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Thread: BLAST BEAT (Esteban Arango 2020

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    BLAST BEAT (Esteban Arango 2020



    From BogotÓ to NASA

    This movie is good at evading stereotypes of the expected Latin American immigrant story, but just not so good at making its happy resolutions plausible. In fact it's not just original but also thoroughly off-kilter at times. For starters, what does Blast Beat have to do with a Colombian family seeking asylum in Augusta, Georgia from gang danger in BogotÓ during the violent period of 1999? Well, this is no ordinary family in trouble. The sons' musical tastes must be taken into consideration, and conflict over an Emperor T shirt can rise to a fever pitch at times.

    At the center of things are two combative, talented young brothers - with contrasting musical tastes. Mateas, the artistically gifted, shaven-headed bro who's inclined to violence, played by Moises Arias, loves rap. Carly, his long-haired science-whiz older brother, played by Moises' brother Mateo Arias, is big into heavy metal. Which of these two musical genres supplies the "blast beat" is never made clear, but the early scenes are loud and colorful with the sound of kinds of music adults love to hate and with skirmishes and women problems. The feisty energy and chemistry of this pair of natural fraternal actors is generally acknowledged to be Blast Beat's enduring strength, which somehow survives the film's diffuseness and implausibility. The brothers are supported by experienced actors for their parents. All four, as it turns out, are US-born.

    Making use of the latter fact, this movie is bilingual and everybody's English is good, including the parents' and one of the Colombian girlfriend's. Mateas and Carly are depicted as having attended a bilingual school, so they speak not only idiomatic but up-to-date slangy, expletive-intense English a lot the time (but Spanish too, also spicy, even when mom speaks it, sometimes). In short, the family is upper middle class, and this is also one of the ways the movie avoids the conventional stereotype of pathos and struggle. They all speak good English. They're not hurting. The dad (Wilmer Valderrama of a zillion US TV series) has left Colombia for the US early to escape unspecified extortion pressures. Mom (beautiful, and too young looking Diane Guerrero of "Orange Is the New Black") and the two boys leave later. When mom and the boys arrive in Augusta, they're very disappointed at the drop in lifestyle dad has had to accept as an immigrant. He's doing manual labor and the house is a bit dingy; the vehicle a cute but pinched GMC pickup with a rusted hood.

    This disillusionment happens - the arrival of the boys and mother - after twenty minutes of tumultuous and colorful footage about the boys' lives and girlfriends in Colombia which avoid convention, but also shows the film and screenplay to be confusingly scattershot. Aside from the Arias brothers' aforementioned feisty energy and strong chemistry there are no other pleasures to be had, other than the constant up and down trajectory of Carly's pursuit of his ambitions, which gets so much attention the boys' father, putatively the one in most danger, seems quite forgotten at times.

    Most of this story winds up being about Carly's effort to gain admission into the Aerospace institute and pave his way to key employment at NASA - a path he has been dreaming of since he was a toddler. The only trouble is he lies and cheats every step of the way, and what's worse for this film's credibility, he gets away with it. We're led to believe he has the smarts and the research background stretching back to childhood - remarkably so - so why must he endanger his chances by being dishonest? And how can the screenwriters, Arango and Erick Castrillon, think he should be able to get away with this? This is where the screenplay and the dialogue falter.

    Carly may get the occasional black eye from a condescending blond boy who calls him a Taco Bell, and Mateo is driven to an act of violence against the blond boy's vehicle that causes serious legal and financial consequences. But this movie isn't about travails. It's about avoiding them. And mostly it's about Carly at work wangling his way - though he's still in high school; both the boys are - into NASA through impressing an Asian-American college professor who's also an Astronaut (Daniel Dae Kim, another veteran actor who lends his talents to the cast). Carly talks such good game as a brilliant fledgling space scientist (way over our heads, in fact) that the professor lets him audit his course - till he learns Carly isn't even in college.

    One might almost think the movie is saying to get a US visa you need to be both brilliant and a con artist. Maybe not a good message to put in a film about Latin American immigration to the US. But the movie can say whatever it wants. It just needs to make it plausible, and the dialogue not cliched. Unfortunately this is not the case. The ideas behind this story are interesting; the brothers are very watchable. The movie needed further work. Watch Blast Beat if you must; but not till you've seen the best movie in years about immigrants in America, Lee Isaac Chung's Oscar-nominated Minari. They are worlds apart.

    Blast Beat, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 26, 2020. For two festival reviews, see Amy Nicholson in Variety and David Rooney in Hollywood Reporter. In select US theaters and on demand May 21, 2021. Metascore 54%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-20-2021 at 01:04 PM.


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