Mladen and Del review ‘Below Zero’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Below Zero” Starring Javier Gutiérrez, Karra Elejalde, Luis Callejo, Patrick Criado and others. Directed by Lluís Quílez. 106 minutes. Rated R (TV-MA). Captioned. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

I’ve seen only two Europe-built cop movies, the French-made “Bronx/Rogue City” and the Spanish-made “Below Zero.” It’s tough to imagine two more disparate films. I was far more impressed by the movie made south of the Pyrenees than the one produced north of the mountain range.

“Bronx” is a muddled drift into violent amorality, completely eliminating the distinction between what should be the good guys and what should be the bad guys. There is no tension between right and wrong in the film. Everybody is wrong. Del the intellect and Mladen the why-the-fuck-did-I-waste-my-time-watching-this-movie reviewed “Bronx.”

“Below Zero,” well, I’d consider watching this film if I were you. It’s nicely paced, albeit somewhat unbelievable in terms of handling a prisoner transport from one penitentiary to another.

I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Javier Gutiérrez as Martin, transition from straight-laced policeman to a man, a husband, and a father forced into breaking the law. Pay particular attention to the movie toward the very end. Toward the very end starts after Karra Elejade’s Miguel finishes a too-long exposition about a tragedy and the reason he’s chasing Nano, very nicely portrayed by Patrick Criado.

Seriously, even if you start to tire a bit, though you shouldn’t, as the cop drama unfolds, the last several minutes of the film are top notch. The trio of Martin, Miguel, and Nano confront each other. Each has a source of power. Martin, a cop badge. Miguel, heartbreak. Nano, knowledge and nihilism. Pay attention to Nano’s blurt and the grotesqueness of his grin at the very end and Martin’s non-verbal reaction to it. Terrific.

I don’t want to mislead you. The “Below Zero” trio aren’t Tuco, Blondie, and Angel Eyes from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” facing each other at the cemetery before a gunfight. But, the “Below Zero” principals are squared-off in a dead town. They’ve been shoved together by one event. Each represents one aspect of humanity: the moral violator of law, the justified violator of law, and the unrepentant law breaker. Oh, there is a pretty cool isolated frozen pond scene.

“Below Zero” is driven by a well-worn plot trope: Avenging the death of a loved one when conventional law enforcement fails. If you were an upstanding person and you’ve waited and waited for answers about missing kin that never come, what would you do? Would you be willing to sacrifice innocents or lesser criminals to get the answers?

“Below Zero” earns a B+ from me. If Del gives the movie anything less than a B, don’t pay attention. He may be pissed because I gave him the wrong title (I initially called the film “Absolute Zero”) and he had to burn time, though he has scads of it, to try to find the movie on any of the 3 billion streaming services now available to internet-addicted mankind.

Del’s take

Yippie ki yay, muchacho.

For a moment I thought I was watching an American shoot ’em up but no, this is a Spanish film in the spirit of “Death Wish” and “The Limey.” And while I enjoyed “Below Zero,” it is no “John Wick.”

Since ONCE AGAIN Mladen failed to provide a plot summary, allow me. Ahem:

Martin (Javiar Gutiérrez) is a police officer tasked with driving a prisoner transport over some empty, scary Spanish backroads at night. They’re taking a shortcut, which is movie code for “Are you out of your mind? The shortcuts only lead to mayhem!” The transport drives over a spike strip and is disabled. Meanwhile, their escorts end up shot to death, as does Martin’s partner, who goes to investigate. Martin takes refuge with the prisoners in the back of the transport and is taken hostage while the shooter, Miguel (Karra Elejalde), attempts to crack open the secure compartment. He’s determined to get his hands on one prisoner, Nano (Patrick Criado), the man accused of commiting a heinous crime that affected him personally. He wants, no, demands a certain piece of information from Nano.

Many of these movies are about situational ethics – is it OK to bludgeon somebody with a sledgehammer if they’re a monster? The entertainment value springs from the answer, which is often “Yes,” while in the world you and I inhabit we’d go to jail if we took the law into our own hands. “Below Zero” amps up the moral dilemma by posing the question to a police officer, a guy charged with upholding the law, no matter how unfair or unjust it seems.

But the central question casts a much larger shadow than fidelity to the law. The issue at stake is control. Gone are the days when a cantankerous old hombre, fed up with simpering townfolk and an annoying sheriff, could ride off into the sunset and find a place untroubled by laws, regulations or any other limiting mechanism. Each year the number of people on this earth goes up, the available resources go down, and the need to regulate and control what’s left grows exponentially. Without some form of overarching management the whole shootin’ match falls in on itself and the problem is solved by the collapse of civilization.

Movies like “Below Zero” provide us with a momentary respite from the heavy hand of Big Brother and all his uncles, cousins and nephews. What if we could just say “Eff it” to due process and deliver justice that is so dearly and clearly deserved? Well, we can if we live in the fictionalized world of “Below Zero.”

My problem with the movie is that while this notion of rebellion may seem novel to the fine folks of Seville, it’s yesterday’s entertainment to us quarrelsome, warmongering Americans. Our whole country is based on the principle of rebellion.

The movie is well put together and acted, but I think many folks on this side of the Atlantic will watch it and think it’s a light version of similarly themed American movies that have been around for years. Also, I predict a lot of people won’t take kindly to having to read subtitles.

