A Monster
A Monster with a Thousand Heads: Never boring and lead actress Jana Raluy is excellent

Chances are that if you’re an adult living within the borders of the United States, you’ve probably scared your children and/or your foreign friends with terrifying tales of the iniquities of the American healthcare ‘system’. Billing errors, denial of service, drugs mysteriously excluded from your insurance company’s formulary, illogical co-pays… there are oh so many things that can and do go wrong in our wonderful laissez faire world of non-universal medical care.

Color me surprised, then, to learn that getting care can be a struggle in other industrialized nations, too. A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas, opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, May 27) details the extreme measures one Mexican woman takes to circumvent bureaucracy and get urgent treatment for a critically ill family member.

First, a little background: Mexico has provided its citizens with universal healthcare since 2012. Private health insurance, however, remains an option for those who prefer it and can afford it.

In Thousand Heads, wife Sonia Bonet (Jana Raluy) has a very sick husband and a very unconcerned health insurance company. It’s the beginning of the weekend, and despite being repeatedly fobbed off with assurances that everything will be taken care of on Monday, Sonia is certain that hubby can’t wait another 48 hours.

Teenage son Dario (Sebastián Aguirre Boëda) in tow, Sonia trails Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores) to his house, where she confronts him with the facts of the case. Villalba shrugs her off (after all, he has a squash match to make), but when Sonia pulls a gun on him the rules of the game – and the insurance company – quickly begin to change.

Director Rodrigo Plá’s decision to frame the story as a series of courtroom flashbacks has the unfortunate effect of giving away the film’s ending from the get-go and undercutting its dramatic effect. That said, A Monster with a Thousand Heads is never boring (its 74-minute-running time precludes narrative fat), and Raluy is excellent.

‘The Idol’ from Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad

The Idol
The Idol: “At worst, it’s a great family movie for those with older kids”
: “At worst, it’s a great family movie for those with older kids”

I’ve long admired Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, whose Paradise Lost and Omar earned well-deserved Oscar nominations in 2006 and 2014 respectively. His latest effort, The Idol (Ya Tayr El Tayer, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 27) unfortunately, is unlikely to earn him a third nomination, much less the statuette that has thus far eluded him.

Partly filmed in the Gaza Strip (apparently, the first feature film to be shot there in quite some time), The Idol tells the fictionalized story of Mohammed Assaf (Tawfeek Barhom), the Palestinian refugee who won 2013’s ‘Arab Idol’ talent show. The film details Assaf’s rough and tumble youth, his special relationship with his sister Nour (Hiba Attalah, who is utterly delightful and the film’s highlight), and his struggle to overcome adversity and get to the competition in Cairo.

As inspirational as Assaf’s story surely was for the Palestinian people, The Idol, ultimately, isn’t much better than your average ‘hey kids let’s put on a show’ Hollywood musical. I really wanted to like it a lot, and the less cynical and jaded among you will probably enjoy it more than I did. At worst, it’s a great family movie for those with older kids.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...