Sunday Film Roundup (4/30/2017)

Escobar:  Paradise Lost (2014)

Director:  Andrea DiStefano

A mildly absorbing crime melodrama about an innocent Canadian guy named Nick who marries Pablo Escobar’s niece and gets sucked into the family business.  A theme like this has great potential if handled the right way, but it turns out that the director prefers formula to serious drama.  Irritatingly fresh-faced young Canadian (Josh Hutcherson) is hanging around on the beaches of Colombia in the early 1990s with his brother, doing not much of anything but surfing and looking like a dipshit gringo target for extortion.

He falls in love with a local girl named Maria (Claudia Traisac) who candidly informs him that her uncle is a cocaine trafficker.  But, she says, that’s all good because the white powder is, she tells him with a giggle, “our national product.”  And this apparently makes it all OK with clueless Nick, who takes willful ignorance to new heights with every successive scene in this movie.  He sees warning signs all along the way that it might not be a good idea to get attached to the family of the biggest outlaw narcotrafficker in the world, but he is such a spineless, gutless wimp, he can’t seem to walk away.  What’s so infuriating about this movie is that the Nick character is treated like a one-dimensional caricature:  he has no integrity or moral courage, but at the same time the film insists on portraying him as some kind of angelic, aggrieved everyman, caught up in situations beyond his control.  And that is bullshit.

The kid’s an annoying prick, and I couldn’t help feeling that this little chickenshit deserved everything he got.  When you marry into Casa Escobar, what the hell do you think you’re going to get?  Nick is even more reprehensible than Pablo.  At least Pablo knows he’s the devil.  Nick just bumbles along, lying to himself, associating with evil and pretending not to see anything.

Of course, things go from bad to worse.  He gets pulled deeper and deeper into El Patron’s sinking fortunes, and pretty soon old Pablo turns on him as well.  As expected.  Nobody escapes from Pablo Escobar once touched by him.  Escobar:  Paradise Lost is not a bad film, in the sense that you want to turn it off after seeing 30 minutes of it.  But the characterizations, the acting, and the plot line do not deliver the kind of subtlety that would have made this a great film.


Cold Deck (2015)

Director:  Zack Birnbaum

A low-budget, gritty little neo-noir that delivers and never tries to be anything it’s not.  The plot:  gambling addict Bobby (Stefano Gallo) just can’t seem to get a break.  He keeps gambling, and he keeps losing.  But the thing is, he loves the thrill he gets whether he wins or loses, and this is what keeps him on his downward spiral (aren’t noir movies great?).  Bobby also has a few loser friends that he spends his time with:  a clueless slimebag from work named Ben, and a two-bit gangster named Chips (Paul Sorvino, and how glad I was to see he’s still making movies).  Oh, and I almost forgot:  Bobby’s mother is a whiny invalid who’s in denial about her son’s gambling problem.  And she keeps her money in a shoebox near her bed.  Yep, that’s how bad it is.

The only thing good going on in Bobby’s life is his hot girlfriend Kim (Jessica Sipos).  She feels like a classic noir heroine, and she’s got the whole shtick down pat:  the peek-a-boo Veronica Lake haircut, the air of mystery, and the whiff of betrayal that lurks all around her.  You just know she’s pulling far more strings here than she lets on.  Of course, she’s sexually turned on by Bobby’s self-destructive impulses and keeps hanging out with him not matter how bad he fucks things up.  (It’s nice to see movies reflect reality).

Good old Mr. Chips thinks he has a way to solve Bobby’s cash flow problems:  an armed robbery of a poker game.  So the whole score gets set up, and it all goes down.  But remember, this is a noir film, and we need to remember that characters cannot escape fate, and that actions have consequences.  Do they ever.  It turns out that the poker game was run by a vicious killer named the Turk, and he doesn’t appreciate being robbed.  You can imagine where thing go from there.  A good little noir film, and one that tells us far more about human nature than Escobar:  Paradise Lost.