people he does business with, dangerous people who will avenge themselves by killing Chidduck and his family if their business is discovered. He sends Sarno as a "bag man" to try to cut a deal with the kidnappers, who are now at a Mexican roadside motel with Robin. Sarno offers Longbaugh $1 million if he surrenders Robin and walks away, but Longbaugh refuses and returns to the hotel room where Parker and Robin are playing cards. Here, Robin admits that her initial agreement to have the Chidduck's baby because she needed the money has given way to a feeling of maternal possessiveness of the baby. Meanwhile, Jeffers and Obecks are at the Chidducks' house planning a way that they can keep the money by killing everyone and safely returning Robin to the Chidducks while pretending that the ransom payment has gone smoothly. Here, it is also revealed that Jeffers is having an affair with Chidduck's young wife. The time comes for the ransom to be paid, and Jeffers, Obecks, and Painter drive down to the motel; Sarno drives down separately with $15 million in duffel bags. At the motel, Parker is having second thoughts about the kidnapping and tries to convince Longbaugh to walk away, giving Robin the opportunity to barricade herself inside the hotel room with a shotgun, shouting at them to leave. Robin manages to call the police from the room, and when their sirens approach, Parker and Longbaugh escape into the hills. Two Mexican police officers arrive, followed by a car carrying Jeffers, Obecks, and Painter. Painter and the bodyguards try to convince Robin to leave with them, but she is hesitant, causing the Mexicans to draw their guns and make everyone lie down on the ground. Suddenly, Parker and Longbaugh start shooting from a nearby hilltop, resulting in a brutal shootout that kills the two Mexican officers and wounds Obecks. Painter and Jeffers drag Robin into their car and drive south, leaving Obecks behind. The kidnappers run down to the motel and pick up Obecks, taking him into the hills and torturing him until he reveals Jeffers' destination.

The destination is a secluded Mexican brothel, where Robin is confined to a seedy room with Dr. Painter. Robin is in severe pain and bleeding heavily because the placenta has torn away from the uterine wall, and Painter realizes that he must perform a Caesarian section to save the child. At this point, Robin reveals that the child is not the Chidducks', but hers and Dr. Painter's; the baby was conceived because the in vitro fertilization did not take and she was desperate for the money. During the bloody and non-sterile operation, the heavily-armed Parker and Longbaugh invade the brothel and search for Robin, exchanging shots with Jeffers as well as a Sarno and his henchmen, who have also infiltrated the brothel. When the two kidnappers enter the room where Robin is, Jeffers threatens to kill Painter and the baby to stop them from shooting, but Painter shoots Jeffers in the throat with a hidden gun. Now Parker wants to kidnap Robin again, but Longbaugh refuses, saying "She's had enough". Robin is sedated and covered in blood, struggling to survive as Dr. Painter digs his hands into her belly, trying to get the baby out. Outside, Sarno and his men have stacked the $15 million in the brothel's courtyard and await to ambush the kidnappers. As Parker and Longbaugh emerge from the building, there is a violent shootout in which they kill all of Sarno's men except Sarno, who shoots both kidnappers in the legs, maiming them to the point of immobility. He then calls an ambulance, which arrives just as the cries of a baby are heard. Painter and Robin emerge with the paramedics, a newborn baby in Robin's arms. It is implied that Robin is Sarno's daughter. The ambulance takes Robin, Sarno, and Painter with the $15 million away, leaving Parker and Longbaugh dying in the dust. The final scene shows Chidduck's wife, days later and miles away, telling Chidduck that she is pregnant.

