Midnight Family


On the mean streets of Mexico City.

(2019) Documentary (1091Juan Ochoa, Fer Ochoa, Josue Ochoa, Manuel Ochoa. Directed by Luke Lorentzen

 

Mexico City is one of the most crowded metropolises in the world. With nine million inhabitants spread out over 573 square miles, it is the most populated city in North America. Serving those inhabitants are just 45 ambulances provided by the government; filling the gaps are private ambulance services that are largely unregulated.

One of these private services is run by the Ochoa family. Patriarch Fernando (or Fer, as he is better known) is compassionate and suffering from type 2 diabetes himself. He is slow-moving which frustrates his son Juan to no end; in a cutthroat business like the one they’re in, speed is everything. A matter of seconds can be the difference between grabbing a paying customer and losing everything they have. As a result, the weight of the world often seems to land on Fer’s shoulders.

The family mainly works nights with 16-year-old Juan generally driving the rig. He also tends to be the one who has the uncomfortable job of discussing payment with their patients who often have no insurance and can’t afford to pay them. Sometimes, the family doesn’t get any income whatsoever for days. Young Josue, a chunky young kid who looks to be on the cusp of middle school (his age is never discussed), doesn’t seem to go to school, or at least often finds excuses why he shouldn’t. Juan chides him and lays down the law with his little brother; if he doesn’t go to school, he doesn’t get to ride in the ambulance.

There is marked corruption. The family pays out a healthy percentage of their income in bribes to cops who tell them about accidents and other incidents where their services could be needed, like the first call in the film which is to a gas station where a young woman has been assaulted by her boyfriend and her nose broken.

There is an unmistakable correlation to our own health care system; in many ways the Mexican system is what our own is developing into. Patients are given the choices of going to overcrowded public hospitals (where they don’t have to pay but often have to wait hours before being seen), private hospitals (less crowded but often substandard facilities) and deluxe private hospitals (generally with all the most modern equipment but expensive). This is what “the best healthcare you can afford” looks like.

Lorentzen employs a cinema verité style; other than a title graphic at the very beginning explaining the lack of public ambulance services, the story unfolds as the camera catches it. There is no music, no talking head interviews, no cute animations; the viewer is left to interpret the story for themselves but Lorentzen clearly has faith that the story speaks for itself.

We don’t get much insight into what the family does when they aren’t working. We see Juan primping before heading off to work. We also see Juan talking to his girlfriend, recounting the events of the day. At one point we see Juan and Fer picking up Josue from school and we get a glimpse of a cluttered apartment, but no real sense of how they live day to day; for them, as far as the film is concerned, work is life. That makes it more difficult for us to relate to them.

What we do get are beautifully filmed scenes of the city late at night, lit by garish greens, blues and yellows. There is an almost impersonal feel to the look of the film, emphasizing how uncaring life in the big city is. There is an emptiness and disquiet as we often go from deserted streets in the middle of the night to crowded streets where Fer cajoles taxis to move out of the way via loudspeaker; “We could be helping someone in your family.” Puling over for emergency vehicles is apparently not a thing in Mexico City.

This is not for the squeamish as we see Juan and Fer cleaning the blood out of the rig after a run more than once, plus hearing the screams of the suffering. The movie recently appeared on the shortlist for the upcoming Oscar Best Documentary Feature award and may well sneak in to the final list of five. The movie doesn’t hit you like a thunderbolt, but it does work on you insidiously, slowly getting under your skin. You do end up caring for the Ochoa family and feeling outrage that a system like that could exist. The chilling part is that we’re not so far away from it ourselves.

REASONS TO SEE: Well-crafted cinema verité.
REASONS TO AVOID: Is a little disjointed at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/17/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bringing Out the Dead
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
In the Tall Grass

Piranha 3DD


Piranha 3DD

It’s The Hoff’s world; we’re just living in it.

(2012) Horror (Dimension) Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, Chris Zylka, David Koechner, Meagan Tandy, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Clu Gallagher, Gary Busey, Adrian Martinez, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Paul James Jordan, Katrina Bowden, Hector Jimenez, Paul Scheer. Directed by John Gulager

 

A proven formula for box office success has been blood, boobs and 3D. It worked well for Piranha 3D. Would it work as well for the sequel?

It is a year after the events of the first film and Lake Victoria is a ghost town, abandoned and largely a cautionary tale, a subject for solemn-sounding news features (although I have to admit that the documentary images of Lake Victoria make the town look abandoned for thirty years rather than the one year referenced in the narration). The prehistoric piranha with a taste for human flesh are still out there but where? I think we can guess.

