Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Borderlands: White/Black

If I've got the stamina for a late-nite flick, I'm thinking I may go catch Ridley Scott's The Counselor tonight. I dig Scott (and his late brother), but the real attraction here is Cormac McCarthy's script (yeah it may be an echo of his No Country For Old Men novel - which started as an original screenplay - but I don't mind). Man, I dig these stories that I like to call gringo-noir (or white-black if you will) that usually involve a white man high on his privilege and blind to his biggest vulnerabilities and self-destructive impulses who thinks he can mingle with the locals of some non-anglo locale and not only hang-tough, but thrive in dirty dealings. My novella Fierce Bitches (hey, go buy that shit) fits into this sub-genre, and I'm gonna name a few more (plus some simply-mostly-south-of-the-borderlands titles to dig in to for Dia de los Muertos).

Dia de los Muertos - Kent Harrington - This is a nasty slice of death set in Tijuana and concerning a DEA agent who moonlights as a coyote, smuggling those who can pay him to over the border. Shit goes south real quick, and the last third of this book is a fun-house nightmare of menace and moral rot.

Tijuana Straits - Kem Nunn - Brutal and unsparing, but with a social awareness that recalls the best of James Lee Burke, Nunn delivers a crime thriller that's hardcore with heart.

Dead Women of Juarez - Sam Hawken - This is the story of a gringo palooka whose standard of living is entirely dependent on his ability to absorb punishment in the ring. He makes his money being the American who gets pummeled to shit by up and coming locals looking to make a name for themselves. He's a professional loser with shady friends always in the sights of the local police and when he's framed for the murder of a social activist - he'll take a loooooooot more punishment than he's used to, while his frenemy - the honest cop - drowns in a tide of corruption trying to set things strait.

Power of the Dog - Don Winslow - Fictional history of the border drug trade - the war, the cartels, the DEA, the staggering brutality and stupid-thoroughness of corruption rendered in Winslow's day-glo, nitroglycerin-slick prose style. We'll see if Danish director Nikolaj Arcel can do it justice next year.

The Getaway - Jim Thompson - I love Sam Peckinpah's adaptation (hell, I even like Roger Donaldson's alright), but neither film version have even touched on the book's finale, in favor of more upbeat endings. What awaits the McCoys once they escape Texas is not exactly paradise.

Dove Season - Johnny Shaw - Jimmy Veeder's father has a dying request and once put into motion, Veeder is too pig-stubborn to quit his quest no matter how dangerous it gets or what unpleasant revelations it promises. Shaw is just fucking excellent with character and place and - pace, motherfucker. This ain't a break-neck speed thriller, it's more of a break-leg bruiser with real heart and shit-dipped humor. Can't wait for the next Jimmy Veeder fiasco, Plaster City in 2014.

Carrion Birds - Urban Waite - Ray Lamar's is a tired-out bad man who wants to retire after more than a decade as a professional thug and killer, but his last job takes him back to New Mexico and places him squarely in the crosshairs of a vicious drug cartel and not much room to hide. Shotgun tragedy, modern western, sun-bleached noir, whatever you want to call it, good shit.

Tequila Blue - Rolo Diez - You have any idea what the biggest pain in the dick of cops in Mexico is? White people getting killed - especially Americans. Carlito's already got his hands full providing for both his legit and illegitimate families - he's into many stripes of criminal activity to supplement his cop's salary - but when a whitey kicks off in a Mexico City hotel room, Carlito's life is going to go right the hell off the rails.

A Death in Mexico - Jonathan Woods - Another tale of less than snow-white Mexican policeman dealt the shit hand of handling a gringo-murder in his town. Only this time it's a pretty young woman. How do you say 'skewered with a shit-stick' in Spanish?

The Dog Fighter - Marc Bojanowski - Ugh, the title says (not quite all of it, but) so much. This is some dark, underground territory here. The nameless narrator tells the story of his life as a boom-town construction worker and interspecial gladiator in Baja running up against greater powers than his own, including money, corruption and love. Brueautiful.

Do They Know I'm Running? - David Corbett - A teenager in southern California must find his deported uncle in El Salvador and smuggle he and two more shifty characters through Guatemala and Mexico to arrive in the US where - everything's gonna be just fine. Yeah, Corbett is great at creating desperate situations for believable protagonists and great lengths for them to go.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - Sam Peckinpah - My favorite gringo-noir stars Warren Oates as Benny, a white man with nowhere to go, but south (there's a metaphor in there too). He's burnt every bridge he ever crossed and is broke, lonely and drunk, playing piano in some shitshack cantina when salvation comes looking for him in the form of a large bounty offered on titular anatomical piece of a sexual rival. Tracking down the sunnavabitch and claiming his reward will cost him absolutely every final shred of his soul, and each new piece torn off and fed to avarice, hurts worse than the last. This is the masterpiece I will always be trying to equal.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre - John Huston - Based on the novel (which I really must read) by B. Traven, this is some classic nasty race to the bottom noir that everybody - everybody - has been ripping off as hard and fast as they could for decades (and that's a good thing). Don't go getting too optimistic about the human condition, now.

