Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria Full of GraceMaria Full of Grace (2004)

Starring Catalina Sandino Moreno, Virgina Ariza, Yenny Paola Vega, Charles Albert Patiño, Wilson Guerrero and Orlando Tobón

Directed by Joshua Marston

I rented Maria Full of Grace a couple of weeks ago and it sat on the shelf above the television until tonight. It’s been kind of hectic around here lately, what with guests from out of town and picnics and birthday parties and whatnot, so we didn’t find an opportunity to watch it right away. But Blockbuster wants it back before noon tomorrow or I’m going to pay seventeen bucks for the DVD. All it takes is the right motivation, I guess.

Laura is downstairs watching it again, this time with commentary from writer/director Joshua Marston (about the only real extra on the DVD), so it’s safe to say she… what? Liked it? Enjoyed it? I don’t know if those are words that you can apply to a movie like Maria Full of Grace. To say you liked it doesn’t feel right. As if liking such a movie means that you like the idea of a desperate, pregnant seventeen-year old Colombian girl swallowing sixty-three condom-wrapped pellets of heroin each only slightly smaller than your thumb in order to get them past U.S. customs.

Perhaps a better word is “appreciated,” because Maria Full of Grace tells a compelling story, is incredibly suspenseful, very gritty, unglamorous, and real.

Orlando Tobón, who plays Don Fernando in the film, provides some of that realism. The character Don Fernando is based largely on Tobón’s own experiences as “The Mayor of Little Colombia.” Over the past twenty years, Tobón has provided all manner of assistance to Colombian immigrants, and has helped return the bodies of 400 Colombian drug mules to their homeland. Those pellets of heroin can burst inside a mule’s stomach, and the result is usually fatal.

Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Maria Alvarez, and does so quite convincingly. The scenes in which Maria swallows the heroin pellets are enough to trigger the gag reflex. The pellets look obscenely huge, and the process by which they are created and ultimately ingested is both fascinating and repulsive. What happens to Maria after she swallows the pellets is frightening and suspenseful. Marston’s story is believable without being predictable, while Moreno’s portrayal of the lead character is earnest and powerful.

Maria Full of Grace shows a side of drug trafficking that is seldom seen in movies. There aren’t any car chases, shootouts, or drug busts. There’s no Drug Enforcement Agent looking to take down the head of a cartel. There’s also no wire-tapping, stakeouts or undercover narcs. There are just ordinary people living in difficult situations who find themselves facing an opportunity, a tough decision, and a very dangerous journey.

Batman: Old School

Batman Disc 2 MenuPart of what has made Batman such a popular superhero over the years is the fact that he has no super powers. He’s just an ordinary millionaire playboy who has trained to the peak of physical perfection and used his seemingly limitless funds to build an astounding array of gadgets and gizmos to aid him in his battle against crime. Just like you or me.

Nowhere is the fact that Batman is just an ordinary Joe more evident than in the 1949 movie serial, Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder drive around not in the Batmobile, but in Bruce Wayne’s car. They defeat criminals with fisticuffs worthy of a barroom brawl. No fancy martial arts, no swinging from rooftops, and nary a Batgizmo in sight. That’s right, the utility belt that saved Adam West’s Batbacon on so many occasions in the 1960’s does little more than hold up Robert Lowery’s Battights in the 1940’s.

Well, so far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the 15-installment serial. The depths of The Wizard’s fiendish plot have yet to be revealed, but at the core of the masked madman’s machinations is a device that can remotely control any vehicle (be it plane, train, automobile or … tire iron?) within its range. The clever contraption can even cause a controlled car to combust. The malevolent machine runs on diamonds, and apparently requires a steady flow of the stones to operate. Thus, The Wizard dispatches his henchmen to pilfer the precious pretties from a variety of vendors, only to see them thwarted by the Dynamic Duo.

As with all serials, each episode ends with Batman and/or Robin in dire peril, and the following installment reveals how they escaped certain death, usually by cheating. Yes, the plane exploded, but … oops! … we forgot to show that crucial cut where Batman and Robin exited the aircraft with plenty of time to spare. Hell, they could have sat down for tea and biscuits after disembarking. They had that much time.

Such is the way of the movie serial of yesteryear. When Batman and Robin cheat death, they really cheat. It’s fun to watch, nonetheless. When the Captain America serial is eventually released on DVD, I’ll snatch that one, too. Yeah, I’ve already got it on VHS, but I’m a sucker for Captain America.