Escobar: Paradise Lost

Director: Andrea Di. Stefano

Lead Actors: Josh Hutcherson, Claudia Traisac, Brady Corbet, Benicio Del Toro, Carlos Bardem

Executive Producer: Benicio Del Toro

Plot Synopsis: This movie starts in 1991 in what is considered to be the height of power for Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. 

We meet Escobar, played by Benicio Del Toro, the day before he has agreed to surrender to state authorities and serve time in jail for the assassination of a state official.

On a wacky 1991-era mobile phone he calls his mother, and with terrible reception, he prays with her and confesses to God that everything he has done, he did for his family.

Then he gets down to business - the business of hiding away his fortune.

His plan consists of fanning it out into different towns, and hiding it in caves all throughout rural Colombia, and closing the caves with dynamite, and then finally killing those who know about the location.

This is where the naive Nick, played by Josh Hutcherson of Hunger Games fame, steps into the plot. Escobar asks Nick, who is now an affiliate member of his family (through his marriage to  Escobar's niece Maria,) to drive one truck full of loot to a small town. He is then to accompany himself with another man to take the loot to a cave and blow up the entrance.

Escobar then tells Nick that he will have to kill the other man once the errand is done. 

In Nick's face, we can see that this will be a problem. We can tell, in Nick's eyes, that he has never killed anyone before.

But how has this skipped the mind of Pablo Escobar, the most successful drug trafficker of all time, a billionaire who has risen to his level by taking care of every detail at every point. Or has it? Is this a test? A final test to truly earn the hand of his niece and prove himself a useful gringo?

Who knows? We are then catapulted to two years earlier, when Nick meets Maria, played delightfully by Claudia Traisac.

Nick and his brother, played passionately by Brady Corbet, are setting up a camp and surf school in the woods near a beautiful beach on the coast of Colombia. Maria is running humanitarian errands funded by her Uncle in the closest city to the beach.

Nick sees her from a distance, then makes his move. He asks to rent her truck, a rare and useful machine in this era in rural Colombia. She offers it for free. Smiles are exchanged, pheromone, no doubt, released.

Nick, a happy-go-lucky surfer dude, proceeds to seduce Maria with the ease that only a surfer dude can have. Maria perhaps not used to the zeitgeist of gringo-surfer-dude charm,
falls head over heels for him.

In one scene Nick awakens and she is awaiting him, sparsely clothed, right at the foot of his hammock, as the sun rises over the beach.

As this dream-like courtship ensues, Nick slowly, slowly, perhaps too slowly, realizes why Maria would have a nice truck at her disposal in this poverty-ridden state, and more importantly WHO her uncle is. 

Her uncle is Pablo Escobar. At at that time, in 1991, that name perhaps didn't carry much weight to Nick, a Canadian surfer. But now, as I read about him posthumously, I know that he was and remains in death the world's most lethal cocaine kingpin.

Let's put it this way: if you did cocaine in the 1980s in the US, it was most likely brought to you by Pablo Escobar.

Finally, after being flown to a private island via helicopter to celebrate Escobar's wedding, Nick asks Maria a very important question: "where does your uncle get all of his money?"

"Cocaine," Maria says, matter-of-factly. "My people have been chewing the cocaine leaf for years, and why shouldn't we make money for our country exporting it?!"

It was at that point that I could almost see powdery-nosed Charlie sheen spring up from the bosom one of his angels screaming "WINNING!"

Winning indeed. Escobar has a ranch on a private island. He has a vintage car collection. He not only has his own stable of horses but also a few elephants (and hippos that were not pictured in this movie).
Wikipedia estimates Escobar's net worth at the height of his power at $30 billion. To put that in context-that's a lot more than Magic Johnson.

It is unclear from Hutcherson's limited reserve of acting expressions
whether Nick is seduced by this, or simply very in love with Maria, or both.  But he does convey some fear and apprehension which is normal.

Nick and Maria end up moving in with Escobar and his family. In one scene, the family sits at a table eating, and Escobar's henchman have their guns with them at the table, just to the right of the steak knives. This unnerves Nick.

Who Would Like it and Why
The people who liked The Last King of Scotland and other political thrillers would enjoy this. It is a political thriller but it's also a way to showcase Benicio Del Toro's growing acting abilities. He plays Escobar as eccentric and incredibly charming, calculating and of course, ruthless.

Del Toro seemed to be having much fun in this role.

Who Might not Like it and Why
Rational people might be appalled at Nick's ignorance and his slowness in realizing that being linked with the Escobar clan would shorten his life by about 60 years.

It raises the question: if you met the perfect woman and she is wild about you, would you let it bother you that her uncle's henchmen were always washing blood off of themselves in the horse stables?

Why do drug dealer's relatives have to be so beautiful and enticing?!

Highlights/Top Scenes
There are several "sizing up" scenes between Escobar and Nick that are transparent to the audience as to what's really going on. 

Escobar seems to be deciding what to do with Nick- whose only real skill is surfing. How can he be of use to the family? All of these scenes are acting highlights for Del Toro, who most of us first saw about 20 years ago in the movie Usual Suspects, where he played a much pettier criminal.

