How I Spent My Summer Vacation/Get the Gringo (2012) VoD

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Written by Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie,  and Adrain Grunberg – who also directed the film – How I Spent My Summer Vacation or Get the Gringo was a “straight-to-Video-on-Demand” project that Gibson claimed was done because, “We’re just in a different era. Many people just like to see things in their homes….I think it’s the future.” [Los Angeles Times] It was screened in the UK and a few other countries but in the US (where his biggest critics reside) it was VoD. 

I am not sure if Mel is right or if he was just hedging his bets after a massive fall in popularity following his divorce, separation, racist behaviour and other negative publicity. Gibson’s last few years have been more scandal ridden than film ridden and it seems that he is attempting to claw his way back into favour with his (few remaining) fans.

Set in the world of the infamous (and now closed) El Pueblito Prison in Tijuana Mexico, Gibson plays a nameless professional thief who escapes from the Texas law by crashing through the border fence between Texas and Mexico with millions in stolen cash and his mortally wounded partner.

Once they land on the Mexican side of the border, the Federales are all ready to turn Gibson, and his now dead partner, over to the Texas border police when they spy the bags of stolen money. In that moment, the Federales change their minds and take Gibson and his partner into custody.

Gibson winds up in El Pueblito prison which is more like a criminal village behind bars. Where practically anything can be bought and prisoners walk around with guns and run the prison. Once in, Gibson’s character must survive and escape or he’ll be buried in the prison and never see freedom again.

Gibson is the only “real” name in the film, apart from Peter Stormare who has a cameo as the “big boss” he stole the money from. The rest of the cast all look familiar but aren’t anyone I’ve ever heard of. The boy who plays doomed liver donor (Kevin Hernandez) does a brilliant job as the cigarette mooching aide-de-camp of Gibson’s nameless con.

Kevin Hernandez as "the kid."
Kevin Hernandez as “the kid.”

When I saw the film, it was on Netflix and I vaguely remembered seeing a trailer or two for it on other DVD’s. Until watching it, I’d never heard of El Pueblito although I knew that prisons were run differently “south of the border.”

Author Joseph Waumbaugh, in his excellent non-fiction book Lines and Shadows, tells of how two policemen interrogate prisoners in Mexico. The prisoner is tied to a chair and has his head forced back. While one Federale holds the head, the other will open a bottle of Coke. After shaking said bottle the top is then held under the prisoners nose.  A fountain of soda spritzes up the nose and into the sinuses. An extremely painful experience that results in a 100% confession rate.

When a Mexican prison rioted in the 70’s television cameras showed crates of Coca-Cola being shipped into the prison. The riot was quelled without having a single shot fired or baton raised.

Having this in the back of my head while watching the film, made me believe that conditions like those shown could, in fact, be true and they were. Just enter el pueblito in the Google search engine; it was shut down in 2002 and was very close to how the prison was depicted in the movie.

Historical references aside, Gibson plays another character like “Parker” (based on the Donald Westlake books) who is a professional crook and also ex-military sniper. In other words, a character that he could play in his sleep. It never felt like a huge stretch for Mel and it featured bits of humour that were reminiscent of his Lethal Weapon films.

The film features a narration by Gibson and it does help move the film along and is not too obtrusive. I, as a rule, don’t care for too many “narration” films; it can get a bit annoying to be treated to a constant voice over, especially if the actor doing said narrative isn’t very good.

All in all the film was very entertaining and fun to watch. I’d have to give it a 4 out of 5 stars just because I felt that Gibson was reverting to playing a role that, as I said above, he could have sleep walked through.

Will this film move him up in his fan’s estimations or is he wasting his time on a career that’s been ruined by too much adverse publicity? Only time will tell and if he can manage to keep his less savoury antics under control he just might be able to repair the damage. What do you think?

Mel in his clown robbers outfit.
Mel in his clown robbers outfit.

True Grit

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sitting here perusing my old blog posts when I suddenly got the image of John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in my head. As I sat there mentally studying Rooster, I thought of the title of the film.

True Grit.

More images came to mind. Grits, obviously, the great southern delicacy that I can live without…forever. Who ever invented this southern ‘breakfast’ dish, should be shot with the corn niblets that were ground up to make this dish.

Bland to the point of disgust and only edible after you add copious amounts of salt, pepper and butter. Blech!

Another image is that of grit. If you have ever raised chickens for eggs, you will know this word. Grit is made up of small shells and stones that have been ground up into tiny little crumbs. You have to give grit to chickens every day if you want eggs that will survive long enough for you to put them in your omelet.

Chickens
Chickens (Photo credit: Allie’s.Dad)

It is essential that chickens have grit to give them strong shelled eggs.

I also think of the boy scout newspaper called Grit. We used to have a town character named Burney who sold these things on the town square when I was a boy. Burney was a ‘town character’ because he had epilepsy.

Not the sharpest of tools in the shed, Burney was nonetheless harmless. He would not have hurt a fly. Strangers coming into the town would give Burney a wide berth, fearing him a little. One day Burney had a petite mal  on the sidewalk. A couple of visitors were shocked and concerned.

One of the tellers from the bank, come out and looked after Burney and made sure he didn’t bite his tongue or swallow it. After Burney’s fit was over, the teller went onto the drugstore and got him a cold Coke. Burney thanked him and sat contentedly sipping his cola.

One of the ‘non-residents’ of the town asked the teller what had happened and was that poor man okay? “Oh, that’s just Burney,” the teller replied, “He’s all right.” After glancing over at Burney one more time, the teller went back into the bank.

Burney finished his Coke and took the bottle to the store for the deposit it would net him.

I mention Burney, because of True Grit. The film, about a young girl who seeks to catch and hang her father’s murderer is looking for a Marshall who has true grit to help her. Of course all the main protagonists have grit in spades.

And that is the last thing I think of, the grit that people show in their everyday lives. Not everyone has it. Grit is that stubborn never give up attitude. The ability to keep going when others will easily give up. Grit is loyalty and the ability to not think of yourself as anything different. Grit is to be brave in the face of the fearful.

Burney was a wonderful example of true grit. Through every type of weather imaginable and if he was sick or not, this man struggled out everyday to sell his Grit newspaper. He even ignored, for the most part, the annoying kids who used to make fun of him. Every kid in town would do it at least once.

“Hey Bur-ney! Wana buy a GRRIITT!” The shrieked out question was usually said on the run as Burney was incredibly fast and could almost catch the little stinker who thought he was so witty. He would not have done anything if he had caught the kid, as I said Burney was harmless.

I know he was because to my everlasting shame, I was one of those little clowns that thought it was hysterically funny to taunt Burney. Burney did catch me once. All he did was look at me sadly and shake his head, he then let me go.

I never picked on Burney again. But I can tell you now that when I think of True Grit, it’s Burney’s face I see in my mind more often than not.

If Burney was still alive, I’d buy a Grit, I’d buy the whole damn bunch of them.