Screening Room: ‘Museo’

In the latest movie from Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, Gael Garcia Bernal plays Juan, a slacker in 1980s Mexico who comes up with a spectacularly bad idea: to rip off antiques from the National Museum of Anthropology.

A heist comedy with melancholy and bite, Museo is playing now. My review is at Film Journal International:

Juan is a layabout sluggard wasting his days in the staid 1980s confines of Satellite City while occasionally attending veterinary school w. Ruizpalacios loops his movie around a few times before getting to the crux of the matter, rhythmically tracking life with a grinning world-weariness evoking the artfully composed New Wave ironies of his last feature, Güeros. When it becomes clear that Juan wants to rob the museum when it’s closed for renovations over the holidays, the movie doesn’t spend too much time on the machinations because the end result is obvious…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)
‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Gueros’ – French New Wave in Mexico City

'Gueros' (Kino Lorber)
‘Gueros’ (Kino Lorber)
Style doesn’t go out of style. That’s why directors around the world are still aping the French New Wave, in good and bad ways.

Güeros is a grab-bag of the right and wrong ways to appropriate the Nouvelle Vague’s stream-of-conscious plotting and jazzy rhythms. It did the festival circuit last year and is now getting a limited release. My review from the Tribeca Film Festival is at PopMatters:

[Güeros] gets a lot of traction from its mainly directionless young protagonists. They wander through Mexico City through a couple formless days backgrounded by worries about the future and uncertainty about their place and purpose in the present. It’s a film riddled and with questions and switchbacks, circling in on itself time and again…

Here’s the trailer.

Tribeca Film Festival, Awards Dispatch: ‘Zero Motivation’ and ‘Gueros’

(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)
(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)

Two of the award-winning narrative films at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival didn’t quite fit the fest’s usual mold. Neither Zero Motivation (which won for best narrative feature) or Gueros (best cinematography) were the usual small, tightly-focused chamber-piece dramas. Both had large ambitions that might have outstripped their abilities, but were thrilling nonetheless.

My review for PopMatters is here.

Zero Motivation is a deft Israeli comedy set in a military post’s administrative office that’s most easily described as a mash-up of M*A*S*H* and Office Space, with a little surrealism thrown into the mix:

Sullen whiner Daffi is so resistant to doing anything of value that she’s been designated “Paper Shredding NCO;” a position at which she fails miserably. All she cares about is transferring to cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which holds an exalted a position in her mind. The kibbutz-raised Zohar doesn’t understand Daffi’s desire, and finds her own distractions, channeling her energy into desperately trying to lose her virginity. They kill more time with an epic staple-gunfight and general slackness. In other words, these are barely soldiers you would trust to carry live ammunition, much less defend a nation’s borders…

The Mexican film Gueros is a sprawling, black-and-white, French New Wave-inspired ramble through Mexico City:

Even with its striking compositions and embrace of visual disorder, Güeros gets hung up on its own cleverness. The longer it ambles on, the more it takes on the feel of a string of short films mashed together. A midpoint breaching of the fourth wall (we see a clapper, and one actor talks out of character regarding his opinions on the screenplay so far) doesn’t serve much purpose. Neither does Sombra’s declamation on the state of Mexican film: “They grab a bunch of beggars and shoot in black and white and think they’re making art movies.” Enough moments like that, and the film begins to take on an unfortunate tone of self-satisfaction. There’s beauty here, though, that portends greater things in Ruizpalacios’s future…

Hopefully these wins will lead to both films getting at least a limited American release and enlivening what’s been a fairly limited slate of foreign films that made it to these shores so far this year.

New in Theaters: ‘Narco Cultura’

'Narco Cultura'
‘Narco Cultura’

narcocultura-posterIn the new documentary Narco Cultura, photographer and journalist Saul Schwarz looks at how the popular narcocorrido music scene revels in and glorifies the splashy lifestyle and ultraviolence of Mexican drug cartels.

My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

Schwarz splits his murder ballad of a film into two narratives. One is his splashy on-the-road story about Buknas de Culiacan, one of the star bands of the Los Angeles narcocorrido scene, and its leader, Edgar Quintero. A bright-eyed entrepreneurial spirit, Quintero goes beyond just telling stories about the cartel wars taking place just over the border. He happily takes requests directly from the narcos themselves, who are obsessive followers of the scene and eager to get a popular song to burnish their rep. When the crowd sings along to Buknas’ songs, the artistic distance between singer and subject seems practically to disappear…

You can see the trailer here: