Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Produced by Rick Schwartz and Alexander Rodnyansky
Screenplay by Kyle Ward
By now the story has become legend: 2010’s “Machete” was a full length feature film based on a fake trailer made for 2007’s “Grindhouse” which was a double feature of movies directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment to recreate the movie-going experience of the 1970’s when grindhouse theaters showed double features of popular exploitation movies. Five fake trailers were made and of those, two movies actually were made; “Machete” and “Hobo With A Shotgun” starring Rutger Hauer. I’m still holding out for “Werewolf Women of The SS”
“Machete” turned out to be a really damn good movie with Danny Trejo backed up by an all-star supporting cast including Robert DeNiro, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsey Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba. Yeah, the plot was pure pulp absurdity but it was grounded in just enough reality to make the whole thing go down well. And even among all the wild shootouts and Danny Trejo chopping up everything in sight with everything he can get his hands on (one of the enjoyable bits of the movie is how Machete can improvise bladed weapons on the fly) Robert Rodriguez managed to get in some pretty on-point political statements about Mexican-American relations and illegal immigration. It also had Electra and Elise Avellan in nurses uniforms blasting away at rednecks with machine guns, so for me the movie was a major success.
Wish I could say the same about MACHETE KILLS. The initial set-up is just fine and had me sitting up straight to see what was going to happen next but director Rodriguez and his screenwriter Kyle Ward just didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. Be patient just a bit and I’ll tell you where the movie went wrong for me.
Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his girlfriend/partner Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) are in the middle of breaking up an illegal arms sale on the Texas/Mexico border. Members of the Texas Army Reserve are selling military weapons to a Mexican drug cartel. A third party intervenes, leaving everybody dead except for Machete who is captured by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler) who intends to give Machete a quick trial and even quicker execution for messing up his arms deal.
Reprieve comes in the form of not the governor but The President of The United States himself; President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen) who has a mission for Machete. He wants Machete to go back down to Mexico to find and assassinate the revolutionary Marcos Mendez aka The Madman (Demian Bichir) who has a nuclear missile pointed at Washington, D.C. Machete agrees and upon finding Mendez discovers that he has three separate personalities: there’s one who is an out and out psychopath and that’s the one who wants to destroy Washington, D.C. There’s the revolutionary who only wants what’s best for Mexico but doesn’t want to slaughter millions to do it. And then there’s the core personality which is that of Mendez, the undercover government agent who started this whole thing simply to get information on the drug cartels and was forced to watch his wife and daughter be killed.
This is where I wanted Rodriguez to stop. Right there he had way more than enough plot and characters to work with and I’d have been happy with Machete struggling to stop this three-in-one villain. But no…he’s got to throw in Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her crew of machine gun toting prostitutes to chase Machete as well as the metamorphing killer El Camaleon (Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas/Cuba Gooding, Jr./Walton Goggins) This is before we get to the second half of the movie which is, believe it or not, a straight-up riff on “Moonraker” with Mel Gibson as the James Bondian villain Luther Voz who reveals that Mendez’s missile is only one of many he gave to mentally unstable world leaders so that they could fire them off at each other and destroy the world while Voz takes his selected people to his orbiting space station.
Now by the time we’ve gotten to this point of the movie, we’ve abandoned all reason and entered the realm of WTF as Rodriguez throws armies of killer clones at Machete, has him using a raygun that turns people inside out…and it doesn’t stop there. Voz rides around in a replica of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. We’ve got people being machine-gunned and then brought back from the dead. Mexican workers are being teleported off the planet to labor on Voz’s space station and She (Michelle Rodriguez) no longer runs The Network from a dilapidated warehouse. Her new headquarters are as high-tech as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. It’s as if Machete/ Danny Trejo has been suddenly transplanted into the middle of a Derek Flint movie.
Before watching this movie I had listened to the review done by the talented guys over at The Grind Pulp Podcast and they mentioned that they thought one of the things about this movie that was detrimental to it was that it looked “too good” and after having seen it for myself, I understand perfectly what they meant. Rodriguez totally abandons the grindhouse look that MACHETE KILLS cries out for. The movie should have looked aged, beat-up. In fact, the trailer for “Machete Kills Again…In Space!” looks the way this entire movie should have looked. I never thought I’d be complaining that a movie looked absolutely spectacular but in this case I am. MACHETE KILLS has amazing cinematography and it shouldn’t. The cinematography should look like shit. Seriously. You know what I mean.