A nearby water park has come under new management. Marine biology student Maddy (Panabaker) is a 49% owner in the park after the death of her mom, but the 51% is owned by Chet (Koechner), a sleazy promoter who’s out to turn the family waterpark into a kind of permanent Girls Gone Wild attraction called The Big Wet appealing strictly to the hormonal and the perverted and making sure everybody knows it with a series of tawdry adds with plenty of nudge-wink double entendres. Maddy is understandably perturbed about this turn of events but can do nothing to stop it.

She’s too busy canoodling with Deputy Kyle (Zylka), an arrogant preppy sort who seems to be way off from the type of guys you’d think a down-to-earth scientific type like Maddy would be into but I suppose the message here is never underestimate what a pair of dreamy eyes, a handsome face and a banging bod will do to make a woman’s knees weak and her heart melt. In the meantime nebbish Barry (Bush) pines for Maddy (he has since high school) and works as a mascot for the water park although he can’t swim and is terrified of the water – as it turns out for good reason.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. There is a kind of underlying lightheartedness that makes me think that the filmmakers didn’t take themselves too seriously with this one – in a good way. Gulager has some underground horror film cred with the Feast trilogy and he proves himself worthy of a larger budget and a major studio release.

I liked that the movie had kind of an 80s vibe to it, although not overtly set in that era. There’s a certain amount of playfulness that was very endemic to the era, not to mention a lack of inhibitions when it came to actresses taking off their tops. There was also a lack of inhibition when it came to gore back then and Gulager doesn’t flinch when it comes to that either.

The movie doesn’t look as murky as the first one did; the producers saw to it that the movie was filmed in 3D rather than converting in post-production which usually yields a much clearer and cleaner image. However, it remains largely a gimmicky effect and to my eye didn’t really enhance the movie much, although admittedly I didn’t see it in a theater (more on that in a minute).

There are a handful of veteran actors with varying degrees of name value in the cast to go along with the largely unknown but plucky young cast. Of the latter, Panabaker has got a few good credits to her name, including a turn in John Carpenters The Ward in which she was one of the film’s acting highlights. Here she’s solid but unspectacular in the smart girl heroine role. For the cameos, Hasselhoff makes the best use, playing himself and referencing his public intoxication arrest from a few years ago to skewer his “Baywatch” image and prove that he might not be a bad sport after all. Rhames and Lloyd reprise their roles from the first film and gleefully overact, while Busey shows up to be fish food in the first reel in what might be a signature of the movie; killing off a well-known actor in the first reel (Richard Dreyfus did the honors in the first film).

The fish, a mixture of CGI and practical effects, are never really convincing. The CGI looks like CGI and the practical effects look like rubber fish being bludgeoned with rocks and filled with air bladders and blood bags. Still, the cheesy factor of the effects may also be a deliberate nod to the era, so you can take it in the spirit given.

Dimension (the genre division of Weinstein) took the interesting step of releasing this on Video On-Demand on the same day the movie got a limited release in theaters, a strategy that has worked well for major indies Magnolia and IFC. I don’t know how the movie is faring in VOD rentals but the box office numbers are weak. Whether this is the wave of the future for releases that aren’t expected to be box office bonanzas remains to be seen.

I’ve read reviewers who have said that this works much better on the big screen than on the home screen and I can see where that might be the case. This is definite exploitation fun that probably appeals most to the young male crowd and those who want to hang out with them. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but in all honesty for what it is, it really isn’t that bad at all.

REASONS TO GO: Retains a sense of fun. Hoff, Rhames and Lloyd are good sports.

REASONS TO STAY: The dumb factor is pretty high. Gore and CGI are unconvincing and 3D more gimmicky than anything else

FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of swearing, a pretty fair amount of gore, plenty of bare breasts, some sexuality and some male nudity. And drug use. And teen drinking. And…

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally set to be filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during January and February 2011 but this proved to be impractical due to the cold weather and clothing restrictions for the actors; production was moved to Wilmington, North Carolina but resulted in a delay from the original November 2011release date to June of this year.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100. The reviews are nearly universally bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shark Night

TOPLESS WOMEN LOVERS: The water park has an adult pool where women may swim topless. Yes, there are a whole lot of boobs. No, none of the main actresses show theirs.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Speed Racer