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How I decided to GET THE GRINGO with Mel Gibson – and how you can too!

by: H. Blain


Recently I hosted Atlanta’s first AIN’T IT COOL screening (in partnership with Atlanta’s own DRAGON*CON) at the Regal Hollywood 24 theatre.  It was part of a 10-city nationwide screening that included a satellite feed from the Austin screening. Despite a crummy rainy day, it did clear up in time to leave my day job and drive on the always awesome Atlanta freeway system to get to the theatre on time. Well, I got there 2 hours early, but I wasn’t even the first one there. The folks from FOX Security were already there as were four women waiting in line. And here we thought people didn’t like Mel Gibsonanymore…

I won’t recap his adventures in voicemail for anyone. We’ve all heard it, after all. Now, while I can think that he’s not behaved any where near decently in his personal life, I can separate all of that from his career and acting.

I got everyone checked off and checked in and we opened the theatre an hour before showtime so people could sit in  the theatre seats and be more comfortable. While our “house” was a little small, the people I was able to talk to were really pleased to have something like this come to Atlanta and when I said that I thought this would be the first of many AICN/Dragon*Con screenings every single person was glad to hear that and said they’d come back to other screenings.  I’m hoping the powers that be at Fox, NCR, the Alamo Drafthouse,  AICN  and certainly Harry (Headgeek) and Moises (Monty Cristo) will consider this a success so we can do them all the time from now on!

The following is my sort-of review.

*contains information about the film, but not really spoilers.

(formerly titled:  How I Spent My Summer Vacation)
Directed by Adrian Grunberg.
Written by Adrian Grunberg, Mel Gibson and Stacy Perskie

This film starts with a dog peeing in the desert as the camera pans across the dusty vista and follows a car chase from both the air and on the ground. It’s shot with a bit of fervor for showing the first two minutes of the film and had some really nice edits to show the speed of the thing. In the lead car there are two clowns behind the wheel, driving like hell to get ahead of the police behind them. Well, one clown is driving, the other clown is busy coughing up blood and dying. You don’t know who they are, or why there’s police chasing them, but in a clever twist on those dying while trying to cross into America, they’re dying to get out of it to escape the cops.

They do so in spectacular fashion; crashing right through the US/Mexican border wall in a swirl of dust and engine fire. Gibson (Driver)  is taken by officers Vasquez and Ramon after staking claim to the bags of money (that led to the chase in the first place) from the wreck and he lands in Tijuana’s “La Publica” prison. Or should I say town. Driver just calls it “The world’s shittiest mall.”

This place is one part village in Kung Fu Hustle and one giant part City of God – full of shantytown style ghettos… a shithole filled with all sorts of criminals. And their kids. And their wives and girlfriends. And even their heroin dealers and tattoo artists and even their blind bathroom attendants.

What kind of prison is this, anyway? It’s the kind filled with corruption, desperation, strange sex-tents (for Sunday’s conjugal visits)… and a kid and his mom whom the Driver meets and become connected to.

La Publica (modeled after a real prison in Tijuana) is a place where even the murderers recycle (for money) and you can buy just about anything. It has a close-knit sense to it, even in the open spaces because they’re not that ‘open’ and there are so many people crowded in that it’s like walking in Manhattan on a nice spring day. Except for it being a prison and all.

The Driver turns out to be on the run from Frank, (played by Peter Stormare, king of the indie cameo and last seen in the Swedish psychological thriller, MARIANNE) who is determined to get back the money lost, and his thugs are soon on the trail after the Mexican Policia who stole it from Driver in the first place. Or is that second-place? … since “Dick Johnson” (the name the Driver gives to the American Attaché he meets who’s just as corrupt as the cops) took it from Frank at the crash scene.


None of the main ‘good guy’ characters have proper names, so you only know the young Kid (Kevin Hernandez) as a cigarette-moocher and wise-ass originally. However, he becomes a look-out for the driver’s schemes to steal from his fellow inmates, and eventually an ally — especially against the criminals who run the prison more than the Warden and his guards do.