But I’m glad to say that everybody in this movie looks as if they were having an absolute party making it. Everybody shamelessly steals every scene they get with Sofia Vergara and her gatling gun bra being among the standouts. But I totally loved Amber Heard as a secret agent whose cover is that of a professional beauty pagent contestant.
The running gag of El Cameleon is the best one in the movie among all the craziness going on. Mel Gibson is totally off the wall as a James Bond supervillain and if you have any further doubts about how loopy everybody else is then lemme just say that when mollyfoggin’ Charlie Sheen is your most restrained cast member, nothing more needs be said.
And I have to mention Alexa Vega. As I said in a post on the Better In The Dark Facebook page, after seeing her in this movie I now have to throw away my “Spy Kids” videos as I fear that I can no longer watch the innocent little girl she was in those movies without having pervy old man thoughts of her as Killjoy infecting my consciousness:
So should you see MACHETE KILLS? Chances are most of you reading this already have and so my review is irrelevant. For those of you who haven’t I’d recommend you catch a matinee if you really want to see it. Otherwise, wait for Netflix or until you can see it for free somewhere. I gotta say this is actually this first movie Robert Rodriguez made that I felt disappointment when the final credits rolled. I think he had the opportunity to continue to make Machete a truly unique Mexican hero and dropped the ball with this movie.
However we do have Electra and Elise Avellan in tuxedo jackets, stiletto heels and mini-skirts blasting away at clones with machine guns so the movie isn’t a total loss.
First Look International
Directed by Gregg Araki
Produced by Steve Golin, Gregg Araki, Alix Madigan, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern
Written by Dylan Haggerty
I get ragged on quite a bit because a lot of people say that I don’t know what’s funny or that I have too highbrow a sense of humor or don’t have a sense of humor at all. I will admit that my sense of humor is somewhat skewed. I went to see “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” during its original theatrical run and sat there laughing like a hyena until my friends told me to shut the hell up or they would beat the piss outta me. You see, I thought I was watching a spoof of horror movies. And I’ve sat through “Shaun of The Dead” “Bringing Up Baby” “There’s Something About Mary” without cracking so much as a smile. I dearly love The Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton but Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chapin you can keep as they don’t turn my crank at all.
Now there is a genre of comedy I totally get and laugh my ass off every time I watch a movie in that genre: the stoner comedy film. You see, I’m a member of that generation that listened to Cheech and Chong albums or went to see a Cheech and Chong movie while freely and generously indulging in whatever recreational pharmaceutical of choice. I think it’s more than safe to say that Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong created the stoner comedy movie genre and without them we wouldn’t have “The Big Lebowski” “Half-Baked””Friday””Dude, Where’s My Car?” the “Harold & Kumar” trilogy or SMILEY FACE. Why do stoner films make me laugh? Maybe it’s because of my own personal and professional familiarity with the drug subculture. I watch stoner films and if it’s a good one, the characters and the situations ring true and that turns my crank. How do I know if it’s a good one? Simple. If you can watch a stoner comedy cold sober or twisted and still laugh your ass off, it’s good. And SMILEY FACE I would put in that category.
First of all, what is a stoner comedy film? It’s a movie that revolves around the use of marijuana and the pursuit/results/consequences of using said drug for comedic effect. If maryjane is what fuels the plot and gets it going, usually with the characters trying to purchase some pot or what happens to them after they get the weed, it’s a stoner movie. Now, there are some exceptions, such as “The Big Lebowski” which is just as much a character study and a modern mystery/noir as it as a stoner comedy but that’s a whole ‘nother review.
SMILEY FACE is something really unique in that it’s the only stoner comedy I’ve ever seen with a female stoner as the lead. Jane F (Anna Faris) is a failed economics student and aspiring actress who one day ends up sitting in a Venice Beach Ferris Wheel car, holding onto the actual Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and having a conversation with the disembodied voice of Roscoe Lee Browne with absolutely no idea of how she got there because she’s totally and absolutely baked outta her mind. The movie then jumps back to the beginning of the day to show us how Jane got there.
