Jessica Alba

Machete Kills

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

107 minutes

Rated R

 

 

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer

2007
20th Century Fox

Produced by Avi Arad, Bernd Eichinger and Ralph Winter
Directed by Tim Story
Screenplay written by Don Payne and Mark Frost from a story by John Turman and Mark Frost
Based on THE FANTASTIC FOUR comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics

The Fantastic Four are among the coolest and most heroic characters ever created in any medium. A family of scientific thrill seekers granted with astounding superpowers due to an unauthorized space flight gone wrong. Bathed in cosmic rays they return to Earth as more than human. Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic finds his body now as elastic and fluid as his brilliant intellect. Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman can make herself and others invisible as well as being able to psionically generate unshatterable force fields. Johnny Storm/The Human Torch can turn his body into living flame, burning with the fire of the sun itself. Benjamin J. Grimm wasn’t as lucky as his friends. Even though he’s now strong enough to juggle tanks his skin has been transformed into an orange rocky hide that makes him look like a Thing.

What makes The Fantastic Four stand out for me is that they’re not your conventional team of superheroes. They’re a family, first and foremost. Reed and Sue eventually get married and have a son. Johnny and Ben behave like bickering brothers who love each other to death but would rather cut out their tongues than admit it. Reed and Ben have been best friends since college and on many occasions they’ve risked their lives for each other. Secondly, they’re explorers, scientists and adventurers. Oh, sure they walloped the piss out of the occasional supervillain but their real job was pushing back the boundaries of The Marvel Universe, always finding new worlds, new dimensions and new characters. And all the while dealing with the same problems that most other families deal with.

2005 saw The Fantastic Four come to the big screen in a live-action movie that was highly anticipated but really disappointed me. It seemed more like an over budgeted pilot for a television series than an epic adventure. I’m happy to say that I liked FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER much better. Yeah, Jessica Alba still can’t act. Not that I think most of the guys who go to see the movie will really care. Doctor Doom’s role in the movie is totally unnecessary. Some of the so-called ‘jokes’ made me roll my eyes in exasperation. V’ger’s big brother gets to play Galactus. But by the time the movie had got to the 30 minute mark I was finding more and more than I didn’t care. Before this movie came out I had been hearing and reading that “this is the movie they should have made first” and you know something?  I agree.

The whole world is in a state of happy hysteria as the day when Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) get married approaches. Reed has put away his molecule particle accelerators and Negative Zone portals to focus on helping Sue plan the wedding while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Chris Evans) is busy scoring endorsements and securing media rights of the event while Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) watches from the sidelines like a benevolent uncle along with his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)

The arrival of a cosmic anomaly on Earth quickly puts the marriage on hold as Army General Hagar (Andre Braugher) comes to Reed Richards for help. Not only is this anomaly disrupting weather all over the world but it’s also excavating giant shafts in the Earth’s crust, straight down to the core of the planet itself. The cosmic anomaly comes to New York where The Human Torch gives dizzying chase and finally uncovers the identity of the anomaly: a man seemingly made of pure silver, riding of all things: a surfboard. It isn’t long before The Fantastic Four finds out that The Silver Surfer (Body by Doug Jones/Voice by Larry Fishburne) is actually the herald of something much worse: The Devourer of Worlds known as Galactus. Galactus literally eats planets and Earth is next on the menu. Somehow The Fantastic Four have to persuade General Hagar to let them come to terms with The Silver Surfer and find a way to save Earth. It’s not easy when a resurrected Doctor Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) has managed to get General Hagar’s ear and has convinced the general that Doom has a much better plan to save The Earth and deal with The Silver Surfer. Of course Doom doesn’t mention a few little details like…oh, well how’s about stealing The Surfer’s cosmic power in order to destroy The Fantastic Four once and for all…

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has something that for me, places it head and shoulders above a lot of other superhero movies: at last we’ve got a superhero movie where the superheroes actually are having fun being superheroes. The Fantastic Four are media darlings. They live well. They obviously have money. They’re respected by the public. There’s not a whole lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and “woe is me, why was I cursed with these powers” here. I think that the filmmakers honestly tried to bring to this movie that sense of wonder that comic books used to be about and I think they pulled it off just fine. The story takes us all over the world. There are incredible gizmos and gadgets Mr. Fantastic pulls out of his hip pocket every five minutes. The family dynamics of the characters is given just as much time and attention as the menace of the world being eaten. Johnny gets an interesting character arc where by the end of the movie he’s grown up a little and has learned something about responsibility. The Silver Surfer is surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the comic book character.

That’s not to say that the movie made me do cartwheels of joy in the aisles. Much as I like Julian McMahon I still say he’s badly miscast as Doctor Doom. And there’s actually no reason for Doom to be in this movie at all, except to have an obligatory fight scene at the end. But at least in this fight I could tell what was happening unlike any of the fights in “Spider-Man 3” It was never explained to my satisfaction why or how Doom was resurrected and restored to normal and even several of the characters in the movie demand an explanation from Doom. He just gives ‘em a shit-eating grin and goes back to greasing the general. Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba actually look as if they’re really enjoying acting together while Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis once again prove that they have actually read some of the comics because they hit exactly the right note in the relationship between Johnny and Ben. And even though much of the story elements were taken from the classic “Galactus Trilogy” it still ain’t that story.

But I hardly think anybody is really going to care except for the fanboy purists who will no doubt BMW that once again their beloved characters have been desecrated and shat upon. I’m not with them. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has a lot of the elements that made me fall in love with the characters in their comic book incarnation. The interaction between the characters. Amazing action scenes. Great visuals. Humor that comes from these extraordinary people trying to deal with things the rest of us deal with such as overbooked flights, bachelor parties that go wrong, wedding day jitters, balancing work with family responsibilities. And as I said earlier, if you’re tired of moody, angry superheroes and want to see a movie where superheroes actually enjoy their powers and their adventures then this one’s for you.

So by all means, if you haven’t yet seen FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER go ahead. It’s not going to raise your IQ and it’s certainly not going to go down in movie history as High Art but it does have a sense of adventurous fun and wonder at its core and that’s the main thing.

92 minutes
Rated PG