Author Archives: john parker

Alejandro el Sicario

John Parker August 13: Sicario (2015)

This film, aptly titled in Spanish, follows previous War on Drugs films that Michelle Brown talks about in “Mapping discursive closings in the war on drugs.” Through righteous FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a rising star in the enterprise, we learn of the War on Drugs as a series of covert operations involving the CIA, local and federal authorities, the army, even foreign governments. Brown asserts that the war has become a combining of “large structural forces of sovereignty, inequality and criminality.” Sovereignty means that the country, namely the United States, is under attack, hence the name of the Harrison Ford film that she mentions, A Clear and Present Danger. Macer must confront a new concept of criminality where the supposed good side is prone to breaking the law when it has to, as does Harrison Ford’s character in A Clear and Present Danger. These two naïve characters must come to terms with a new Michelle Brown corrupt society where the lines between victim and perpetrator are strained.

The character that challenges Macer the most is Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro. He is the hit man, the victim, the mercenary, the Soldier (the title of Sicario 2 being released next year). Interestingly, Del Toro plays a Mexican policeman/informant in Traffic, another anti War on Drugs film analyzed by Brown, who calls the border between the United States and Mexico “permeable” and the characters wrought with “moral ambiguity.” The result of corruption at various levels of society results in “cultural demonization.” Everybody is bad. Macer and Harrison Ford’s understanding of their quickly evolving situations are impeded by the social relations that the new society imposes on them. Military metaphors and rhetoric dominate the discussion and restrict any complete understanding about the War on Drugs. “You’re either with us, or against us,” to quote a 2000-era American president. The other main character of Sicario, Matt played by Josh Brolin, is the CIA/military easy-to-understand manipulator who Macer eventually figures out. His use of language is a good example of the military slogans that simplify the modern era of drug cartels that battle one another for territory in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico and the southern United States.

So what about Sicario’s portrayal of south of the border? In read somewhere that the mayor of Juarez was concerned about the film’s portrayal of his city. Who wouldn’t be? Mutilated bodies hanging from bridges. Gunfire, including small rockets, lighting up the night sky. Carloads of well armed baddies. “This won’t even make the papers here” response to Macer’s questioning of the team’s neutralizing the tattooed badidos near the border. I think I prefer Elvis and his mariachi buddies singing about siestas.

Alejandro el Sicario

John Parker August 13: Sicario (2015)

This film, aptly titled in Spanish, follows previous War on Drugs films that Michelle Brown talks about in “Mapping discursive closings in the war on drugs.” Through righteous FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a rising star in the enterprise, we learn of the War on Drugs as a series of covert operations involving the CIA, local and federal authorities, the army, even foreign governments. Brown asserts that the war has become a combining of “large structural forces of sovereignty, inequality and criminality.” Sovereignty means that the country, namely the United States, is under attack, hence the name of the Harrison Ford film that she mentions, A Clear and Present Danger. Macer must confront a new concept of criminality where the supposed good side is prone to breaking the law when it has to, as does Harrison Ford’s character in A Clear and Present Danger. These two naïve characters must come to terms with a new Michelle Brown corrupt society where the lines between victim and perpetrator are strained.

The character that challenges Macer the most is Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro. He is the hit man, the victim, the mercenary, the Soldier (the title of Sicario 2 being released next year). Interestingly, Del Toro plays a Mexican policeman/informant in Traffic, another anti War on Drugs film analyzed by Brown, who calls the border between the United States and Mexico “permeable” and the characters wrought with “moral ambiguity.” The result of corruption at various levels of society results in “cultural demonization.” Everybody is bad. Macer and Harrison Ford’s understanding of their quickly evolving situations are impeded by the social relations that the new society imposes on them. Military metaphors and rhetoric dominate the discussion and restrict any complete understanding about the War on Drugs. “You’re either with us, or against us,” to quote a 2000-era American president. The other main character of Sicario, Matt played by Josh Brolin, is the CIA/military easy-to-understand manipulator who Macer eventually figures out. His use of language is a good example of the military slogans that simplify the modern era of drug cartels that battle one another for territory in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico and the southern United States.