First of all, it wasn’t such a good idea that Jane started hitting her bong at 9AM since she has an important audition at 11. After getting high, she gets the munchies and eats a dozen cupcakes baked by her really weird roommate Steve (Danny Masterson). Jane assumed that Steve doesn’t get high since she’s never seen him indulge but that’s because Steve ingests his wacky tobaccy through cupcakes. Just so happens that Steve has baked a dozen cupcakes full of industrial strength weed to take to his buddies at a sci-fi convention so they can get their wigs tight. Naturally, the overdose of marijuana takes Jane to a new level of high she’s never been at before. The rest of the day follows her as she tries to replace her roommate’s cupcakes, pay back her dealer (Adam Brody) and make her audition all while totally blitzed on bammy.
First off, SMILEY FACE is absolutely and totally funny. And in a large part that is due to Anna Faris and her performance. Prior to this, I only knew her from the “Scary Movies” franchise but after seeing this movie I’m going to find her other work and watch it. She’s on screen just about the entire running time of the movie and she owns it from start to finish. I have no idea if she ever indulged in marijuana use but in her body language, the look on her face and the phrasing of her words in certain situations, she gets it absolutely right. There’s a scene where she and her dealer are discussing Reagonomics as it applies to drug dealing and I forgot to laugh as she had me completely convinced she was high. And there’s the scene in a meat packing plant where she gives a rallying cry for unionism and the workers to throw off the chains of their oppressors that belongs in The Hall Of Fame of Great Movie Moments. I would not dream of telling you how that scene ends.
Part of the fun of watching this movie is seeing how many of the supporting characters are people we know from our favorite TV shows and movies. Danny Trejo is here, partnered with John Cho who plays ‘Harold’ in the “Harold & Kumar” trilogy. Jane Lynch and Jayma Mays you know from “Glee”. Danny Masterson you know as Hyde from “That 70’s Show”. John Krasinsky from “The Office” is here as a nerd in love with Jane. Marion Ross, Fonzi’s beloved ‘Mrs. C’ from “Happy Days” has a small but pivotal role as well.
So should you see SMILEY FACE? Without a doubt, yes. If for no other reason than the outstandingly hilarious Anna Faris performance, if you need a good reason. It’s streaming on Netflix right now. Go watch and enjoy. And you don’t even have to indulge in your recreational pharmaceutical of choice to enjoy it.
But it wouldn’t hurt.
Touchstone Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Directed by Simon West
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay by Scott Rosenberg
The surest sign that a movie is boring me or isn’t making sense to me is this: I start rewriting it in my mind while I’m watching it and recently I watched CON AIR for the first time since it originally hit the theatres back in 1997. I thought maybe the distance of a few years would make the movie play better and to be honest, it does. I had previously dismissed CON AIR as a typically noisy Bruckheimer production that was all about the explosions and skimped on the plot. Well, it’s still a noisy Bruckheimer production but I found that I enjoyed it far more watching it now, mainly because of the performances of a number of actors who have since become really big names in the business. Guys like John Malkovitch, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Dave Chappelle and Danny Trejo who have since blown up big time in the movie business and all who have wonderful roles in this big budget action fest. But I think that CON AIR missed the plane story wise and I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s stick with what the movie actually is about:
Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage) is a decorated Army Ranger who returns home after serving a tour of distinguished service overseas. The Army has done some good for Cameron, made him grow up a little as he used to be a wild kid who wasn’t really bad but just had a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That knack still follows him as he gets into a fight with three drunks who were hitting on his wife Tricia (Monica Potter) and during the fight; Cameron kills one of the drunks. I guess the testimony of his wife didn’t mean a thing to the judge because Cameron is sentenced to 10 years in prison but he’s paroled out in 8 as he’s been a model prisoner, encouraged to keep his nose clean by the letters written to him by his wife and his daughter Casey (Landry Allbright)
Cameron and his cellmate Baby O (Mykelti Williamson) are placed aboard a massive transport plane that is a prison with wings nicknamed The Jailbird. Cameron’s going home and Baby O is being transferred to a minimum security prison and they’re naturally concerned when they find out that most of the other prisoners on the plane are some of the most dangerously psychotic criminals in the country, being transferred to a brand new escape proof prison: Cyrus The Virus (John Malkovitch) who is totally insane and totally brilliant. Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) is a black militant revolutionary who wrote New York Times best selling books describing his revolutionary manifesto. Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) is a serial rapist boasting 23 tattoos of roses on his body for each one of his victims who confides that his name should actually be Johnny 600 but it doesn’t have the same ring. Garland Green (Steve Buscemi) is a serial killer who slaughtered 37 people and drove across three states wearing the head of one of his female victims for a hat. Billy Bedlam (Nick Chinlund) caught his wife in bed with another man. He didn’t lay a finger on her. He drove four towns over to where her family lived and killed her mother, father, brothers, sister, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, in-laws and all their pets. Pinball Parker (Dave Chappelle) is a junkie con man grifter whose joking nature hides a sick violent streak.