Mexico for Parker and Longbaugh is a place to which they can escape, collect their thoughts, and get ready for the money transfer. The ransom payment must occur in a neutral place, and a seedy Mexican motel seems just right, a place where people are unconcerned with their business. It is not, however, a place where they are safe from Chidduck's men; indeed, it seems the Mexican border is a porous, penetrable line through which the men pass at will and without difficulty. The same reckless violence and lawlessness exists on both sides of the border, with no difference between the truck stop north of the border and the motel south of the border. Both places are seedy, dusty, and surrounded by desert. After the shootout in the motel parking lot, a group of Mexican men who were sitting in the bar stand silently outside, observing the scene. They do not get involved, not even to help the screaming, pregnant Robin. When the Americans leave, they turn around, poker-faced, and re-enter the bar. The brothel where the final violent events occur is a bewildering place. It seems deserted and quiet, a dead place; inside there are rooms full of prostitutes, but they make little noise. It seems that the protagonists are the only people there throughout all the action, reinforcing the notion that Mexico is a place of neutrality, where the Mexicans stay out of whatever violent business the Americans choose to negotiate there.

The theme of moral ambiguity is prominent in the film, with no character evoking true sympathy. Everyone is generally bad, but shows evidence of goodness at some points in the film. The evil millionaire Hal Chidduck is still excited to be a father and will do anything to save his unborn child; his vacuous, heartless blonde wife shows a maternal instinct in her desire to have a child. The bodyguards Obecks and Jeffers are just doing their jobs. Sarno is just doing his job as well, but he cares deeply for Robin and the child and makes several merciful and good decisions throughout the film, leading him to save the day and call an ambulance. Painter is a weak man who has worked for his crooked father, but he saves Robin and her baby's lives. Robin lies about her pregnancy to make $1 million, but she cares deeply for her baby's life and is primarily a victim throughout the film. Parker and Longbaugh show mercy and kindness to Robin while she is in their possession, as well as abandoning their efforts to kidnap her in her condition at the end. The Mexicans in the film are also morally ambiguous. They are bystanders, watching indifferently as people kill each other. They are also policemen, who try to save Robin from the dangerous men who pursue her, and lose their lives doing so. They are prostitutes, disinterested in the violence that surrounds them, but they are also ambulance drivers who come and make order of the chaos. The Mexican border is just a line, dividing no one. People are neither good nor evil on both sides of the border, and national lines have no effect on morality.

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Monday, March 23, 2009


Django posterDjango (1966) is a lurid B-movie, banned in the UK for over 25 years due to its grisly scenes, but is also a classic in the Spaghetti Western genre for director Sergio Corbucci’s apocalyptic vision of the West. Django’s plot follows a similar course to Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), about a mercenary who arrives in a town with two rival factions, and by making selective alliances leads them to destroy each other in bloody warfare. This archetype was famously employed by Sergio Leone in his Dollars trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, but Django is tremendously darker than the Dollars trilogy in the moral conduct of its characters, the level of explicit violence, and even the physical environment.

As the opening credits roll, Django is seen dragging a coffin across a bleak craggy landscape upon a layer of slick grey mud. Most folks in the Old West traveled long distances by horse; most folks were not as tough as Django. The first scene is of a Mexican gang whipping a beautiful prostitute tied between poles in a remote desert. Unlike any other Western hero, who would have turned the horrific scene into a display of heroism, Django merely watches. Suddenly a band of red-scarved gunslingers shoot the Mexicans and untie the woman, only to accuse her of moral depravity and prepare a cross to burn her on. Only then does Django take pity on her, shoot her captors and take her to the nearest town. The town is a collection of decrepit buildings lining a street of churned-up mud; there is not a living soul except for in the brothel. The brothel owner, a nervous man named Nathaniel, lays out the local politics for Django. Death has loomed large over the town due rivalry between the Mexican gang led by General Hugo Rodriguez and the Confederate gang of Major Jackson; the main prostitute, Maria, vexed the gangs by seeking business from both of them.