So what about Sicario’s portrayal of south of the border? In read somewhere that the mayor of Juarez was concerned about the film’s portrayal of his city. Who wouldn’t be? Mutilated bodies hanging from bridges. Gunfire, including small rockets, lighting up the night sky. Carloads of well armed baddies. “This won’t even make the papers here” response to Macer’s questioning of the team’s neutralizing the tattooed badidos near the border. I think I prefer Elvis and his mariachi buddies singing about siestas.

Crazy Walker

John Parker August 7: Walker (1987)

I enjoyed the film tremendously for both its cinematographic and literary merit. I thought the acting was excellent, as were the music and décor. In fact, as I learned later, Alex Cox filmed this in Nicaragua and during a time of civil strife with Sandinistas battling Contras and Ronald Reagan pleading for America to help the “brave Freedom Fighters.” Yaz mentions that this is an American-help-goes-bad story and calls Walker a “cruel dictator” who believes that because of God’s design, “victory is with us.” My interest in the film, however, is really more for its literary reference, as I will try to convince later on. I may be going out on a limb here, but not too far I hope. I’d love to develop this into my final project for Jon.

I see this film as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). The helicopter that arrives with American soldiers emphasizes a connection to the film Apocalypse Now (1979). The modern magazines and cars that we see previously prepare us for this highly dramatic and over-the-top incursion near the end. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz, an English ivory trader named Mr. Kurtz wreaks havoc with the local population in the jungles of British colonial Africa. Conrad’s denunciation of colonialism is replayed later when Marlon Brandon plays Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now dealing with the Vietnam War. One of his most famous lines is “the horror, the horror,” right out of Conrad. Aex Cox’s William Walker is yet another mercenary with flexible ideals who Nayid says “takes power by force and changes the rules of engagement.” Walker and his men, in an attempt to create a “more civilized nation,” re-establish slavery and are overtly contempt of the local Indigenous population.

Conrad, through the narrator of Heart of Darkness, attacks colonialism and its supposed civilizing plan. He even equates civilized people with the savages, the city of London with the isolated wilds of Africa, the intentions of colonialism with the destruction of people native to the land. Mr. Kurtz says: “Exterminate all the brutes.” He leaves traces of desolation everywhere he has been and eventually becomes an embarrassing problem to the powers that be; they eventually abandon him and even want him dead. Crazy Walker, hungry for power, abuses the locals and is constantly reviewing his political and moral agendas. Like Fred Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he goes crazy in an exotic land that abounds with riches for his taking. He eventually loses everything. He is abandoned by the society he tried to establish and by those who initially sponsored his mission that became his quest for self-aggrandizement. Like “Wrath of God,” as Don Lope de Aguirre called himself, like Mr. Kurtz and later Colonel Kurtz, he cannot contain the havoc that he has caused.

Crazy Walker

John Parker August 7: Walker (1987)

I enjoyed the film tremendously for both its cinematographic and literary merit. I thought the acting was excellent, as were the music and décor. In fact, as I learned later, Alex Cox filmed this in Nicaragua and during a time of civil strife with Sandinistas battling Contras and Ronald Reagan pleading for America to help the “brave Freedom Fighters.” Yaz mentions that this is an American-help-goes-bad story and calls Walker a “cruel dictator” who believes that because of God’s design, “victory is with us.” My interest in the film, however, is really more for its literary reference, as I will try to convince later on. I may be going out on a limb here, but not too far I hope. I’d love to develop this into my final project for Jon.