What we’ve got here is a collection of maniacs that have no business being together and it wasn’t surprising to me that such a collection of such brilliantly deranged minds successfully take over the plane. Cyrus has made a deal with another prisoner on the plane: a Columbian drug lord who has promised Cyrus and his crew that if they get him back to Columbia, they can live like kings, free of extradition. Now if I had written CON AIR, I’d have had the plane make it to Columbia and then have had Cyrus and crew double crossed by the Columbian drug lord and spent the rest of the movie having this deliciously goofy cast of murderers wreak bloody revenge in an orgy of mayhem and violence. Instead we get U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) and DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) flying around in attack choppers trying to find The Jailbird and recapture Cyrus and crew. Cameron has his hands full trying to find insulin for Baby O who is rapidly going into shock and trying to prevent the only female guard on the plane (Rachel Ticontin) from being raped by Johnny 23.
CON AIR was one of three high-energy action movies Nicholas Cage made after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and in my opinion it’s the weakest of the three. ‘The Rock’ and ‘Face/Off’ were much better in terms of story and acting since Cage’s Cameron Poe is the least interesting character in the movie and spends most of his time trying to find insulin for his buddy as well as continually talking Cyrus and Diamond Dog out of killing a trio of prison guards being held as hostages. It isn’t until the end of the movie where The Jailbird crashes in Las Vegas where Cage goes into full-blown action hero mode and has to chase down Cyrus and Diamond Dog.
It’s the rest of the cast that walks off with the movie in terms of acting. John Cusack is always a delight in anything he does and he looks as if he’s having a great time as he and Colm Meany bicker and argue about how to deal with the situation. Few actors play a psychotic genius better than John Malkovitch and he has 90% of the good lines in the movie. Steve Buscemi’s character makes a really cool entrance, being brought to the plane in an armored car in which he’s strapped down like Hannibal Lector with a dozen guards covering him with automatic weapons. There’s a really strange scene halfway through the movie involving Buscemi’s character and a little girl he meets in a trailer park and they have a tea party while singing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand” that really makes no sense and I have no idea why it’s there and it’s nowhere near as good as Buscemi’s final scene in the movie which again, reminded me of Hannibal Lector and the last scene of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’
CON AIR has some spectacular action sequences involving the giant prison plane, including the finale where it crashes on The Strip in Las Vegas and it’s one of those scenes where you have no idea how they filmed it since it’s convincing as hell but ultimately that’s all it is, one spectacular action sequence after another that have no real meaning other than spectacle for spectacle’s sake. So should you see CON AIR? If you’re an action movie junkie you most likely have seen it already. I’ve got friends of mine who claim they watch it four or five times a year but even once a year would be more than enough for me. The real entertainment value of CON AIR comes from watching Malkovitch, Rhames, Chappelle, Trejo and the other lunatics on the plane and the efforts of Cusack and Meany to capture them. The movie should have concentrated on them and cut Cage’s character out of CON AIR altogether. Now that would be a helluva ride indeed.