Saturday, June 11, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Ones Below, Get The Gringo

The Ones Below
directed by David Farr
The Ones Below is a nifty little thriller movie which shows once again that you can make impressive disturbing films without over reliance on gore and guts. If I recall correctly there is virtually no violence in this movie although the filmmaker certainly makes you think there might be much more than there is. It's creepy as hell though. Visually the only sex appeal is fleeting off screen coitus and a few cleavage baring outfits, but there's nothing I would find gratuitous. Of course I almost never find cleavage gratuitous so take that with a grain of salt. 

No this is a game attempt at what might be called a thinking man's or woman's thriller. I didn't think The Ones Below needlessly insulted the viewer's intelligence even as some things became obvious. You'll see the twist coming a mile away but I think you still might be a little impressed with how the movie reaches the seemingly inevitable ending. This film slowly ratchets up the dread even as the outside world in which the characters live is cheerfully bright. One of the beautiful and horrible things about life is that we all inhabit our own little reality bubbles. One person is getting divorced by their spouse. Another one is welcoming their first child into the world. Someone else is dying a slow painful death from cancer. And the world just keeps on turning. 

The Ones Below does a great job in showing the contrast between our inner and outer worlds. Obviously there are some allusions to previous films here. It's very difficult to escape the shadow of Rosemary's Baby given the themes and subject matter. It is or should be a source of amazement that we can so easily and quickly create another human being provided we can find an interested someone with parts complementary to our own. But although the initial act of creation is very easy, relatively quick and usually joyous for both parties involved, the long process of bringing another human being into the world falls exclusively to the woman and is, from what I've heard, not necessarily a bowl of cherries.
Kate (Clemence Poesy) is a pregnant fashion/costume designer who works from home. She's married to Justin (Stephen Moore), a journalist. They live in the upstairs half of a London flat/townhouse. Kate feels that her career is very important. She's a little ambivalent about her pregnancy. It took a long time for her to decide that she even wanted a child. Some of Kate's indecision has to deal with mostly unexplained tension with her family, primarily her mother. Kate, to Justin's disappointment, does not like her mother, talk to her mother or ask her over. 

And Kate doesn't really give off an estrogen fueled pregnant glow of happiness and maternal love so much as she radiates a grim determination to finish. This is the opposite approach, at least on the surface, from the distaff half of the new couple who just moved into the downstairs lodgings. Theresa (Laura Birn) is also a pregnant wife who seemingly is just in love with the whole idea of being pregnant. 

Also being continental (Finnish) Theresa's more comfortable with public breastfeeding and partial clothing. Theresa is much more glamorous. Whereas Kate is career oriented, Theresa is happy staying at home. To Kate and Justin's amusement the vivacious Theresa is also pretty verbally demonstrative when she's making whoopie with her intense, severe, older husband Jon. Jon (David Morrissey) is a wealthy banker who's on the verge of retiring a few years early. Jon is a quietly dominant sort of fellow. Theresa doesn't want Jon knowing certain things that she does. When the two couples meet for dinner upstairs it becomes apparent that Jon, not Theresa, is the relationship shot caller. Jon has long wanted children. He divorced his previous wife to marry Theresa because of Theresa's relative youth and assumed fertility. But it has taken a very long time for Jon and Theresa to conceive. They can't understand, and are a little irritated by, Kate's conflicted attitude towards motherhood.

An event occurs which temporarily drives the two couples apart. And that's when the movie pivots smartly to show just about everything from Kate's point of view. The combination of isolation and Justin's occasionally patronizing behavior or distracted air drives Kate towards paranoia. The viewer may have trouble deciding if Kate really is going over the deep end (there's a family history here which is wisely left unpacked) or if she's right to be worried about her new neighbors. I, well liked isn't the word, was impressed by Morrissey's invocation of barely restrained belligerence, having worked with someone who was a dead ringer for his character. 

When Theresa and Jon return their happiness rings false to Kate. This movie had a stage, even icy feel to it. The two couple's homes reflect their natures. Kate and Justin's living area is pleasantly messy while Jon and Theresa's place is spotless with everything in its place. Jon and Theresa insist that no one wears outside shoes into their home. Whether or not there are shoes outside their door is a great way to tell if they are home or not. It can also be an ominous warning. This was a short movie that does not overstay its welcome. The cliches pile up in the last 20 minutes, but no one is perfect. If you're looking for a psychological thriller, this mostly holds up. TRAILER

Get The Gringo
directed by Adrian Grunberg
Generally speaking, I am less concerned with what sort of people creative types are in their personal lives and more concerned with what sort of art they make. Mel Gibson hasn't worked quite as much since he revealed himself as a highly bigoted individual with some anger issues but then again he also just turned 60. Sometimes, even for iconic male actors, age reduces on screen opportunities. Gibson is still doing a film every year or so which isn't bad I guess. This 2012 film is one I had meant to watch much earlier but best laid plans and all that. Get the Gringo is a short film that moves quickly and has what I thought of as a satisfying ending. It's also full of cliches but these work for the movie. So if you're demanding something with tons of surprises which will leave a huge impression on you this is probably not the film for you. At its heart this is a heist film. So there will be some misdirection and surprises, but you know that when you sit down to watch it. This film draws some inspiration from movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Drive and Payback. Gibson is more or less the descendant of the heroes in those movies. 

He's a bad guy with a hidden heart, a plan, and more brains than most people realize. He's unnamed throughout the movie. So let's just call him Gringo, as everyone else does. An American, Gringo is being chased by police and border agents while fleeing with millions in stolen cash and a critically wounded partner in the back seat. Out of options Gringo crashes across the Mexican border to try to make a break for it but the Mexican police are there waiting for him. As anyone who watches these types of movies knows, every official in Mexico is hopelessly corrupt. Gibson has apparently gotten the message that it's WHO you stereotype that causes problems, not THAT you stereotype. Once the Mexican police notice the bags of cash in the back seat, they suddenly become fierce nationalists and refuse to turn over Gringo, his partner or most importantly the cash to the waiting Americans. Their country, their rules, after all.

Gringo is arrested and incarcerated in a hellhole prison known as El Pueblito. Well, it's a hellhole insofar as there are fights, horrible toilets, brutal prison guards and extortion but on the other hand by American social standards things aren't so bad. The prison has women and conjugal visits. Entire families actually live in the prison. While Gringo is getting acclimated to the place he comes to the attention of an unnamed observant Kid (Kevin Hernandez) who seems to be protected by the prison hierarchy, both criminal and legal. Kid's mother (Dolores Heredia) has an unwilling relationship of some kind with the prison gang boss Javi (Daniel Cacho). Meanwhile the corrupt American embassy representative (Peter Gerety) takes an interest in Gringo because he can't find out who Gringo is, who he stole the money from or why Gringo has no fingerprints. 

Embassy guy may be lazy, fat and corrupt but that just makes him all the more interested in squeezing more money from the situation with Gringo. Embassy guy is smarter than he looks. He's bothered by Gringo's anonymity and self-assuredness. Back in the states the people from whom Gringo did steal the money are looking for him. And they aren't the sort of people who like asking twice or like asking nice. Peter Stormare also stars. Breaking Bad's Dean Norris has a small cameo. This was a pretty good film for what it was. Visually it has a seventies grindhouse feel to it. There are minimal special effects. There is the normal level of violence which you might expect in such a film. It's gritty and down to earth. Check this out unless you just refuse to watch anything with violence or anything with Gibson in it. TRAILER 

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