Incredibly Bad Film Show: Los Canallas

Dir: Federico Curiel
Star: Mil Mascaras, Regina Torné, Fernando Osés, Claudia Martell
a.k.a. Ángeles Infernales

Mexican wrestling movies are a different breed entirely. Sure, WWE wrestlers make movies, and to a large extent, the characters they play are simply an extension of their in-ring personae. John ‘Hustle, Loyalty, Respect’ Cena? Get him to play an ex-marine in…er, The Marine. Demonic hell-spawn Kane? Psychotic serial killer: See No Evil [though Glenn Jacobs, the man responsible, has a degree in English literature, is a former third-grade teacher, and supports Ron Paul] But the key difference is that none of these movies include any actual professional wrestling.

Contrast the Mexican versions, where Mil Mascaras (or Santo, Blue Demon, etc.) is a crime-fighter – but one whose day-job is as a wrestler, and that comes first. Everyone is comfortably at ease with this, both good and bad. For instance, the villains break their leader out of jail on Friday night because “everyone will be at the match.” And when they do, said leader takes on Mascaras in not one, but two wrestling matches. It’s as if, at the end of The Marine, Robert Patrick challenged Cena to a Falls Count Anywhere bout. The forces of good are just as wrestling obsessed. When they realize one of their number has apparently been kidnapped by the Infernal Angels, they don’t exactly rush to her aid, saying “Let’s wait until the first fall is over.  Mil Mascaras will tell us what to do.” One fall later, he airily tells them, “I’ll be done soon, wait for me in the dressing room.” Like I said: wrestling first; rescuing your friend from torture and being slowly dipped into an acid-bath…later.

But I’m getting ahead of myself with the plot. Mil Mascaras flies in to land in his little private plane, on his way to take part in a wrestling show that afternoon. However, as he drives off, Cadena (Torné, who 24 years later, would be one of the leads in Like Water For Chocolate!) and her minion lob a smoke-bomb into his convertible. Rather than, oh, pull over, Mil makes an ill-advised attempt to continue driving which ends with him smashing into a wall a cut to the expensive automobile, completely undamaged, parked neatly on top of a pile of rubble beside a wall.

Turns out Mil was responsible for sending her boyfriend Rocco (Osés) to jail, and Cadena is implacably set on both breaking out her boy, and bringing Mascaras down. She has taken over the Infernal Angels, the gang Rocco ran, and she makes various attempts on the wrestling legend, such as trying to unmask him – only to be foiled, because Mascaras appears to have foreseen this eventuality and wears a second mask underneath the first. Brilliant! She has minions armed with a range of interesting devices for administering slow-acting poisons to her enemy, so he will lose or be easier to beat up. The idea of using something lethal instead, never seems to cross her mind.

Despite the drug-induced haze, Mascaras remembers Cadena’s ‘deep, cold voice full of hate,’ and that clues his friends in to the Infernal Angels being involved. Estrella (Martell) knows one of the gang members, and she agrees to go undercover, joining the Angels to find out what Cadena is up to. This involves a strange occult initiation rite (above), which resembles H.G. Lewis’s Egyptian feast, as re-imagined by Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls, albeit without the nudity (this being 1968). Estrella’s pal describes it as “cruel and difficult,” but that description applies mostly to the poor viewer who has to sit through this entirely inappropriate musical number. Mind you, Cadena also shakes her thang in the opening scene, for no apparent reason there either, and one wonders if this was some strange, Bollywood lucha co-production.

Cadena is successful in breaking Rocco and his cell-mate Hook – named because he has a hook in place of one hand – out of prison. She does so by giving them a transistor radio which a) functions as a walkie-talkie and contains something like thermite wire, which she activates remotely in order to burn through the prison bars. Really, this woman’s talents are sadly wasted, she should have been working for Q Branch. Like all good Mexican boys, he heads home to his mother, only to find her rather less than maternal. This might be because she’s just been visited by the police. Or the result of her realizing she’ll have to hand back the money Rocco gave her husband “for safekeeping.” Moral ambivalence at its finest.

I’ve reviewed some other lucha movies before, but this was the first one to reach the deliciously-loopy standards necessary for Incredibly Bad status. Perhaps the finest moment is when Mil has the chance to discover the Angels’ hideout. He declines the offer of help, saying “No, I’ll go alone to avoid suspicion.” This doesn’t work quite as well as hoped, since less than one minute later, minions are reporting to Cadena that Mil Mascaras is outside. There’s a very good reason for this, because the image below shows what his idea of “avoiding suspicion” involves walking up the front-door dressed as shown:

So, in addition to the ever-present mask, that’s a shiny gold shirt, powder blue pants with matching boots and a package which appears to suggest that Mil is very pleased to be fighting crime. It seems there is no word in Mexican for “undercover”. After another failed attempt by Cadena to seduce and poison him (using a ring apparently capable of containing the entire annual output of Hoffman La Roche), Mil escapes, though leaves a messy souvenir behind. If ever I become an evil overlord, I will instruct my underlings to check the contents of oil-barrels before machine-gunning them repeatedly, to ensure they contain my enemy and not one of their colleagues.