This boy has quite a grudge for a 10 year-old, and as the film progresses and you find out why, it makes you appreciate Hernandez’ skill as a young actor.  He goes to some deep and hurt places in the film, and aside from some work by Dolores Heridia (Kid’s Mom), they are the only two with some real emotion to their characters. Kevin’s connection to his Kid character allows him to both show the petulant side of being a kid, as well as how determined a child can be to get his way. This is not said to show the Kid as being a brat…far from it. He’s born into this life, serving time with his ex-junkie mother even though he did no wrong. The Kid’s actions are so natural and empathetic that your heart goes out to him. It’s not a manipulative performance either. You really do think a child in his circumstances would come to the decisions he does;  it’s the guts to go through with it that is surprising. Not many adults would be able to do so. I know that’s really vague… it’s meant to be. I am not screaming ‘spoiler’ to you. But when the moment arrives, you’ll know what I mean.

TKM (the kid’s mother)  is in prison for being a heroin dealer, but got clean, and is serving her sentence and taking care of her kid. Some of this means she’s got to ‘work’ for Javi (head criminal in the prison) and entertain him and his men. There’s a shot of her leaning dejectedly against a wall after leaving a party in shimmering dress and heels with her face outlined in light with the rest in shadow that was just beautifully shot. It happens right before she punches the Driver in the face for giving her kid smokes.  Since Javi is a rich bastard of a crimelord and wheels and deals under the well paid nose of the Warden with his goons (his family) in the prison, you just know that ‘ol Mel is gonna have to put a stop to it and him.

Gibson’s lined and dusty visage is right for this role, and his chain-smoker drawl is dead on as well. He’s in fine form for this, and I think (despite all his personal woes as of late) that he might not have even taken this role ten years ago. But it’s good for him. He’s got a vague past (but you know since he burnt off his fingerprints that it’s been full of ‘up to no good’) and we don’t really need to know all about him. The Driver doesn’t need to have a tearful confession in order to make people like him. The character doesn’t care if you like him, though he is likeable in a clever-rogue sort of way. One might go so far as to see a certain synchronicity in the two.  Or not.

It’s not really as confusing as that may sound;  the film has a nice cat-and-mouse quality to it that brought to mind the Ocean’s 11 films with its breezy action told in montage with some occasional voice-over. There’s an excellent gun battle in the prison that had a squib placed on the inside of sunglasses so when the goon is shot, it goes through the sunglasses and ‘into’ the eye. It’s really well done, and looked great on screen. It also made a few people around me go “Oh…yuck!” — which is sometimes the mark of a fun film.

Adrian Grunberg may not be a name known to you…but that may change soon. He has worked for years in the industry, working his way up through films like TRAFFIC, and MASTER AND COMMANDER and was 1st Asst. Director on APOCALYPTO which is where he met Gibson. He’s been around the block, both on American films, as well as working in his native Mexico. He and Stacy Perskie co-wrote the script with Gibson over the course of about two years.

The dialog is tight and the action is well done there are some nice cameos here and there (like Stormare) and you could easily spend real money in a theatre for this, and feel you’d gotten a square deal.It is available in America as of yesterday on DIRECT TV’s video-on-demand.

Afterwards there was the satellite broadcast Q & A with Hernandez, Gibson, Grunberg and Perskie live from the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. Some of this broadcast played before the film started, and we were able to watch people in the ticketing line in Texas. I pointed out a few I knew from my BNAT-trips, to their amusement. Someone asked me if I was from Austin… which I took as a complement since I don’t get to go by maybe twice a year and will be going back for FANTASTIC FEST this year.

During the Q & A it was revealed that the place where this was shot was an actual prison that was about to be torn down for human rights violations, but that it was very similar to La Publica in the film. The Mexican government even went so far as to paint white the entire city-prison for the film crews…who then had to repaint and dirty it down for the production. Dang!

I am glad that AICN is starting to host screenings like this, and the folks who came were excited to see this sort of thing come to Atlanta. I even met a couple who were at the 2009 BNAT. They recognized me three years later so I guess being short, blue-haired and friendly is finally starting to pay off!

Check out for postings from Monty Cristo and Harry himself about these screenings. I know they’re looking to do them in other cities (including places like London) to help bring a little of the Austin magic to you in your hometown — so when the opportunity comes up to see these things … jump on it!

Here’s the trailer for you to watch.

Yours in Cinemandom,

~H. B.

Find me on the tweety at @MediaTsarina


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