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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
 
by Peter Doherty

 

Yes, yes I know. Last month I gave Rupert Murdoch a small fortune this month I've only managed one film, but fuck me it was better than all the others put together. An instant classic, with Tommy Lee Jones surviving Texas & Mexico weather with the top button of his shirt fastened. Hard man, no contest.

The premise of the film is that its part revenge, part friendship & all round US Law Enforcement are wankers, whilst all the Mexicans are saints for once. The film is told post-death of Melquiades Estrada, a Mexican cowboy wary of La Migra as he has left his family behind to work in the US.  As the film progresses, with each burial almost as a chapter, we keep cutting back so the story is fleshed out & we see how Mel dies. Jones plays an old cowpoke who befriends Mel & makes a promise to bury him in a village in Chihuahua, Mexico. The other "star" is Barry Pepper, the piece of shit rookie border guard who kills Mel, in a bizarre accident involving a fox, a sly wank & a copy of Hustler. Mmm gives me an idea for a quality night in next time there's no film on.  Jones kidnaps Pepper to assist him in returning Melquiades across the border whilst fooling the fuzz to his path. Main pig is played by a decidedly greasy Dwight Yoakam, with a droopy knob prob, & there is an appearance by a cadaver-like Levon Helm, from The Band, as a spooky blind man living in the desert who gives Jones a decidedly weird but really sad request after he has fed Jones & Pepper. As the story progresses we get some unexpected kinks in the A man who has made a promise to a friend & won't let it go until he has seen it through.

 

A fantastic film. Beautifully shot, Texas & Mexico don't convey an oppressive heat as usual more a dull deadness. The whole film gives off a feel of the great Peckinpah  "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia" or "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" where the promised land is really shit & those stuck in it fall apart as the days pass. Even the soundtrack is brilliant shit-kicking country. Any film that has the Hagg singing "Working Mans Blues" in it has got to be mucho grande.  If you can get your hands on it get it. Best I've seen this year.  Now where's that copy of Knave & the Basil Brush glove puppet time for a five knuckle shuffle.

 

 

HARSH TIMES

by Martin Hall


  Anyone who has seen the David Ayer scripted Training Day will know exactly
what to expect from Harsh Times, Ayer's directorial debut. Like that film,
this is set in an oppressively hot Los Angeles with masculinity and
malevolence key themes throughout.
  Christian Bale plays Jim David, a twisted character whose flawed
personality is a remnant of his time serving in the Gulf War - years later
he is still having nightmares about the experience. His best friend is the
much more likeable - but far too easily influenced - Mike Alvarez (Freddy
Rodriguez) who needs to find work to placate his lawyer girlfriend Sylvia
(Eva Longoria). Although he provided for her financially during her time at
Law School, their relationship is now unequal as she supports his drinking
and lazy lifestyle.
  Jim's career of choice is with the Los Angeles Police Department. Yet after
numerous tests they decide he's unsuitable for them. His reaction to this
news - throwing a beer bottle at the motorist in the next lane - is one of
the first examples of his unbalanced state of mind.
  The only person who seems able to make him happy is Marta (Tammy Trull),
his Mexican girlfriend. Jim has ambitions of getting a good job so she can
obtain
US residency but is unwilling or unable to make the sacrifices
required.
  As the film progresses it becomes clear exactly how unhinged Jim is. He
steals drugs from a dealer. A visit to an ex-girlfriend results in violence
and theft. He talks seriously about shooting a police officer who pulls him
over.
  But it's his reaction (or lack of it) to a brutal murder in a bar that
exposes just how dehumanised and divorced from reality he is. Mike is
hysterical with fear after watching an older man being stabbed in the neck
but Jim is totally calm and treats the event as an ordinary occurrence.
  The choices Jim and Mike make to arrive at the film's conclusion are
morally questionable and it is to Ayer's credit that he does not judge the
characters for their decisions. Much like Spike Lee in Do The Right Thing,
the director offers more questions than answers and lets viewers form their
own opinions.
  However Harsh Times falls short of being in the same league as Lee's 1989
classic. This film is undoubtedly well shot and some of the pair's flippant
comments are darkly funny. Eva Longoria does okay with her underwritten role
and Ayer successfully captures the squalor and seediness of the bars, scummy
houses and crime-ridden streets Jim and Mike inhabit.   The main fly in the
ointment is Jim, a repulsive mixture of explosiveness and self-loathing. And
therein lies the rub. Jim is too loathsome to be totally compelling. As his
character descends further into the depths of anger and self-destruction
it's difficult to care what happens to him, so hateful is he. Bale is an
engaging and physically imposing actor who is well suited to playing the
incendiary Jim but there's not enough humanity there to provoke genuine
empathy for his plight.
  Harsh Times is so gritty that you'll want to take a shower afterwards and
Bale and Rodriguez work well with the material they're given. Despite that
though, it's disfigured by the inherent odiousness of its main character
whom it is impossible to relate to.