Also, let's face it, Maria is seductive and innocent and lovely.

There is a scene where Nick is supposed to kill a young man. This scene and the build-up to it were done exquisitely well by Di Stefano - a first-time director but an accomplished writer who gave us the movies "Life of Pi" and "Nine".

No one is exactly sure how Nick is going to handle this dubious errand handed down by Escobar. What ensues is a moral dilemma that this surfer never expected to encounter as he left Canada with his brother to surf south of the equator.

Another epic scene is when Escobar serenades his new bride in front of his family at a wedding. I am not sure the style of this singing, but it is clear that Del Toro nails it to the wall, and his bride as well as some of the other women in the crowd are ALL hot and bothered.

It was funny and charming and again Del Toro, who also gained much critical praise in another movie about cocaine, Traffic, was having a blast. 

And why not?! Life is short, especially if your vocation is supplying the United States of America with that white gold!

Three Mike and Ikes

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Director: Andy Fickman

Lead Actors: Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Keir O'Donnell,  Eduardo Verástegui

Producer: Mary P. Ewing

Plot Synopsis:
Paul Blart- eccentric mall cop, father, man.

This is a further examination of the lovable Blart, played brilliantly by the even more lovable and talented Kevin James of "King of Queens" fame.

Blart, and his buddies that he meets up with at the Security Officer's Trade Association convention in Vegas, seem to embody what the average person sees in security guards. They are slow, overweight and weird with a devotion to their job that is hard to grasp. As this movie goes on though, we learn that they are also passionate about service and what they do, and at the end of the day they cannot resist the urge to help someone.

This is where the beauty of the movie was for me: the hearts of these sincere security guards who would instinctively save the life of the cruelest most base individuals without even thinking about it.

This is beautifully illustrated in a realistically emotional speech in the middle of the movie as Blart speaks to his fellow security guards at the convention as the key note speaker. Much like ambulance drivers, doctors and other freakishly devoted professionals, security guards share the urge to help their common man. That's what distinguishes them, and gives them reason to get up in the morning, every morning without fail and without calling in sick to work.

Therein lies the key to any good character development in story-telling: likability. Likability, and that is why James, about sixty pounds short of having a perfect body or six pack abs, has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in comedy. He makes Blart someone I would want to be my friend and someone I would care about.

In Blart's latest adventure, after a series of terrible personal troubles and losses,he is invited to speak at a trade convention for security officers in Las Vegas. 

This invitation is a boost to Blart and he is eager to attend. So he goes to the convention, with his daughter, who has just been accepted into the University of California at Los Angeles, but is too afraid to tell Blart about this.

Blart, to the delight of viewers who have stuck with the movie this far in, reunites with some old friends in the Security Officer's Trade Association convention.

His friends are as weird in appearance and personality as he is, and together they all form a weird posse.

This section is great character development on the director's part, as I feel like I've seen all of these characters before, somewhere, whether it was a mall like the one where Blart works, or an airport, or a convention building, or even a Ralphs or CVS in Los Angeles. 

Let's face it, it takes an abnormal person, in my eyes, to go after a job as a security officer.

The plot is that some very attractive and elite criminals who have decided to steal all of the art from the Wynn Casino and Resort.

They are highly trained, athletic, and they have a plan. It's a great plan too, but either they ignored the fact that security officers from around the country would be sharing the hotel with them that weekend, or they underestimated the significance of it.

You can see this coming a mile away, but through a twist of events Paul Blart catches wind of the heist, and tries to stop it, at first alone then with the help of his fellow security officers.

What ensues is an underdog story, the ugly and not so pretty battling the beautiful. This culminates in a standoff for the ages, where Blart and his posse use non-lethal weapons to ultimately defeat world-class criminals. 

The actual fight scene is poetry-in-motion where belts and jackets and human body fat are used to gain the ultimate advantage.  

Who Would Like it and Why
Fans of the underdog, of course. Also, fans of the first "Mall Cop" movie. Also, fans of Kevin James. The man might be slightly overweight but he can move quicker and is more agile than an NBA basketball player.

This agility is in full display when he rolls over onto an athletic lady criminal and through wriggling around and digging his shoulder blades into her, he disables her!

Also, the man has dance moves! This is in display when Blart chases a criminal into a full-on production of Swan Lake. Blart ends up with swan wings on, strapped into a trapeze wire, stealing the whole show with crazy dance moves.

Let's face it - James has undeniable charisma, which fans of his hit sit com King of Queens are very aware of.

Who Might not Like it and Why
Blart has a very strong personality and it is thrown at you very early on. This is something that needs to be endured to get to the comedy gold at the end of the movie. 

Highlights/Top Scenes
There is a love interest who is a possible ten in terms of physical looks. She plays a big wig in the Wynn Hotel and Casino. Blart accuses her of having a crush on him, which she vehemently denies. 

She keeps running into him, and Blart calls her on her obvious crush each time. After one denial of hers, Blart says, "oh please, your upper lip is sweating!" She checks, and it is. This is funny writing.

Two Mike and Ikes