Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Hugo Stiglitz Chronicles, Volume One

For the fan of offbeat film, one of the perks of living in a culturally diverse city is the accessibility to weird movies from other countries and in other languages.  Whilst shopping at my local mega-mart, I noticed a large bin, about the size of a child’s swimming pool, filled to the brim with DVDs of Mexican films, most of which were less than the price of a pack of cigarettes.  Atop of the heap were several films featuring actor Hugo Stiglitz, the star of one of my favorite European horror films, Nightmare City, and whose name was immortalized by Quentin Tarantino when he cast Til Schweiger as Sargent Hugo Stiglitz in his 2009 film, Inglourious Basterds.  Most of the DVDs that I saw available had Stiglitz’s picture on its cover, often he was brandishing a firearm and held a cold, icy stare for any prospective viewers of his cinema.  I thought that these were badass, so I bought a shitload of them.  I feel compelled, now, to chronicle my journey through these films.  I see no end in sight.

2 monjitas en peligro (1998)
The image of two attractive nuns brandishing assault rifles on the cover of this DVD was enough for me to merit purchasing it.  The presence of Stiglitz, who receives top billing, was gravy.  2 monjitas en peligro deals with two (biological) sisters.  As children, they were cared for by the Mother Superior (Ana Luisa Peluffo) as their loving father was often occupied with business.  His business was drug trafficking, and he gets gunned down by the police who interrupt an exchange.  The young girls’ grandfather takes it upon himself to rear his granddaughters, especially by teaching them how to expertly use firearms.  The sisters grow into women (portrayed by Edna Bolkan and Maribel Palmer) and are engaged in helping the Mother Superior run her orphanage.  One day, two armed thugs, with a copious amount of cocaine in tow, take refuge in the orphanage from the police and hold all inside, including the children, hostage.  The two sisters cut a deal with their captors:  they agree to tape the cocaine to their persons; disguise themselves as nuns; and deliver the goods to the local crime boss in exchange for their surrendering and letting everyone go.  The police will not search two nuns, and absent any heavy evidence, the captors will face seriously reduced charges.  The deal is made, and the two sisters deliver the goods.  The local crime boss is most impressed.  He attempts to pay the two sisters to perform their ruse, again, and they are close to accepting as the orphanage is constantly behind in payments.  They refuse, as everyone knows, drug trafficking cannot justify even helping poor, unfortunate orphans.  The local crime boss then kidnaps the Mother Superior and forces the two sisters to drive a station wagon full of cocaine into the city, past police checkpoints.  If they do not, then the Mother Superior will be killed.  The sisters learn, en route to their destination, that Stiglitz, who works as a henchman for the local crime boss, was involved in the murder of their father.  They decide to get revenge upon the syndicate. 

The plot of 2 monjitas en peligro sounds really cool, but the execution is extremely mechanical, most of it delivered in dialogue.  The film generates no real energy.  Stiglitz mostly chews the scenery:  he just stares at people and looks badass; or he has a drink and a smoke while delivering dialogue.  The director, Jesús Fragoso Montoya, makes no interesting compositions and never steps beyond a conservative decision.  He does, however, have a fondness for the female culo, so when the actresses were in thongs, compositions got tighter.  I perked up during these sequences.  The few action sequences are perfunctory, and the ending was woefully anti-climactic.  Bolkan and Palmer are two very sexy and adept actresses, and their characters should have been pushed beyond dialogue.  To be handed a script this insane and to not complement it with visual insanity is a cardinal sin of the highest order.  Stiglitz should have just have shot everybody for ninety minutes.
Pandillas criminales (2002)

A young woman is walking home alone at night when a van of street thugs pulls up beside her and drags her into the van.  They brutally gang rape her at a secluded building.  Meanwhile, a vigilante girl gang are beating and killing a local thug.  When the young rape victim stumbles home, she encounters her mother (Diana Herrera), and the two have a lengthy argument.  Her mother leaves the home that very evening.  The following day, the young woman visits a rape counseling center and is treated insensitively.  On her way home, she meets two of the local girl gang.  They sympathize with her and offer her real support.  They also offer to help her get revenge upon her attackers, at any cost.  Stiglitz plays a crooked cop who is feeding drugs to the street thugs and leeching their profits.  His character does not make it into the final act, despite the fact that he has top billing (his name spelled “Stieglitz” in the credits).

Pandillas criminales could have been a gritty exploitation flick, but, again, this film is talky.  Even during the final act, when the girl gang assaults the street thugs’ hideout, dialogue sequences between the ladies stand out when ammunition should be flying off the walls and into street thugs.  As interesting diversions, the street thugs have a rival gang; and twice in the film, the two leaders meet to gamble upon each’s best fighter in a one-on-one fight.  Unfortunately, none can fight for shit.  It is as if their idea of martial arts is simply the idea of performing kicks.  These fights could have been dressed up with some interesting camerawork, but, like the majority of the film, such camerawork is absent.  I can appreciate the sensitivity shown to the ladies:  there is a real unity among them, and the issues within the film are serious.  However, whenever revenge is to be exacted, I like my revenge exacted cold (and really cool-looking).  Stiglitz appears in nothing more than an extended cameo, and perhaps his casting was to attract attention to this film.  More Stiglitz only could have helped.

La voz de los caracoles (1993)
First, think of all the shit that you can do at the beach:  sunbathing, lazing about drinking beer, swimming, jet-skiing, long walks at sunset with a loved one, a romantic canoe ride in a quiet alcove, deep sea-fishing on a yacht, and an al fresco dinner at twilight by the seashore.  Are there more?  Probably, but La voz de los caracoles is only about ninety minutes.  The film is a romance, dressed inside a thriller plot line.  If you lived through the nineties, then you know this story.  A wealthy gorgeous wife (Felicia Mercado) witnesses her husband get murdered by an unknown assailant.  Miguel Ángel Rodríguez plays the police officer assigned to protect her twenty-four hours a day.  After some playful antagonism, the two eventually fall in love.  They hit the beach.  A lot.  Police protection is a fucking paid vacation.

Rodríguez also directs La voz de los caracoles, and Stiglitz gets third billing behind him and Mercado.  Stiglitz plays Rodríguez’s boss and leads the investigation finding the killer.  Here is an example of their police work:  Mercado gets angry at Rodríguez and storms out the house.  This is the first time that she is alone after police protection has been assigned.  The killer attacks her, and before he can strike, Rodríguez shoots him in the leg, causing serious injury.  He limps away, and giving half-ass chase, the police can nab him, solving the crime.  Nope.  They decide not to do that.  There is also in La voz a strange subplot involving some sort of cosmic voodoo, as Mercado is friendly with a local soothsayer.  It ties into the mind-blowing conclusion of the film.  I am not really as angry with La voz as I sound:  Mercado and Rodríguez are an endearing couple, and I did enjoy watching their romance blossom.  However, I do want my Stiglitz fix, and unfortunately, in La voz he just serves up cold stares and yells at people in the office.  Maybe he could have gone to the beach, too, and shot up everybody there.

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