Revenge - Tony Scott - Based on the novella by Jim Harrison (again, which I really must read) this is Kevin Costner's first post-hot-shit flop, not to mention the first from the guy who'd just done Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2, so why is it on my list? What was it that I responded to here, that the movie-going public in general did not? It's simple, direct, brutal and generous with the blame. How cocky is American fighter pilot Cochran in Mexico? Uhmmm, cocky enough to think he can fuck around with the wife of his powerful benefactor Tibey (Anthony Quinn - who can be a helluva heavy) while living as a guest in his home, and die a natural death. On the other hand, how arrogant is Tibey that he thinks he can invite hot-shot, dream-boat, gringo-fighter pilot to stay in his house without getting his much younger wife (Madeline Stowe) a little damp? Do you need me to tell you what happens?

Rolling Thunder - John Flynn - When a man's been trained by his government to kill, captured by the enemy and tortured for seven years, suddenly reintroduced to banal civility, subjected to domestic savagery, had everything he stood to gain taken and given a shot at revenge, whatcha think? Yeah, there will be blood. Such an uneasy portrait of a royally fucked up hero(?) Such a dead-eyed, dead-pan delivery by William Devane, and such a blood-lusty trek thru Mexico make this picture one to savor and study.

Way of the Gun - Christopher McQuarrie - Bad men meeting bad ends in a deluge of cold-blooded badassery made for bad box office, but this one makes me kick like electrodes on my tits. Bully for McQuarrie's willingness to give us unsympathetic, unapologetic, un-quick-witted mercenaries and ask us to get behind them while they kidnap a pregnant woman and hold her for ransom way down Mexico way. Scrape the layers of ick outta your mouth by gargling gasoline.

Touch of Evil - Orson Welles - Virtue vs. vice cops on opposite sides of the border - sin and sweat, uh, fat and thin, neatly groomed mustache vs. greasy stubble, it's not subtle, but damn, ain't it great to look at. From that sweet-ass opening tracking shot to the die screaming you tub of shit finale, this is one fine film experience that I'm happy to have again and again.

Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Tommy Lee Jones - When a redneck border patrolman accidentally shoots an undocumented Mexican ranch hand, he digs a hasty ditch for the unfortunate lead magnet at the scene of the crime. The body is found and dumped in a second ignoble hole, this time in an unmarked gubment lawn. Enter titular victim's employer and friend, a crusty old coot with a crazy plan to illegally exhume his buddy and kidnap the shitbird who put him in a decomposition way, then force the gringo turd to haul his kill all the way back to his home village and bury him properly before joining him in wormland. What follows is a gruesome, funny trek of redemption by degradation, that is celluloid poetry worthy of comparison to Peckinpah and Malick.

Sorcerer - William Friedkin - Go waaaaay south of the border with this one. In fact, pass right through the entire digestive track of Mexico and find yourself somewhere in South America in a town populated with two types of people: impoverished natives who work shit jobs for the big gringo oil company extracting their natural resources as fast as they can, and a rag-tag group of criminals, terrorists and other undesirables from the rest of the world who've come to rot in the only toilet that will have them. When the oil company has an emergency, they need a few good (disposable) men to take on a suicide mission to rectify the money flow. What follows is an hour of absolutely excruciating tension.

Sin Nombre - Cary Fukunaga - Now start in Honduras where a trio of desperate youngsters hop a train top and ride it the length of Mexico toward their only chance to stay alive in the place where Bruce Springsteen sprang forth. Along the way, they are hard hunted by vicious gangs with long tentacles and the further north they go the more shit most definitely goes south for them.


Barry Graham said...

A reviewer on Salon said The Counselor might be the worst film ever made, so I'll be curious to read what you think of it.

jedidiah ayres said...

DUG IT!!! Digesting for a while. It'll be included in my October film roundup

Kieran Shea said...

Not Mexico...but probably one of the scariest cities in Latin America: Caracas, Venezuela.

jedidiah ayres said...

Dammit, that movie is SOMEwhere in my Netflix que because you recommended it a couple years ago.... Must bump up.

Tom Wickersham said...

Great list! Love seeing "Power of the Dog" and "Dia de los Muertos" on there. Eager to read the ones I don't know. Have you read James M. Cain's "Serenade?" Might be the earliest gringo-noir as you've defined it.

"Secuestro Express" made an impression on me, albeit a bleak bummer of one. The Mexican crime movie I love is "El Infierno." Not so much noir as a semi-humorous gangster movie, but it's available on Netflix Instant Watch.

jedidiah ayres said...

Tom - nope, haven't read Cain's Serenade... pretty sure I've got it around here somewheres... hold on.

Thanks for the tip

Unknown said...

Also a big fan of The Counselor (although I understand why those who aren't adherents of Cormac McCarthy hate it so much). And Alfredo Garcia is, in my mind, one of the greatest pieces of flimmaking ever. Have you seen El Infierno? Take a look at this writeup I posted today, if you don't mind:

jedidiah ayres said...

Oky-doke - it's on my list now. Thanks, Sam.