Corbucci establishes Major Jackson as evil incarnate when his henchmen, wearing the red scarves turned into KKK hoods, whip Mexican peasants into running so he can use them as target practice. In the brothel, where Jackson charges Nathaniel an exorbitant “protection” fee, Jackson describes to Django his private fight for white supremacy, hanging on to the Confederacy despite the post-Civil War era. Sensing a shoot-or-be-shot scenario, Django kills all the Confederates except Jackson, inviting Jackson and his 48-strong army to fight against only himself. Based on a conversation in which Django expresses that Jackson has no right to think that Mexicans are inferior, one might assume that Django is a noble vigilante out to destroy the KKK. However, after a spectacular battle in which he whips out a machine gun from his mysterious coffin and plows down scores of Jackson’s men, we discover that his sole motivation is to avenge his lover’s death at Jackson’s hands.

General Rodriguez’s reprehensible character is displayed in a fantastically gory scene where he and his henchmen slice the ear off a Confederate spy, force it into his mouth, and then shoot him in the back. Surprisingly, Rodriguez and Django are old friends, albeit a friendship shot through with mutual distrust. This is most surprising to Maria, who is handed back to her torturers by the one man she thought cared about her. Rodriguez is awe-struck by the power of the machine gun and hatches a plan to rob Jackson’s gold in order to buy more machine guns to conquer Mexico with. Django helps to plan the heist, wanting a cut of the gold. They use Nathaniel’s traveling brothel as a Trojan horse; once inside Jackson’s fort, the Mexican gang bursts out of the carriage with guns blazing and make off with the gold. However, Rodriguez makes clear his intention to deny Django his share of the loot, so Django covertly fills his coffin with it and escapes, unwillingly taking Maria with him. Rodriquez catches up to them as they hopelessly try to retrieve the coffin from quicksand; he shoots Maria and orders a henchman to cruelly smash Django’s hands. The pair survives and Django deposits Maria at the brothel, leaving a message that he awaits Jackson at the cemetery. After many miserable attempts to prop his gun on a cross with his bloodied hands, Django kills Jackson and his men in rapid succession. He slowly walks away from the massacre over the crest of the hill, destitute and broken but liberated from his burden.

Django is a notable film in the Western genre, pushing the envelope for the depiction of graphic violence, and bringing a darker twist to Sergio Leone’s anti-hero archetype. As Django is an Italian-made film, its director makes an effort to replicate the conventions of American Westerns, but to an extreme and often at the expense of realism. Mexican generals and renegade members of the Confederate military are often cast as the villains of American Westerns, but Rodriguez and Jackson take the sadism expected of villains to such an extreme that Django was either banned or highly rated in many countries. Many American Westerns have a preoccupation with the U.S.-Mexico border, tending to promote the message of a closed border that can only be crossed by diplomatic negotiation. In Django, Jackson is leading the cavalry to chase the Mexican gang who has robbed his gold, but the minute in which the gang crosses the border, the cavalry stops dead in their tracks. Despite being in the middle of an unidentifiable wasteland, they halt on this invisible line and explain to an irate Jackson that they can go no further. This projection of the fixity of the U.S.-Mexico border is a staple of American Westerns, but in Django it comes off as absurd. The American West seen as abject and unsterilized through Corbucci’s eyes has made Django an iconographic film for the era of cynical Westerns. On top of creating a gritty antithesis to the clean-cut cowboy, Corbucci invented a macabre setting to contrast with the sun-parched landscapes typical to Westerns. In Django, with its dilapidated town which is home to no one but a brothel of sickly prostitutes, nothing avoids being caked in blood and mud.

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Dance With Me

Dance with Me posterDance With Me (1998) begins with shots of the sun-splashed streets of Santiago de Cuba, with smiles and Caribbean beats dancing on the air. The scene then shifts to a local cemetery where Rafael Infante (played by the successful Puerto Rican singer, Chayenne) is laying flowers on his mother’s grave in memory of her birthday. Later, when he returns to his home, an excited mailman bounds up the stairs to announce that ‘He’ has written back. The letter is from a man in Houston named John Burnett (Kris Kristofferson) who has legalized the details to get Rafael a job in the US. It is later revealed at Rafael’s going away party, when he divulges to his friend that he only told John that he needed a job, that there may be more to this journey than what’s on the surface. Rafael then arrives in Texas at the bus station and is picked up by the beautiful Ruby (Vanessa L. Williams), who attempts awkward Spanish until Rafael smiles and asks in English if she can speak English. She takes him to John’s dance studio where she works. All the employees are friendly, except for John who is abrupt and unceremonious when he first meets Rafael as he quickly introduces him to his handyman duties around the studio as well as his new living quarters at John’s house. It is clear that Rafael did not expect this kind of greeting from John but he nonetheless is grateful for all the help. Years ago, John had worked with Rafael’s mother on a cruise ship. It is clear that he still has strong feelings for her, which is why he agreed to help Rafael come to America. When questioned about his father, Rafael quickly replies that he is “long gone”.

The next day, Rafael begins his new job at the studio, but is transfixed by Ruby who is practicing with her incompetent partner for the upcoming dance competition in Las Vegas. When she is alone and practicing her technique without any music, he comments that perhaps she should play something in the background so that she is not quite so stiff. Ruby is instantly insulted and retorts that he should stick to things he knows about. Later she is in John’s office and sees a couple dancing on the TV. It is apparent that she has had relations in the past with the male dancer. When John mentions that the couple on the screen have recently split up, she becomes visibly anxious and comments that she wants to get back into professional dancing, after a six year hiatus. Rafael soon proves his worth as a worker when he does a fantastic job decorating the studio for the weekly party, and then shows his gentlemanly morals when he is the only man to tell Ruby just in the nick of time that the zipper on her dress has slowly undone while she had been dancing, much to the disappointment of the on-looking males. As a return favour, he asks Ruby to go out dancing with him. Ruby is visibly uncomfortable at the bouncing Cuban club and she attempts to teach Rafael how to dance with technique: ball changes, counting, stiff arms, etc. When this fails, she retreats to the washroom and then returns to see Rafael heating up the dance floor like had been a professional his whole life. Ruby quickly leaves the club without saying good-bye. The next day Rafael explains that he really doesn’t know how to dance like her because his type of dancing does not use traditional techniques.

Rafael finally hits it off with John when he asks if he can fix up the old beater truck in the garage. To start the repairs, he enlists Ruby to drive him to a parts shop where the two enjoy each other’s company over some Cuban music and food while they wait for the shop to open. Upon seeing people entering the shop, they go in to find it’s owned by Cubans who immediately invite them to join in on an engagement party in the backyard. Ruby enjoys the family culture and she and Rafael even get to have a slow dance of their own. Then, when Ruby returns to the Cuban club to show Rafael that she isn’t afraid of his style, she becomes pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to let herself go into the rhythm and use the entire dance floor, being passed from partner to partner in a fast-paced dance scene. The night is a success and afterwards Rafael walks her to her door, only to be soaked by the sprinklers in the yard. Needing to dry off, he is invited inside and meets Ruby’s son, Peter, whose father is Ruby’s ex-dance partner. Later, as Rafael stands before her, wrapped in a towel and expressing sympathy for her situation as a single mother, their passion is released, but then, just as quickly, it’s repressed as Ruby realizes it’s not a good idea.