I’ll give it a B so as not to rile up Mladen, and because while I thought it wasn’t especially original, I did enjoy watching it.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of eOne.

“Your Son” (“Tu Hijo”) starring Jose Coronado, Ana Wagener, Asia Ortego. Directed by Miguel Angel Vivas. 103 minutes. Rated TV-MA.

Del’s take

It isn’t often a movie pisses me off. I hated “Natural Born Killers” so intensely I wrote a newspaper column about it. Unfortunately, “Your Son” falls into that category.

The movie is well made but I’m not going to give it a favorable review. I thought it was a useless piece of shit, not only unworthy of the time I spent watching it but a detriment to the human experience.

The story takes place in the Canary Islands where a successful surgeon (Jaime Jimenez, played by Jose Coronado) has just saved the life of a young boy. The surgeon, who is married with two kids, receives the desperate gratitude of the boy’s parents with the understated (and possibly condescending) humility of a man who’s often sanctified by overjoyed relatives when the prognosis results in the patient remaining on this side of the dirt.

That comes screeching to a halt when his own son Marcos (Pol Monen) appears in the ER. Marcos has had the living shit beat out of him, and floating around out there is a video record of the crime. In an instant Surgeon Jaime Jimenez is deprived of his calm, confident control over events and must trust his son’s fate to other surgeons and the cops investigating the assault.

Or must he?

Thus begins Dr.Jimenez’s odyssey for revenge. Suffice it to say things are not as they seem. Both Dr. Jimenez and the audience will receive a brutal instruction in the shortcomings of human moral anatomy.

I’ve seen movies like this, and some of them can be entertaining as hell. “No Country for Old Men” comes to mind. But something about “Your Son” triggered my anger reflex. Maybe it was the horribly sexist male-centric point of view, or the “What if it were YOUR son?” question the movie seems to ask.

Speaking to that point, I would answer that if it were MY son, I wouldn’t have done ANY of the things Dr. Jimenez did. Not one. His actions seem born of a monstrous selfishness I can’t wrap my brain around. Worse, the movie, by not exploring anything beyond Dr. Jimenez’s immoral choices, seems to approve of them, as if no reasonable person could have reacted otherwise. Seriously, what would you have done if it was YOUR son?

What a crock.

I think my overall objection has something to do with the fact that in every movie about man’s capacity to be a shit to his fellow man, the story always proceeds from the assumption that, hey, these things are wrong, so don’t do them. I don’t think “Your Son” does. I think its moral center is agnostic, which sounds fine for a psychiatry thesis but sucks for entertainment.

As I said, the movie is well made, albeit slow to the point of boring throughout much of its running time. The actors do a fine job. The script is well-written. The tone is consistent with the theme.

But “Your Son” is a piece of shit. I hated it, and I won’t recommend it.

I’ll give it a C-, because despite its vile message, it’s a well-made film.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” Starring Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, and Sergi Lopez. Directed by Guillermo del Torro. 119 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

Beautifully shot, captivatingly acted, the film “Pan’s Labyrinth” has to be more complex than what appears on the surface, as gripping as the surface can be.

At face value the movie is about a smart, upstanding 12-year-old girl descending into a fantasy world below and about the abandoned mill where she’s staying with her desperate mother and vile step-father, a captain in the Spanish army of fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

It’s 1944 and the captain and his unit are mopping up communists hiding in the mountains. As he flattens a less-than-subservient suspect’s nose with a beer bottle, shoots others with his pistol and tortures a captured partisan, the captain’s pregnant wife ignores the bloodshed and prepares for child birth.

Her daughter tries to escape the horror through imagination. In her thoughts, she encounters Pan, the tattooed, goat-like guardian of a utopian kingdom long dead. He promises the girl eternal life and happiness, as long as she executes three deeds.

On the surface, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is about a girl turning inward to forget the brutal world engulfing her. Trouble is, her adventures in fantasy land aren’t all that wonderful. During her quest, the girl encounters all sorts of creatures – one beast, with drooping skin and eyes in the palms of its hands, eats two of the girl’s dainty fairies.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” strongly suggests, if not outright screams, that even the imaginary places we contrive for peace of mind are tainted by exposure to civilization. We’re viciously human even when we don’t have to be, though in this case the girl eventually journeys to a happier land.

Del’s take

What’s to understand, Mladen? This girl’s life really, really sucks.

Her name is Ofelia and she’s the quintessential stepchild – her real father was murdered by fascists, her mother has taken up with those very same fascists and Ofelia’s only escape is the brutal and scary fantasy world of Pan’s Labyrinth, which is about as much fun as a two-for-one root canal.

While performing the three tasks to prove her worthiness to Pan, Ofelia makes mistakes, disobeys orders, and brings pain and even death into her life … wow, sounds like a shopping adventure at Wal-Mart.

But what matters is where she’s at when the movie ends, and I guess it’s safe to say she’s in a better place.

What I took from this movie is that life – even a fantasy life – extracts its pound of flesh. Sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven. Sometimes it’s worth it.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” is dark by American standards but it reminded me that even a can of Spam can taste like a banquet when you haven’t had anything to eat in a long time.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.