I see this film as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). The helicopter that arrives with American soldiers emphasizes a connection to the film Apocalypse Now (1979). The modern magazines and cars that we see previously prepare us for this highly dramatic and over-the-top incursion near the end. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz, an English ivory trader named Mr. Kurtz wreaks havoc with the local population in the jungles of British colonial Africa. Conrad’s denunciation of colonialism is replayed later when Marlon Brandon plays Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now dealing with the Vietnam War. One of his most famous lines is “the horror, the horror,” right out of Conrad. Aex Cox’s William Walker is yet another mercenary with flexible ideals who Nayid says “takes power by force and changes the rules of engagement.” Walker and his men, in an attempt to create a “more civilized nation,” re-establish slavery and are overtly contempt of the local Indigenous population.

Conrad, through the narrator of Heart of Darkness, attacks colonialism and its supposed civilizing plan. He even equates civilized people with the savages, the city of London with the isolated wilds of Africa, the intentions of colonialism with the destruction of people native to the land. Mr. Kurtz says: “Exterminate all the brutes.” He leaves traces of desolation everywhere he has been and eventually becomes an embarrassing problem to the powers that be; they eventually abandon him and even want him dead. Crazy Walker, hungry for power, abuses the locals and is constantly reviewing his political and moral agendas. Like Fred Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he goes crazy in an exotic land that abounds with riches for his taking. He eventually loses everything. He is abandoned by the society he tried to establish and by those who initially sponsored his mission that became his quest for self-aggrandizement. Like “Wrath of God,” as Don Lope de Aguirre called himself, like Mr. Kurtz and later Colonel Kurtz, he cannot contain the havoc that he has caused.

Fun in Acapulco

John Parker July 26

Fun in Acapulco (1963). I agree with Gaby totally about this corniness of the obsession with “siesta” and “fiesta;” as well, I too am having a hard time determining the point of this film. Did they really have to call the lifeguard-diving champion “Moreno?” Is Tequila really the cultural icon they make it out to be? Nevertheless, I accept this film for what it is: an Elvis sixties movie meant to purely entertain, not enlighten. So I will try to mention some likeable elements of the film in my post this evening when I’m done with the bad. I grew up in the sixties, as Jon likes to point out, when everyone was crazy about Elvis. His Las Vegas act and career eventually imploded (exploded?) and the excitement died down. He recorded some of the classics of Rock N Roll, as well as hundreds, maybe thousands, of less memorable tunes, like those of this film. His singing here really was awful and his dancing worse. He did manage to do the famous hip moving that he was notorious for, but the bull-fighting-pseudo-flamenco moves were pathetic. The lyrics of the songs were pure corn and made no sense. But, for an early sixties audience that loved him, there was a tremendous market for this kind of film. As well as singing, Elvis, lifeguards, dives, dances, romances, befriends poor Raoul, drinks tequila properly to impress the female bullfighter, eats Vichyssoise with poor manners, even speaks a bit of Spanish, albeit poorly.

James Bond sixties and seventies movies were iconic for having racy Bond Girls, more for their dress than for their spying ability. Ursula Andress arrives out of the pool for Elvis in the same bathing suit and sore stomach muscles that came out of the ocean for Sean Connery. Then there’s the diving so that Elvis can get over his phobia of heights and re-join the family business back in Florida. Luckily for him, and the hotel guests, he doesn’t have to do much as a lifeguard; thanks again siesta. He has time to practice diving on the low board so he can save the day at the end of the film by doing a perfect dive from the dangerous cliffs. I’d believe it if I were an Elvis fan!

The film was entertaining, with musical interludes featuring Elvis and the hilarious-to-watch backup musicians. They did seem to catch Mexican rhythms and folklore; lots of mariachi singing, including “Guadalajara!!” and guitars and maracas. Tourist-resort local culture has to be taken for what it is. The music you hear on Margarita night (pun intended) is, of course, not what the locals listen to. The nightclub entertainment is just that, entertainment. The movie as a whole was fun to watch and gives us an interesting impression of the American perception of Mexico in the early 1960s. For the patrons of the nightclubs, Elvis was the “North American singing sensation;” Sleepy Mexico is not the United States or even part of the same continent.

