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Talk to the Head – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

They say you have the best conversations with yourself.

How about with the severed head of your hooker girlfriend’s former lover?

When the object of desire in a story is a head in a bag you know you’re onto something.

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Warren Oates plays Bennie, a man who sees an opportunity to get a head. (Sorry)

When it’s the head of a man who impregnated the daughter of a Mexican gangster you know immediately why it’s worth a million dollars.

When the man who longs for it the most is a down-at-the-heel gringo piano player in a Mexican brothel grabbing for one last score, you know all you need to know about the protagonist.

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The happy couple. Mexican actress Isela Vega plays Elita. She also wrote one of the songs for the film.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is Sam Peckinpah’s finest film. Made during the director’s  alcoholic decline, the movie has a tragicomic power that is relentless, that drives it like a drunk coming home in the middle of the night. He knows the way–or did when he was sober; he’s running on autopilot now and is likely to inflict untold harm on himself and others getting to his destination. But he’s determined to get there. The movie is a parable for Peckinpah’s life. Warren Oates, who plays Bennie, understood this, and wore Peckinpah’s sunglasses throughout the movie, even in bed, channeling his mentor.

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Bennie buying his soulmate a bag of ice to keep it from decomposing.

Despite the cheesy ‘70s film-making, the signature slow-motion Peckinpah death scenes, the gratuitous boob shots, all of that and more, the strength of the story and distinctiveness of the two leading characters prevail, making us root for a sleazy crook who carries his treasure across the barren Mexican desert in a gunny sack, talking to it, coddling it with ice as it becomes blanketed with flies, even giving it a shower at one point. It’s a journey of self-discovery. Not a happy one. But you probably guessed that.

Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He's probably more picky about roles these days.

In an early role, Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He’s probably more picky these days.

Bennie defending his nest egg. The white suit is the first of many bad decisions.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia remains a cult classic. It’s sucks you in with its dark genius. It’s the kind of film that makes you stop channel-surfing when you happen upon it late at night, and compels you to watch, matter how many times you’ve seen it, no matter how late it is. And next day you’ll be savoring the movie all over again, wishing there were more like it. But there aren’t.


indie to the core – Amber Alert the Movie

Indie to the core!

I don’t normally post movie reviews but this taut indie thriller is done with such verve and spirit, despite its low budget. Probably, in part, because of it’s low budget. It gets to break rules that big movies can’t. There is so much that an aspiring author can learn from a story like Amber Alert the Movie.

A resourceful villain confronts a reluctant pursuer.

A resourceful villain confronts a reluctant pursuer.

Director Kerry Bellessa makes expert use of a single handheld camera in this flick reminiscent of other movies in the ‘found footage’ mold such as Blair Witch Project (which would have benefited from a plot and a script), and the infamous Cannibal Holocaust, a ‘70s sexploitive gorefest that’s impossible to watch and still feel human.

Summer Bellessa (from the credits it appears a lot of the Bellessa family were involved in the making of this movie) is Samantha Green, the extremely annoying – initially – friend of Nate (Chris Hill). Their relentless bickering, as they set off with Samantha’s younger brother manning the video camera on an indie filmmaking project of their own, almost made me stop watching. But the squabbling soon turns serious when they spot a Honda that’s just been flagged in an Amber Alert. They follow at a safe distance. At first. While Nate constantly comes up with reasons to drop the chase, Samantha keeps pushing. This conflict escalates nicely in a gas station where we watch the mysterious Honda driver tank up. When he goes to the restroom, Samantha – despite Nate’s pleading – takes a look in the car and, lo and behold, there IS a little girl in the back. Samantha manages to slip a microphone in the locked car and we soon learn that the driver is not just some disgruntled ex returning his daughter a day late.

The stakes rise yet again when our group is stopped by the police.

Then we learn that the Amber Alert has been called off.

Called off?

What choice do our hunters have now except to follow the supposed pedophile to his house? And, when the cops fail to show up – AGAIN – go inside the house – themselves? It’s menacing AND inevitable – a great situation for your story to be in.

I found myself riveted to Amber Alert once I got past the beginning. The pacing is fast, and the acting is really quite good, in particular Chris Hill, who plays a sort of cherubic Mickey Dolenz (I’m showing my age here) who would rather put his arm around Samantha than hunt down dangerous perverts. The single handheld camera is not overused as it is in some movies of this ilk and doesn’t draw attention to itself. The low budget film-making actually enhances the movie, giving it a gritty, real feel. The ending knocked me out, along with the snippet of a pre-amber alert Nate and Samantha during the credits, taken from more ‘lost footage’. The storytelling is beautifully simple and just shows that you don’t need $100 million and a special-effects crew to pull off a nail-biting thriller.

Indie authors can learn a lot from a movie like Amber Alert: an uncomplicated, straight-forward, lean story with rising conflicts and stakes. There are sympathetic, but not sentimental, nuanced characters with opposing passions that constantly put them at odds with each other. There is a first-rate villain. A terrific ending that blindsides you (it did me, anyway), and overall, a story appropriate to the genre but also contrary to what a big budget flick might have done.

I think that’s important.

They say that the trick of genre writing is to stay within the genre but, at the same time, bring something fresh to it. Not easy, but key if you want to tell a story people will remember. And get noticed.

I hope to see more indie thrillers as good as this and look forward to more work from the crew who put together Amber Alert the Movie.

¡viven los indies!