Monday, January 30, 2017

Desperately seeking Oscar

Our lone eight-screen cineplex in San Miguel is modern and air-conditioned but it has limitations: Understandably, it largely caters to local audiences who seem to prefer wham-bam action movies played loud enough to rattle the ceiling tiles, or blood-and-gore horror flicks that give horny teenage boys an excuse to cuddle their shrieking dates.

Accordingly, this week's offerings include "The Return of Xander Cage," "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter," "Monster Trucks," "Assassin's Creed," and "Shin Godzilla."

Hardly appropriate fare, is it, for expat geezers long past their dating-and-groping phase or not interested in Vin Diesel muscle-man action epics

So let's pause right here to thank San Miguel's thriving industry that produces and distributes pirated flicks in various forms and helps us keep up with Hollywood during the crucial weeks between the Oscar nominations and the actual awards.

Unfortunately this being a "don't ask, don't tell" type of enterprise, I can only give the scantest details.

One might ask, for instance, where these movies come from—the Mafia, drug cartels or just enterprising guys trying to make a living? It's not as if ripping off movies is legal in Mexico. Sometimes hints appear right on the screen: "For awards reviews only", "Not for distribution" or warnings to that effect. But who knows what that means.

This fuzzy image was downloaded from the internet. 
In San Miguel we don't know or ask where the pirated flicks come from and if we did, we wouldn't tell you.

Without these free-lance purveyors, we wouldn't know for sure what Meryl Streep is nominated for this year, except she must be nominated for something. We hear it's "Florence Foster Jenkins," which is supposed to be hilarious but, alas, never made it to our local cinema.

A few ethical souls in our community refuse to buy these movies on grounds that it's tantamount to stealing, no better than shoplifting. Picky, picky. Stew and I don't have such exacting moral standards so occasionally we'll indulge in a over-the-transom DVD, but not too often because the quality, especially of the audio, can be iffy. A garbled dialogue that sounds like Hungarian makes it difficult to follow the plot.

I can only reveal that at the center of this dynamic operation is Juan the Ripper (a pun on Jack the Ripper, get it?) who appears to have access to practically every movie making the rounds in the U.S., particularly those up for some award. Customers can consult a list Juan keeps of all the nominees for the various awards and which DVDs he has available.

Juan is a soft-spoken, sleepy-looking fellow in his forties, who runs a cafe downtown that serves inexpensive meals and excellent Oaxacan coffee and sells movies—hundreds of movies and even PBS documentaries such as "Downton Abbey." The DVDs are just forty pesos, or less than two dollars each, a price Juan has valiantly maintained even as the peso's value against the dollar has plummeted.

I can't reveal the address of Juan's cafe or his last name. Sorry.

Another entrepreneur named Daniel—can't reveal his last name either—offers a more permanent and complicated solution to movie-starved expats by hooking their TV to some sort of gizmo or software that lets you bring in Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming options otherwise unavailable in Mexico. One of those pieces of software, or IP blocker, is called hidemyass.com. Enough said.

There can be some hiccups in Juan's DVDs, produced at a manufacturing facility rumored to be located somewhere in his cafe. The video portion is usually excellent, the audio a little more problematic. Subtitles is something Juan's engineers haven't mastered yet.

Occasionally a DVD will fail, such as the copy we tried to watch on Friday at some friends' house, of "Fences", starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. About twenty minutes into it, when Denzel was sawing lumber with his son in the backyard of their ramshackle house in Pittsburgh, the DVD jammed. After several attempted fixes, including a couple of whacks to the DVD player, the show was aborted. Although one of our hosts—a serious cinephile—volunteered that the Washington character, Troy Maxson, seemed to be "very bitter," we never learned about what.

But hey, whaddya want for two bucks, Blue-ray with Dolby sound?

Besides, Juan will replace any defective DVD. You can go back, and back, and back again, until you get a good DVD. Meanwhile "Fences" might pop up at the local movie house, and we'll finally be able figure out what Troy Maxson was pissed about.

I think it had something to do with baseball.


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