Fun in Acapulco

John Parker July 26

Fun in Acapulco (1963). I agree with Gaby totally about this corniness of the obsession with “siesta” and “fiesta;” as well, I too am having a hard time determining the point of this film. Did they really have to call the lifeguard-diving champion “Moreno?” Is Tequila really the cultural icon they make it out to be? Nevertheless, I accept this film for what it is: an Elvis sixties movie meant to purely entertain, not enlighten. So I will try to mention some likeable elements of the film in my post this evening when I’m done with the bad. I grew up in the sixties, as Jon likes to point out, when everyone was crazy about Elvis. His Las Vegas act and career eventually imploded (exploded?) and the excitement died down. He recorded some of the classics of Rock N Roll, as well as hundreds, maybe thousands, of less memorable tunes, like those of this film. His singing here really was awful and his dancing worse. He did manage to do the famous hip moving that he was notorious for, but the bull-fighting-pseudo-flamenco moves were pathetic. The lyrics of the songs were pure corn and made no sense. But, for an early sixties audience that loved him, there was a tremendous market for this kind of film. As well as singing, Elvis, lifeguards, dives, dances, romances, befriends poor Raoul, drinks tequila properly to impress the female bullfighter, eats Vichyssoise with poor manners, even speaks a bit of Spanish, albeit poorly.

James Bond sixties and seventies movies were iconic for having racy Bond Girls, more for their dress than for their spying ability. Ursula Andress arrives out of the pool for Elvis in the same bathing suit and sore stomach muscles that came out of the ocean for Sean Connery. Then there’s the diving so that Elvis can get over his phobia of heights and re-join the family business back in Florida. Luckily for him, and the hotel guests, he doesn’t have to do much as a lifeguard; thanks again siesta. He has time to practice diving on the low board so he can save the day at the end of the film by doing a perfect dive from the dangerous cliffs. I’d believe it if I were an Elvis fan!

The film was entertaining, with musical interludes featuring Elvis and the hilarious-to-watch backup musicians. They did seem to catch Mexican rhythms and folklore; lots of mariachi singing, including “Guadalajara!!” and guitars and maracas. Tourist-resort local culture has to be taken for what it is. The music you hear on Margarita night (pun intended) is, of course, not what the locals listen to. The nightclub entertainment is just that, entertainment. The movie as a whole was fun to watch and gives us an interesting impression of the American perception of Mexico in the early 1960s. For the patrons of the nightclubs, Elvis was the “North American singing sensation;” Sleepy Mexico is not the United States or even part of the same continent.

John Parker Touch of Evil

John Parker, July 23

Touch of Evil (1958). Orson Welles’ film noir about a border town was well cast and well set. I’m fine with Charlton Heston as Miguel Vargas with a bad accent and little knowledge of Mexican culture; he is a respected narcotics investigator who is treated with great esteem when he arrives to help the local officials at the crime scene. This is heightened when a Grandi family member tries to throw acid on him. He’s not your typical Mexican, not like real Mexican actors in the film, anyway, but in my mind he doesn’t have to be. His pairing with the (yet another) blond American that gives him yet more prestige, perhaps an important feature that Welles is playing on here. Is Welles saying that “Mexicans are just like us?” The other actors are all convincing in their roles as Mexicans, including Marlene Dietrich. The Americans who live on the border, such as Welles’ Hank Quinlan and his sidekick best friend, have family, friends, business associates, drinking buddies, brothel connections. The girl Nayid mentioned thought she heard ticking in her head was a sex trade worker hooked up with an American businessman. Both will be killed at the beginning of the film on the American side of the border, thus diminishing somewhat the threat of an international incidence. The bomb, of course, was planted in the convertible on the Mexican side. The brothel Madame, Sza Sza Gabor, and several Mexican gang members, were definitely not Latino, but again, saying their minimal lines, they didn’t need to be for the casting to be convincing.

