J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

BUFF ’18: MexMan


Germán Alonso has the talent to become the next Tim Burton and the psychological hang-ups to be the new Tommy Wiseau, but at least Wiseau finished his films. Alonso is in danger of getting an incomplete on the proof of concept short that could shake lose the financing for his debut feature. It is painfully frustrating for his friends and collaborators, but it makes good train-wreck-documentary viewing in Josh Polon’s MexMan (trailer here), which screens today as part of this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival.

If all went well during the pre-production of Alonso’s MexMan, Polon’s film would be a boring DVD extra instead of a stand-alone doc. Without question, Alonso has talent—maybe even too much. He wowed his USC film school classmates with his thesis shorts, so Tyler Soper and his brother Ben are eager to sign on as producers and script doctors. However, they are forced to write the screenplay themselves when Alonso gets sidetracked by an outside puppetry project.

It is even worse than it sounds. Alonso is crafting a creepy birthday present from an old high school crush, who has done her best to avoid him since graduation. The Soper brothers and effects coordinator Jonathan Sims are forced to do all the prep work on MexMan, the short, including securing the participation of high-profile actor Jason Beghe, who seems like a pretty cool cat from what we see. Yet, Alonso manages to pull it together sufficiently to swoop in and finally act like the director, which leads to even more tensions.

It is just one face-palm moment after another in MexMan, the documentary, but it is impossible to look away from it. It just kills you to see Alonso’s creativity and energy get undermined by his neuroses and delusions. Yet, he has nobody to blame but himself. Like Sydney Pollack in Tootsie (a film reference Alonso might appreciate), the Sopers keep begging him to get some therapy. The fact that they maintain the project’s viability even while he is M.I.A. is a tribute to their professionalism. Nor should any blame be leveled at producer-financer Moctesuma Esparza, even though he conspicuously declined to participate in the documentary.

The last film was this uncomfortably compelling to watch was the [possibly mockumentary] doc, Kung Fu Elliot (the mind reels at the thought of Alonso casting Nova Scotian “White Lightning” Scott in his next attempt at a Mexican American-themed action movie). However, in the case of MexMan, Alonso actually comes across like a good person, albeit one that is somewhat naïve, a bit prone to ADD, and ragingly neurotic.

If you enjoy pulling your hair out in sympathetic frustration than MexMan is like a week at Disney World, with no lines for the rides. It is a spectacle of eccentricity, but perhaps also a tragedy of unfulfilled potential. Highly recommended as a micro-budget Hearts of Darkness or Lost in La Mancha, MexMan screens this afternoon (3/25) as part of the 2018 Boston Underground Film Festival.

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