The next day, John’s dance partner, Patricia, comes to him pleading to change partners because John has been spending more time fishing than practicing for the Vegas competition. She opts to dance with Rafael instead, who has been showcasing random knowledge of dance while in the studio. John agrees and Rafael quickly masters the moves and he and Patricia enter the competition. Much to Rafael’s disappointment, Ruby has chosen to dance with her ex-partner Julian in the competition. Before leaving for Vegas, Rafael confronts John about him being his father, but John insists that he doesn’t have a son, causing Rafael to regret ever coming to America to look for such a callous man. At the competition, Rafael runs into Ruby backstage, but the two barely get a chance to talk as Julian rushes her away. At rehearsals, Ruby adds her own Cuban flair to the dance moves, but is quickly cut down by Julian who demands that she follow the routine. Rafael and Patricia then give an immaculate performance in their division and win first place; but Rafael is more pleased about the fact that John came to Vegas to watch him dance and confess that he is in fact Rafael’s father. The two quickly bond and Rafael decides to stay in America instead of returning to Cuba. The next scene is the professional division with Julian and Ruby easily making it to the finals. In the last dance, Ruby spots Rafael and visibly falters in her step as she yearns to dance with him again. Her emotions improve her performance and she and Julian win the grand prize in the professional division. At the after-party, Ruby arrives with a large trophy, but a sad face, as Julian wanders off to dance with other women. She is offered a lucrative contract, but simply walks away when Rafael appears at her side and silently offers her a dance. They then dominate the dance floor in an unscripted, Latin dance which shows their passion for one another. The film ends with a group lesson, involving all the movie’s characters, in the dance studio, with Rafael and Ruby as the instructors of the Latin moves.

Dance With Me emphasizes the disparity between immigrants and Americans by casting Rafael as an outsider. The dance studio employees make excuses for him, such as “Oh, he’s from a different country”, and oftentimes Rafael will even highlight the differences himself, by making comments such as “I’m Latin, but I’ve never seen a Latin dance like that” (commenting on Ruby’s stiff technique), or “I’m a Cuban, of course I can dance”. The film bares resemblance to Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights where, once again, the lead Latin male teaches the technique-driven American girl how to get lost in the Cuban beats and let the music lead her. The fact that there is no instance of reverse-gender in these roles begs the concept of male machismo and control, which dominates Latin society; but what more, how Latin society in general has to actually teach Americans how to enjoy life. Perhaps a notable difference between these two films is the fact that in Dance with Me the lead couple is able to start a new life in America, while in Havana Nights the young love must be separated as it can not bloom in the revolutionary streets of Havana; which lends a certain amount of fantasy to the ‘dreams of America’ and a sentiment of hopelessness to the situation in Cuba. The bouncing rhythms and the romantic storylines of these movies may attempt to conceal it, but this divergence of cultures is still readily apparent.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Touching the Void

Touching the Void posterTouching the Void (2003) tells the true story of two young British climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who attempted to reach the summit of the Siula Grande mountain in Peru in 1985. The film consists of a combination of narration by the actual climbers Joe and Simon, interspersed with a sequence of acted footage of the climb. It begins with the introduction of the two young climbers, in their mid-twenties, and their reckless eagerness to find new routes and unclimbed mountains. They have decided to climb the Western face of the 21 000 foot high Siula Grande, which has never been done. They recruit another British traveller, Richard Hawking, to help them with their climb and remain at the base camp they will set up below the mountain's glacier. Day one begins with Joe and Simon leaving Richard behind with the tent and supplies as they set off to climb first the glacier, then the treacherous Western face. They climb "Alpine Style", which is done in one push with rucksacks full of only the necessary supplies. The first stage is crossing the glacier, which is riddled with dangerous crevasses. The importance of trusting one's climbing partner becomes clear; Joe and Simon depend upon each other for their survival, tied together by ropes as they are by fate. Joe and Simon leave the glacier behind and start climbing the almost-vertical ice-wall of the face, using ice picks and crampons. As night falls, they make a snow cave where they will spend the night, using their gas stove to melt enough snow to keep them adequately hydrated.