After 65 minutes with no mention of this whatsoever, it is revealed that Rocco is actually the Black Hood – another masked wrestler – who was apparently scheduled to fight Mascaras in the next show. Good job he broke out of prison then. Estrella tells Mil this, but rather than going to the police with this information about a notorious fugitive, he decides to play along, on the dubious assertion that “I’ll try to unmask him in the ring so he can be taken away by the authorities in front of an audience.” Yes, never mind the moral responsibility or safety issue – think of the ratings!

The first match ends in a no-contest, Mascaras being taken to the hospital after being snogged by one of Cadena’s minions wearing poisoned lipstick, and a “mask vs. hood” match is declared for the following week – the loser has to reveal his true identity. It’s during this contest that they realize Estrella’s is about to go for a really deep skin cleanse – but, as noted above, that can wait until Mascaras has won his match. Fortunately, there’s discord in the Angels, with Hook making a play for Cadena, and getting into a brawl with Rocco – a fight which, unfortunately, knocks a burning brand against the rope which is keeping Estrella out of the acid.

Naturally, Mascaras shows up just in time to save her, though I was disappointed no-one falls into the acid, which seems like a breach of B-movie etiquette rule #47: “He who sets the acid-bath, gets the acid-bath.” We’re left with Rocco’s mother bemoaning the fate of her son, and the final lines provide the moral to this masked fable: “Having a child represents a serious responsibility. Those that don’t meet it will suffer the consequences sooner or later.” Have to say, that’s probably not quite the final thought which will stick with me from this one.


TC’s Ten Best Films of 2011

I’ve changed things up somewhat this year, loosening the restrictions as to what counts as a “2011” movie. It could be listed in the IMDB any time back to 2009, but it just needs to have strayed in to my consciousness in some way this year. Might be a cinema release, DVD release somewhere, or even showing up on cable. My theatrical experiences have remained light, so it’s more likely a film won’t get a chance until it becomes available by some other route. I’m thus a bit more flexible, simply because I’m aware of a risk some great movies might miss out on recognition, for fairly spurious reasons.

There are, of course, a few which still missed out exactly because they did not stray across my retina in a reasonable time. Leading the way is À l’intérieur (Inside), which was probably the best horror movie I saw in 2011. However, since it came out on DVD in the United States in April 2008. that was just too much of a stretch. Two others that were similarly eliminated were Onechanbara: The Movie, and Five Fingers.

Before we get to the list, here are eight honorable mentions, which ended up getting to the final round before being eliminated. Not without some heartbreak and much agonizing, it has to be said. These are, in alphabetical order: Attack the Block, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Last Exorcism, Page Eight, Point Blank, Red State, Restrepo, Toy Story 3. And with that, on to the actual top ten. Links go to the full review on TC or as appropriate.

10. We Are The Night
Having endured the Twilight trilogy this year, it was gratifying to be reminded that vampires don’t have to sparkle, emote or… Well, suck. The Lost Boys tagline – “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” – could be applied every bit here. Except it’s a philosophy expressed as, “We eat, drink, sniff coke, and fuck as much as we like. But we never get fat, pregnant, or hooked,” with a gang of female vampires making Berlin their playground. Sure, there’s not much new here in terms of plot, but the execution is supremely slick. Summary: “A glossy, shiny movie, set in a world that looks like a car advert, where the streets are perpetually wet and the only light is neon”.

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A very pleasant surprise, opting to enliven a story – that, let’s face it, we know how it’s going to end – by telling it from the monkeys’ point of view. Andy Serkis proved, once again, why he’s the go-to guy for simians, putting over more emotion without words than most actors could manage with a dictionary to work from. Ok, mostly without words, the exception resulting in the cinematic moment of the year. While not skimping on the action, the script and performances give it a emotional foundation before the monkey mayhem breaks free. Oh, that all big-budget blockbusters took such care in their execution. Summary: “Probably the finest praise I can give this, is that it actually makes sense.”

8. Dossier K
Belgium. Land of Stella, Front 242 and surprisingly-good movies, going all the way back to Crazy Love. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film from there I didn’t enjoy, and this was no exception, a crisply-plotted police procedural that shows how even a society with a general reputation for tolerance is nowhere near ‘integrated’. In this case, the Albanian culture of honor killings sits very uneasily in today’s Brussels, but its the kind of story which you could see happening in any big city with its “new ghettos”. Summary: “That’s where the film excels, painting all the participants in shades of grey: there’s no “bad guys”, as such, just people operating by different moral codes.”