3 STARS
 

THE BREAK-UP

by Martin Hall


  In Friends, Jennifer Aniston played a kooky, sexy character with
relationship problems. In The Break-Up, she also plays a kooky, sexy
character with relationship problems. The more things change, the more they
stay the same.
  The Break-Up was viewed as the film to propel Aniston into the Hollywood
A-List, something she has so far failed to achieve by starring in
mediocrities such as Derailed and Rumour Has It.
  Gary (Vince Vaughn) first meets Brooke (Aniston) at Wrigley Field baseball
stadium. He?s with his drinking buddy Jonny O (a part filled - literally -
by the increasingly barrel chested Jon Favreau) but is immediately smitten
with Brooke. He spontaneously orders six hot-dogs to get her attention and
then offers her one. She takes it to stop his incessant pestering and when
the game is over he convinces her to go for a drink with him.
  We fast forward through two years of the couple?s relationship that shows
them at parties, decorating their condo and generally being very much in
love. Unusually the break-up happens early in the film and we watch the
fallout. As with the end of most relationships, it?s a fairly insignificant
issue that brings things to a head. Gary doesn?t pick up the right things
for their dinner party on the way home and doesn?t help with any of the
preparations. He is, as Brooke later tells him, ?an inconsiderate prick.?
  That dinner party shows how unsuitable they are for each other. She?s
proud of the condo?s feng shui; he bitches about the lack of a pool table.
Where his family are afraid of emotion and affection, her brother Richard
(John Michael Higgins) is ridiculously extrovert and camp and serenades the
gathering with some a capella singing, a hobby he pursues with his all-male
singing group The Tone Rangers.
  From thereon in, the film nicely captures the pettiness of break-ups.
Neither Gary nor Brooke are faultless for the bitter cul-de-sac their
relationship has become and Brooke says all she wants is for Gary to ?care
enough about this relationship to want to work at it.? Whether it?s through
pride or ignorance, he doesn?t do so.
  Vaughn and Aniston work well together on-screen as both a couple and
warring factions but it?s Judy Davis who steals the show as Marilyn Dean,
owner of the art gallery where Aniston works. Davis plays Dean as a cross
between Anna Wintour, the Editor of US Vogue and Dr. Cox from Scrubs.
  The film?s philosophising about relationships lacks the intelligence and
dry wit of Woody Allen?s
Manhattan, but as with many Allen films The
Break-Up falls somewhere between tragedy and comedy. There is an almost
unbearably poignant scene where a devastated Brooke comes back from a
disastrous date to find a rolling drunk Vaughn sprawled on the sofa as a
strip poker night draws to a raucous close.
  Despite the publicity over its leading lights? relationship, The Break-Up
never manages to be either truly romantic, comedic or tragic. The film
seems uncertain of what it is and because of this fails to really triumph in
any of those three categories. Unfortunately for her, Aniston seems no
closer to breaking into the
Hollywood big league than she has ever been.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

3 STARS

 

MIAMI VICE

by Martin Hall


  If you came out of the cinema after watching Michael Mann's Heat or
Collateral wondering what all the fuss was about, then the director's latest
offering Miami Vice is definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you
were thrilled by his dazzling skills, the thrilling shoot outs and the whole
damn slickness of it all then this film is essential viewing.
  The main thing to say about Miami Vice is how stylish it all looks. The
film bursts into action in the first scene with a woman gyrating in front of
a flashing screen in a suitably cool
Miami nightclub. Hip-hop music thumps
out of powerful speakers and the screen pulses with energy. This pace is
relentless in a film that doesn't pause for breath.
  Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) play two Miami
cops who must infiltrate a drugs smuggling ring after an FBI operation goes
wrong. Posing as drug traffickers, they arrange a meeting with Jose Yero
(John Ortiz) who works for the sinister Arcangel de Jesus Montoya (Luis
Tosar). Mann is an expert at ratcheting up the tension and Yero's suspicion
of Crockett leads to a dramatic stand-off with all parties pointing weapons
and threatening each other.
  That stand-off is nothing, though, compared to the shoot-out at the end of
the film. Whilst not in the same league as the famous scene from Heat, it is
both brutal and believable. Because it takes place at night, it is difficult
to tell who is on whose side and who has been shot. This adds to the drama.
  Much of the film takes place in darkness with the quick-fire dialogue
mumbled or drowned out by other sounds. Again, this is a masterful way of
grabbing your attention by the throat.
  The most attention grabbing on screen presence is the stunning Isabella
(Gong Li), Montoya's business partner and lover. Her and Crockett begin a
dangerous affair that leads to him blurring the lines between the dual lives
he leads.
  Yet strangely the passion of their relationship illuminates how little
chemistry there is between Farrell and Foxx. They are both fine actors and
so handsome they make the rest of us mere mortals look like so many
Quasimodos. Yes, they look great in their pastel suits as they drive a
speedboat or a flash car but their relationship doesn't extend much beyond
that. There's not a huge amount of dialogue between them and outside of
their line of work they seem to have little in common. Miami Vice is not
your typical buddy movie in this respect.
  Perhaps this is intentional on Mann's part. These are men out of their
depth and on the edge. Their work always comes first and nothing - not
friendship, not even love - can come in the way of that. Lethal Weapon this
is not.
  But it would be churlish to criticise the lack of character development or
the unexplored relationship between the two main protagonists. This is a
Michael Mann film after all. He knows what his audience want and it's Heat
not Hamlet.
  Much like its leading men, Miami Vice is fast, flash and great looking.
Mann provides more bang for your buck than any other Director around and
with this film the viewer certainly gets their money's worth.

4 STARS

 

 
   
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