Day two proves much more difficult. The altitude is exhausting and difficult and the temperatures are very cold indeed. They reach 20 000 feet, leaving the ice-walls, which are relatively easy to climb, for vertical cliffs of powdery snow, which are unstable and dangerous, causing small avalanches with every step. To the climbers' dismay, a storm arrives, blowing ice-cold powder all over them, coating them with a layer of ice. The climbing becomes very treacherous and slow, and it takes them 6 hours to climb 200 feet. They are suffering minor hypothermia by the time they dig a snow cave and settle in for the night, taking a long time to warm up. The next morning, day three, the weather is excellent. However, the powdery cliffs provide a dangerous challenge. By midday the men have reached the Northern Ridge, which they follow to the summit of Sulia Grande. Joe and Simon are triumphant and exhausted, but they know that the descent is what is dangerous, being responsible for 80% of climbing accidents. As they descend the ridge, a whiteout cloud covers them and limits their vision to the point that they get lost, wandering along what they think is the ridge until night falls. They dig a snow cave for the night. Since they had expected to finish the climb that day, the gas from their stove runs out and they are unable to melt snow for drinking. Day four is the day where disaster strikes. Joe Simpson stands on a cornice which is unstable and it collapses beneath his weight, causing him to fall and break his leg, pushing his lower leg up through his knee joint. Joe thinks, "If I've broken my leg, I'm dead". Simon, instead of abandoning Joe as Joe expects, stays with him and helps him to descend, lowering him down metre by metre and holding him from a solid foothold. A storm rages around them, and they are both freezing cold, exhausted, and dehydrated. The climbers continue descending the almost-vertical snow cliff metre by metre. Suddenly Joe, who is hanging from Simon's rope, falls over an overhang and is suddenly hanging 150 feet in the air, suspended only by rope. He yells for Simon, but the storm makes hearing impossible. Simon is bewildered by the sudden weight on the rope, and tries to jerk the rope to communicate with Joe, but Joe cannot respond because he is hanging in such a precarious position. Simon tries to hold Joe up for two hours, when he becomes so exhausted that he is unable to hold his position and begins to slide from his foothold, the powdery snow giving way under him. When Simon approaches the overhang, he realizes what has happened and that he must cut Joe loose to save himself from falling over the cliff. He takes his penknife and cuts the rope, letting Joe fall into the abyss below him. He then digs a snow cave to spend the night, tormented by thoughts of what he has done to his friend.

Joe has not died, however. He has fallen into a crevasse in the glacier, where a 3 foot ledge has saved him from falling into its deathly bottom. Joe has concluded that Simon has died and has fallen from the cliff, but when he tugs on the rope it comes down with the severed end. In an excruciating amount of pain, Joe realizes that he is to die in the crevasse in the pitch dark. He cries and screams all night, enraged that he will die so young. The next morning, on the fifth day, Simon lowers himself to where Joe has fallen but sees only a crevasse and presumes that Joe is dead. Dehydrated and severely frost-bitten, Simon stumbles down the glacier to the base camp, where Richard is waiting for him. Joe is desperately seeking a way to escape the dark crevasse where he is trapped. It seems the only way to go is down, and he lowers himself with ropes and clips to the bottom, where he drags himself along the crevasse's floor to where he can see a hole far above him with sunlight pouring through: his way out! The following brutally painful climb up an ice wall takes several hours in which Joe almost faints from the pain in his leg with every step. However, he finally reaches the top and climbs out of the snowy hole, free from the crevasse. Before him, however, is the near-impossible task of crossing the treacherous glacier and climbing the many kilometers down to base camp. Initially, Joe can use Simon's tracks to see where to go, but a windstorm fills them in until Joe must navigate around the crevasses on his own. Night passes, with Joe freezing, exposed, on the glacier, and Simon and Richard in the tent, waiting for Simon's health to return so that they can leave. The next morning is day six, which consists of Joe's excruciating and slow descent of the glacier. Joe is near death, highly dehydrated, out of food, and severely frostbitten. Each step takes all his will and energy to take. He reaches a surreal plane where he has hallucinations and feels himself the victim of the evil mountains surrounding him.