7. Sint
We move a little further up the North Sea coast for the next film, a twisted fairy-tale which takes a character beloved by children and turns it into the stuff of nightmares. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm intended originally. Director Dick Maas brings a gleeful sense of fun to his psychotic Santa, even if I had to explain to Chris why it’s perfectly normal for packs of Dutchmen to put on blackface and roam the streets. It’s a throwback to the straightforward slasher pics of a bygone era, yet possesses a knowing self awareness and characters you don’t mind spending time with. Summary: “I’m thinking this will replace It’s a Wonderful Life as a festive favourite, at least in TC Towers.”

6. Darfur
Yep: a Uwe Boll film makes it into a ‘Ten Best’ list. That can’t have happened often. But it’s difficult to deny this one a place because of Boll’s spotty track-record. When he stays off the video-game adaptations, as here, he shows that he can be a more than competent film-maker. What’s delivered here is a million miles from House of the Dead, basically 90 minutes of being punched in the gut and reminded of how just wrong people can be to each other. I don’t think I’ve been so shaken by a film based on real events since Men Behind the Sun, though the shaky-cam approach sent Chris scurrying for the office. Summary: “Even if the “entertainment” value here is low, there’s no denying this packs an immense wallop.”

5. Eaters
Most zombie films are about the outbreak or the relatively short-term aftermath. One of the twists which make Eaters stand out, in a recent glut of such movies, is that some time appears to have passed, and a new anarchically feudal structure seems to have showed up. It kinda works…and kinda doesn’t, and that’s where the plot gets its impetus. Heroes Igor and Alen are the only semi-sane inhabitants in a land of the totally dysfunctional, and make for appealing anti-heros, whizzing round the countryside in search of scientific subjects and singing Wham! songs. Summary: “Likely the best zombie flick to come out of Italy since Cemetery Man.”

4. Sucker Punch
I get the feeling history will prove kinder to this one than contemporary critics, who flayed director Zack Snyder alive for a “greasy collection of near-rape fantasies and violent revenge scenarios disguised as a female-empowerment fairy tale.” Well, I wouldn’t have said it was that good…and I note that men and women have rated it exactly the same score on the IMDB (a respectable 6.2). But it’s impeccably imaginative, in a way no other movie managed this year, and was unsurpassed in terms of producing cinema as an imaginative, visual spectacle. It’s the only Blu-Ray DVD I bought this year. Summary: “For all its undeniable flaws, this is a rare beast: an action film where women [rather than a singular woman] take center-stage.”‘

3. 36th Precinct
It plays somewhat like a Gallic version of Heat, with Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil butting heads as shady and scrupulous cop respectively, battling for a promotion in their department. In the short term, it seems that the former gets ahead, with the good guy losing everything in the process. However, the morality is not quite as cut and dry as it seems, and that lends the change of fortunes in the final act, an almost Shakespearean air of tragedy. Great actors, going head-to-head in a well-written script, is always a pleasure, and this is no different, with two of France’s finest delivering the goods. Summary: “Karma, c’est une biche.”

2. Hobo With A Shotgun
The faux-grindhouse film has become something of a pseudo-trend of late, but it takes more than a few digital scratches on the high-def print to resurrect the genre. Machete, while fun, largely fell short. Hobo, on the other hand, hit all the marks, led by Rutger Hauer’s most memorable performance since… ooh, Split Second in 1992? But even more of a revelation was Brian Downey as evil mob-boss The Drake – having only seen him as uber-wimp Stanley Tweedle in Lexx, this was a stunning bit of casting against type. It has the exploitative elements, but most importantly of all, it has the right ‘tude. It was the sole film we saw as the short-lived but much missed Mesa Royale. Summary: “Eisener is deadly serious, and the film is all the better for it.”

1. Four Lions
Who knew? Chris looked at me sideways on seeing the synopsis of the movie I’d DVR’d: “The inept members of a jihadist cell in England try but fail to carry out terrorist attacks”. Doesn’t exactly scream comedic gem, doe it? But I’d forgotten about the godlike satirical genius of Chris Morris – understandably, since the last thing of his I saw was Jam, back in 2000. This has moments of similar surrealism e.g. the cell’s method of avoiding surveillance cameras, but remains more grounded, only engaging in relatively minor exaggeration for comedic effect. But it’s a very human movie too, that manages to point out the lunacy of extremist beliefs, without turning them into sneering caricatures. Well played, Mr. Morris. Summary: “Genuinely funny, far beyond what you’d imagine possible.”