I loved the setting. An imaginary border town, “Los Robles,” perhaps a neutral name to appease Americans, kind of like “Álamo,” like boring street names in Vancouver. Here, two cultures interact daily and exist harmoniously. Americans will pursue cheap labour south of the border and Mexicans will seek employment opportunities in the United States. The border town has brothels and sleazy hotels, drug addicts and dealers, crime families. Welles’ Hank Quinlan is in his niche. He is a loser and, as we discover, evil. He knows the ins and outs of the town so well that he is able to rely on hunches to ease his workload. He therefore plants evidence in support of his hunches; this continues his slippery slope in lawlessness that includes kidnapping and murder. He tries to use Mexicans as accomplices in his scheme to discredit Vargas and it is obvious he despises them. He is a parasite; he exploits Mexicans and is ultimately part of the legal structure discriminating against them. This is Welles’ ultimate aim.

John Parker Touch of Evil

John Parker, July 23

Touch of Evil (1958). Orson Welles’ film noir about a border town was well cast and well set. I’m fine with Charlton Heston as Miguel Vargas with a bad accent and little knowledge of Mexican culture; he is a respected narcotics investigator who is treated with great esteem when he arrives to help the local officials at the crime scene. This is heightened when a Grandi family member tries to throw acid on him. He’s not your typical Mexican, not like real Mexican actors in the film, anyway, but in my mind he doesn’t have to be. His pairing with the (yet another) blond American that gives him yet more prestige, perhaps an important feature that Welles is playing on here. Is Welles saying that “Mexicans are just like us?” The other actors are all convincing in their roles as Mexicans, including Marlene Dietrich. The Americans who live on the border, such as Welles’ Hank Quinlan and his sidekick best friend, have family, friends, business associates, drinking buddies, brothel connections. The girl Nayid mentioned thought she heard ticking in her head was a sex trade worker hooked up with an American businessman. Both will be killed at the beginning of the film on the American side of the border, thus diminishing somewhat the threat of an international incidence. The bomb, of course, was planted in the convertible on the Mexican side. The brothel Madame, Sza Sza Gabor, and several Mexican gang members, were definitely not Latino, but again, saying their minimal lines, they didn’t need to be for the casting to be convincing.

I loved the setting. An imaginary border town, “Los Robles,” perhaps a neutral name to appease Americans, kind of like “Álamo,” like boring street names in Vancouver. Here, two cultures interact daily and exist harmoniously. Americans will pursue cheap labour south of the border and Mexicans will seek employment opportunities in the United States. The border town has brothels and sleazy hotels, drug addicts and dealers, crime families. Welles’ Hank Quinlan is in his niche. He is a loser and, as we discover, evil. He knows the ins and outs of the town so well that he is able to rely on hunches to ease his workload. He therefore plants evidence in support of his hunches; this continues his slippery slope in lawlessness that includes kidnapping and murder. He tries to use Mexicans as accomplices in his scheme to discredit Vargas and it is obvious he despises them. He is a parasite; he exploits Mexicans and is ultimately part of the legal structure discriminating against them. This is Welles’ ultimate aim.