On day seven, Joe is convinced that he will die, but he is desperate not to die alone and drags himself towards the camp, hoping that Simon and Richard have not left. In reality, the two have burned Joe's clothes as a symbolic "goodbye" gesture and are preparing to leave in the morning. Around midday, Joe finds water, which saves his life and re-fuels his body. He drinks litres and litres of it, vomiting, urinating, at the edge of his humanness. He continues down the mountain until nightfall, when he reaches a rocky spot where he chooses to die, overcome by exhaustion and confusion caused by starvation and trauma. It begins to snow, and Joe is ready to die. Suddenly, a strange smell alerts Joe that he is in the latrine area of the base camp! He begins to scream "SIMON!" repeatedly until Simon and Richard hear him and come to find him, unable to believe that he is alive. Joe is saved. The film ends with a written statement telling the viewer that Joe lost one third of his bodyweight in the ordeal, and that it took two years and six operations until he could climb again. Apparently Simon received a great deal of criticism for his actions on the mountain, but Joe continues to defend him. No one has ever successfully repeated Simon and Joe's climb to the summit of Siula Grande.

The Peruvian Andes in the film are portrayed in all their white jagged grandeur. Their grandeur is a malignant, threatening one. They are volatile and treacherous, with sudden storms and avalaches endangering the climbers with every step. The vast hostility of Siula Grande commands the climbers to stay away, that any attempt to conquer the mountain will result in certain death. But the climbers, with their disregard for the power of nature, are eager to have victory over the mountain. In the end, Siula Grande wins; although Joe and Simon have summited the peak, they have done so at an astronomical cost, the cost of losing their humanness and their trust in eachother. These European and North American men who think that they can conquer the world risk their lives to beat nature, unlike the South Americans, who respect and fear nature. In the end, the Andes will break any men who try to beat them, remaining hostile, proud, and omnipotent.


Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise posterTequila Sunrise (1988) begins with two drug dealers nervously waiting for a meeting with their buyers. Dale ‘Mac’ McKussic (Mel Gibson) appears to be the more experienced of the two as he secretly hides the pound of cocaine in the back of their hotel room’s toilet because he had noticed too many peanut shells on the ground outside their room (a sure sign of cops on the stake-out). Soon the buyers arrive and Mac makes a quick exit, but not before ‘taking a leak’ first to collect the drug stash, and then meets one of the buyers in the hall. Identities are uncovered as the two beginning chatting and the ‘buyer’ in the hallway is revealed as Dt. Lt. Nick Frescia (Kurt Russel) who quizzes Mac on why he is back on the drug scene and out of retirement. Mac replies that he’s simply teaching his lawyer, who has come upon some cocaine, how to sell the drugs, and that the police won’t find any evidence in the room because Mac couldn’t let a kid like Andy get busted. It is apparent that Mac and Nick share a unique bond between drug dealer and police officer as Nick warns Mac not to return to his car. As promised, a full-on raid descends on the building and Mac barely escapes to his favorite Italian restaurant, Vallenari’s.

Nick later sits down next to Mac at his table and tells him that they know he’s up to something and that the cops in the van outside, DEA Agent Hal Maguire (J.T. Walsh) in particular, think that he’s dealing through code from within the restaurant. Suddenly the restaurant’s host, Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears at the table and Nick is immediately love-struck. When Hal brings Jo Ann in for questioning the next day and attempts to blackmail her for information on Mac, Nick comes to her rescue and is consequently owed a dinner at the restaurant from the willing Jo Ann. As the two are dining, their platonic relationship becomes something more, even though Jo Ann knows that Nick is scouting for information on Mac. Although Nick is the new Head of Narcotics for Los Angeles County, he can’t imagine arresting his friend; that is, until Hal reveals that his sources say there will be a massive cocaine deal going down soon between Mac and the mysterious Mexican dealer, Carlos (Raul Julia). This situation begs for Nick to put his friendship on hold and discover all he can about the deal, if only to help his friend get an easy sentence.

