Western Guilt

No Man’s Land

by Cat McAlpine

The liminal space between Mexico and Texas is home to fear, anxiety, and confusion. It is in this taut, emotional maelstrom that two families tragically collide.

The Greers have a struggling cattle ranch directly on the border. Young Fernando and his family are making their way into Texas illegally, led by their father, Gustavo.

“Texas looks like Mexico,” Young Fernando observes.

“Yes, it does,” his father agrees.

No Man’s Land hinges on the relationship between sons and fathers and their shared legacies. The film is a family affair in its own right, co-written by Jake Allyn (who also stars as Jackson Greer) and directed by his brother Conor Allyn. Also written by David Barraza, No Man’s Land attempts to tackle national tensions along the border.

This is a new and old western. It prods at current events but follows the familiar beat of a man on the run seeking redemption. Forced to flee, Jackson makes his way deeper and deeper into Mexico, paralleling an immigrant’s journey northward. He doesn’t speak the language but he’s willing to work, and work hard.

No Man’s Land subconsciously uses the same “he had his whole life ahead of him” argument we often see used for violent, young white men. Jackson is at the mercy of a culture, and in particular a grieving father, who owe him nothing. And yet it is their kindness, compassion, and forgiveness that truly save Jackson from the mistakes he’s made. He becomes more compassionate and understanding after experiencing Mexican culture, instead of simply recognizing the intrinsic value of other humans from the start.

Visually, the film is breathtaking. Technology is largely eliminated from the screen, horses are used as often as cars, and there’s a timeless western quality to the story. Jackson’s journey into Mexico is not made hazy with yellow filters, but instead shows a place more vibrant and green than his home.

The cast is another shining element in No Man’s Land. Allyn delivers an agonized but mostly understated performance as Jake. He’s matched by a wonderful Jorge A. Jimenez as Gustavo, a man constantly battling with himself. And George Lopez – as a Texas ranger who can’t speak Spanish – adds great dimension to the stories as they intertwine.

No Man’s Land is beautifully shot, emotional, and an honest extension of the western genre, but ultimately its call to unity could use some work.

Funnier than Twilight

Java Heat

By Hope Madden

The low-rent exotic thriller Java Heat is best if viewed as a comedy. It does, indeed, get off two intentionally funny lines, flanked on all sides by hundreds of unintentionally yet no less hilarious bits.

Kellan Lutz (the weirdly muscular vampire from Twilight) is Jake, an American beefcake suspiciously on hand when a suicide bomber kills the Sultana of Indonesia. Hashim (Ario Bayu) – the last good cop in Java – reluctantly teams up with the pec-tasatic American because this crime scene doesn’t pass the smell test.

Can the reserved and spiritual Hashim teach the hotheaded American to listen first, act later? Might it have been possible for the moderately skillful Bayu to teach the utterly talentless Lutz to act, period?

Nope and nope.

Lutz ably undresses, shouts Semper Fi, smirks, undresses again, frowns. The real problems arise when he tries to deliver lines.

Lutz is bad in a way that exposes a profound lack of talent. As the flamboyant villain Malik, Mickey Rourke is bad in the manner of a genuine talent whoring himself out after a career of bad decisions. Think Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, only with a sketchy interest in little boys and a wildly ludicrous French accent. I believe it was supposed to be French. He  has that Pepe Le Pew thing going on.

Given his unnatural appearance, Rourke has been relegated to the role of a freak in basically every gig since the mid Nineties. I doubt he even delivers scripted lines anymore – just puts on a leopard print poet’s blouse and some Zubaz, affects a project-inappropriate accent, and fondles an exotic pet. The films just kind of happen around him.

What happens here is a poorly written exercise in culture clashing and learning to appreciate our differences. Because it’s not religion that’s tearing us apart, it’s greed. Except when it is actually also religion.

Writer/director Conor Allyn’s high concept about human dignity and cultural respect is admirable. I’m sure it must have seemed downright adorable to Rahayu Saraswati, who plays the hooker that’s riddled with bullets while handcuffed in her underpants.

Jave Heat is not the kind of film you expect to find on a big screen. It’s the kind of film fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michael Pare might expect to see in their Netflix recommendations. Between the big release and loads of laughs, it’s already an unexpected success.

Verdict-1-5-Stars

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YChHiWgJd8