Down Argentine Way

John Parker July 17

Down Argentine Way really promotes Argentina as a fun land of love and Latin rhythms. I once had a teacher from Mexico who emphasized, derogatorily, that “amor” is a huge component in Latin American popular culture: “If you’re romantic, Señor, then you will surely adore, Agentina.” Distinct Latin rhythms again permeate the festive scenes, especially when Carmen Miranda is featured. Carmen, who I think is Mexican, sings in Spanish and Portuguese, and dances subtly but distinctly in the syncopated style that we saw in Flying Down to Rio. Guitars serenade, a frenzied conga dance overwhelms, maracas clatter. The two Negro dancers, perhaps less Latin in their tap dancing, are sensational. Of course, a dance cabaret is featured so we see Latin dance and hear South American rhythms at their finest. The chauffeur, Anastacio, is in constant siesta mode, although Argentina does not have the sun reputation of its exotic counterparts further to the north. Our dashing protagonist, as usual, is very rich and maintains strong family values. Also as usual, meaning as in Flying Down to Rio, our Latin protagonist falls for an over-the-top-blond-coloured American. It was fun to see Don Ameche in one of his earlier movies. He was in Trading Places and Cocoon (in which he break dances and for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) in the 1980s. Interestingly, he was born Dominic Amici in the United States. I wonder if the name change to Spanish corresponds with the Friendly Neighbour period of the 1930s and 1940s. “Don,” of course, carries certain connotations: rich, dapper, smooth talking, moustache. Looking him up on Wikipedia, I see that he often played roles similar to the one in Down Argentine Way.

I’m particularly curious about the portrayal of Gaucho culture in the film. We are in the pampas region of Argentina, where sheep and cattle ranching dominated during centuries previous. The ranch hands all wear Gaucho clothing, and Gaucho formal clothing is worn for the fiesta at the end. There is a village fiesta with rustic dancing and singing, and Gaucho serenaders with guitars at Don Ameche’s ranch. Formal racetrack British style horse racing and jumping is well outside the realm of the Gauchos. I’m hoping someone who knows the culture will comment with his or her impression of the film’s portrayal. Films that try to present aspects of culture are probably bound to a few clichés and not able to go in depth, and I understand that. This potentially leads, as we’ve discussed already, to over simplification that plays into stereotypes.

Down Argentine Way

John Parker July 17

Down Argentine Way really promotes Argentina as a fun land of love and Latin rhythms. I once had a teacher from Mexico who emphasized, derogatorily, that “amor” is a huge component in Latin American popular culture: “If you’re romantic, Señor, then you will surely adore, Agentina.” Distinct Latin rhythms again permeate the festive scenes, especially when Carmen Miranda is featured. Carmen, who I think is Mexican, sings in Spanish and Portuguese, and dances subtly but distinctly in the syncopated style that we saw in Flying Down to Rio. Guitars serenade, a frenzied conga dance overwhelms, maracas clatter. The two Negro dancers, perhaps less Latin in their tap dancing, are sensational. Of course, a dance cabaret is featured so we see Latin dance and hear South American rhythms at their finest. The chauffeur, Anastacio, is in constant siesta mode, although Argentina does not have the sun reputation of its exotic counterparts further to the north. Our dashing protagonist, as usual, is very rich and maintains strong family values. Also as usual, meaning as in Flying Down to Rio, our Latin protagonist falls for an over-the-top-blond-coloured American. It was fun to see Don Ameche in one of his earlier movies. He was in Trading Places and Cocoon (in which he break dances and for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) in the 1980s. Interestingly, he was born Dominic Amici in the United States. I wonder if the name change to Spanish corresponds with the Friendly Neighbour period of the 1930s and 1940s. “Don,” of course, carries certain connotations: rich, dapper, smooth talking, moustache. Looking him up on Wikipedia, I see that he often played roles similar to the one in Down Argentine Way.

I’m particularly curious about the portrayal of Gaucho culture in the film. We are in the pampas region of Argentina, where sheep and cattle ranching dominated during centuries previous. The ranch hands all wear Gaucho clothing, and Gaucho formal clothing is worn for the fiesta at the end. There is a village fiesta with rustic dancing and singing, and Gaucho serenaders with guitars at Don Ameche’s ranch. Formal racetrack British style horse racing and jumping is well outside the realm of the Gauchos. I’m hoping someone who knows the culture will comment with his or her impression of the film’s portrayal. Films that try to present aspects of culture are probably bound to a few clichés and not able to go in depth, and I understand that. This potentially leads, as we’ve discussed already, to over simplification that plays into stereotypes.