Mac notices the heat on him and so stalls the deal between him and Carlos. The two drug dealers have been friends ever since Mac went to a Mexican jail for two years for smoking marijuana on a beach in Mexico and Carlos happened to save his life while on the inside. Mac decides to focus instead on his son’s birthday for which he asks Jo Ann and her restaurant to cater. At the party, Jo Ann sees her best customer as a doting father, not a drug dealer, and tells Mac afterwards that she has been talking with Nick. When Mac gives Jo Ann a $2500 tip for the party, she believes it to be a bribe to keep quiet and confronts Mac on the beach outside his house only to embarrassingly discover that he had given her the envelope for his ex-wife and not the one to pay for the party. At that moment, Mac’s son Cody takes a nasty spill on his surfboard and Jo Ann is obliged to help Mac care for him. It is here that Mac and Jo Ann have a heart-to-heart and Mac reveals that he doesn’t go to her restaurant to make drug deals, but instead to see her.

That night at the restaurant, Jo Ann is happy to see Nick until he leads her to the wine cellar where the Mexican Federales, and in particular Comandante Xavier Escalante, are hiding with the DEA to plan a raid on Mac when Carlos arrives. The DEA needs the Comandante’s help to ID Carlos as no one knows what he looks like. Jo Ann realizes that Nick is still just using her to get to Mac and goes to Mac’s house to look after Cody while Mac is away. After Cody is picked up by his mother, Mac returns and he and Jo Ann finally release their sexual tension in a passionate hot tub sex scene, much to the delight of the Mexican Federale surveillance team. Mac steps back into the house and is suddenly confronted with the Comandante, who actually turns out to be Carlos. He is a reckless drug dealer and attempts to run the deal that night, but Mac is reluctant due to his relationship with Jo Ann, who is called back to work only to realize that Nick had called her to get her out of Mac’s house before the raid.

Jo Ann returns to the house to find Carlos getting ready to leave for his boat. He brings her along and then proceeds to get intoxicated with Mac so that he can convince him that Jo Ann needs to be eliminated as she is the only one who can identify them. Mac manages to drunkenly get Jo Ann and himself into a smaller motorboat, which carries the cash and cocaine stash, and Jo Ann promptly reveals to Mac that she’s in love with him. Meanwhile, Nick has put two and two together and realized that Carlos is the Comandante. Then he and Hal pick up a radio transmission from the ‘Federales’ giving away Mac’s position. Before Nick can arrive, Mac drops Jo Ann off and then attempts to blow-up Carlos by leaking the motorboat’s gas, but not before Carlos pulls a gun on Mac. The two struggle and finally the gun goes off, running the bullet first through Mac’s side and then into Carlos’ gut. Carlos dies in his friend’s arms just as Hal arrives and begins mercilessly shooting at Mac who jumps into the water. The bullets light the leaking gasoline on fire, and Nick arrives just in time to see his friend becomes lost in a sea of fire and explosion. The next scene shows Jo Ann arriving at the beach upon Nick’s instructions, at some unspecified length of time after that fateful night. Suddenly she sees Mac hiding in the waves just off the shore and races into his arms. As Nick watches from above, it is clear that he is allowing the woman he loves to be happy with his best friend, Mac, instead of him, while keeping them both under his watchful eye of protection and away from the clutches of the law.

The international relations displayed between these two countries are a bit unclear as the Mexican Federales actually turn out to be Carlos and his henchmen, and the DEA officers are made to look ignorant in the wake of trusting the comandante as an ally for 8 years. The one apparent tie to the US for Latin America, in particular Mexico and Colombia, is that they are the drug suppliers for the white, American dealers. Colombia is described only in terms of the Mac’s incessant accounting problems with them, while Mexico is portrayed through Carlos as a corrupt and dishonest culture and, although quick to keep friendships alive, also merciless in their attempts to escape justice; for example, wanting to kill Jo Ann for fear of being identified. The final conclusion drawn shows a landslide victory for the foreigners being the ones who are needed to make the drug deals proceed, but are also the ones who take the fall as the American drug lords are able to continue living their lives in peace, under the protection of their very own police force.

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