Monday, January 24, 2011

Machete (2010) review


Danny Trejo (Machete Cortez), Steven Seagal (Torrez), Jessica Alba (Sartana Rivera), Michelle Rodriguez (Luz), Jeff Fahey (Michael Booth), Robert De Niro (John McLaughlin), Don Johnson (Von Jackson), Cheech Marin (Padre Cortez), Tom Savini (Osiris Amanpour), Lindsay Lohan (April Booth)

Directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

The Short Version: This 10 million dollar CGI heavy gorefest has some fun action sequences, but is mired by an undeniably heavy atmosphere of political meandering regarding illegal immigrants (I like to refer to it as glorified 'Breaking & Entering') and how unfair what little immigration laws still remain in America. The movie doesn't take itself seriously, but its politics do. There's lots of references/homages to films past and fans of the awful GRINDHOUSE (2007) will no doubt flock to this. It's definitely a better representation of that style of movie if only an average assimilation that gets sloppy towards the end turning into the most expensive movie Troma never made.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and violence***

A former Mexican Federal agent dubbed Machete is hired to assassinate a United States Senator in favor of more stringent immigration control. Not planning to pull off the shooting, Machete is set up by the man that hired him and ends up on the run from the law and pursued by Torrez, his old nemesis who left him for dead and murdered his family.

This massively over the top exploitation mess gets off to a good and gory start that successfully emulates the style of 70s filth it trumpets, but then gets lost in an intermittent miasma of left wing double standard bullshit. It's a tongue in cheek action film for about ten minutes then switches over to an angry message movie and back and forth and back and forth it goes till both styles crash and burn in a disappointing finale filled with big, random explosions, neverending gunfire, arbitrary, Troma style shit thrown at the screen and a heavily touted end fight that collapses under its own weight.

MACHETE is one of those movies that occupies an alternate universe where there's no law enforcement, or military presence despite dozens of outlandish explosions and obscene amounts of firepower going off every few minutes. Also, the only people that live in this dimension of dementia are those that propel the story, or those who may as well be wearing a red shirt from STAR TREK. In addition, everyone including non Hispanic's eat nothing but Mexican food. This is fine and all, but where the film loses itself is when it stops being MACHETE and turns into MASHITTY. Rodriguez, or whoever the hell actually directed this thing loves cramming as much far left propaganda down our throats as possible culminating in a laughable smorgasbord of hate speech by Jessica Alba atop the roof of a car at the end. And since the movie takes great pride in shouting a lot of pablum, I will take this time to spout some of my own--

It's nigh impossible to watch this film and not be smacked in the face with its rabble rousing proclamations of "Take what you want by force!" whether you actually earn it, or not. Any sensible human being should be able to comprehend that a massive influx of illegals (regardless of race) is not good for any economy. Forget for a moment that these people have come here using ILLEGAL means. Jobs are taken and given to those who work for less and who ultimately have no long term desire to stay here; the money is then sent back to Mexico for future use and not put back into the economy. These illegals also have no desire to learn the very language of the country they elusively penetrate and most have the gall to expect those who were born here to learn THEIR language in order to communicate! Also, claims that Mexicans only do work that Americans won't do is bullshit. Numerous factories around the country hire illegals to supplement their payroll without having to pay out for insurance. Double standard? Maybe. The harm done to the economy keeps companies from seeing stable profits that enable them to thrive sufficiently. Furthermore, the argument that the purported greed of said big companies perpetuates the problem by hiring illegals DOES NOT negate the fact that said individuals have used covert means to get into a country they really don't want to be in in the first place.

Forget for a moment that these individuals have gotten here ILLEGALLY, foregoing the proper channels to lay a rightful claim of residence. I know, I know, it's too much trouble to let go of some of those pesos to take the test, or learn the language to become a legit citizen in America, the land of all that opportunity. Meanwhile, illegals come here with no papers, no drivers license, no insurance (and those that do don't keep it long). I've delivered HUNDREDS of 'Return To Sender' insurance statements back to companies for those with claims against them that have suddenly disappeared only to turn up under a different name later (I used to work with two different Joel Espinoza's and another I saw on the news that had been pulled from a river having drowned). Forget for a moment that these individuals have (sneakily) gotten here ILLEGALLY. Hispanic gang activity has risen at an alarming rate in recent years, too. We already have enough garbage here murdering citizens without south of the border drug cartels adding to the statistics. Not to mention illegals who end up in the hospital for whatever ailment/injury, what have you, and eventually disappear leaving the bills un-collected which is left for taxpayers to pick up the tab. Forget for a minor moment in time that many of these people come here ILLEGALLY.

Do you know how illegal immigration is handled in Mexico? Unless you've committed a serious crime, why would you want to infiltrate that country and start a life there in the first place? I don't know, but for a race of people who condemn us for wanting to crack down on those who use law breaking methods to get over here, they are far more strict on enforcing the very laws of ours they protest against. Is maintaining economic stability and offering endless opportunistic equality for legitimate citizens such a bad thing? If you don't do it the right way, you have no right to be here, plain and simple. If I go to Mexico, I am obligated to learn the damn language and the same should apply for those who decide instead to jump a wall, scurry through the sewer, or sneak over hidden in a big barrel of refried beans. It's great to want to make ones life better, but do it the RIGHT way for crying out loud. The government may as well make breaking and entering legal while they're at it, this is essentially the same thing. Stealing is still stealing no matter how you look at it. MACHETE might be "escapist entertainment" at heart, but it plasters a dangerous message as much as it tries to be a 70s throwback.

This is the main problem I have with this movie. Had the film stayed its course and left the oppressive preachiness to a minimum, it would have been a far more enjoyable experience. There's no balance here. The film can't make up its mind if it wants to be a political picture, or the 'B' movie equivalent of a Banana Split with all the high calorie toppings. Instead of the subtext being an underlying theme, it's in your face, holding the viewer at gunpoint. Romero gets accused of being heavy handed, but this makes the zombie king's messages look like a moot point. For a far better expression of a wild action/socio-political presentation, see RR's ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003).

Now that that's out of the way, speaking of action, Rodriguez is far more talented than his frequent sidekick, Tarantino when it comes to handling mindless gun battles, stunts and creatively grim gore spots. RR would have made a great addition to the Shaw Brothers stable of directors back in the day as those crimson saturated HK adventures displayed some of the most ingeniously gruesome methods of dispatch in cinema history. Here, there's a quadruple decapitation scene that recalls many of Chang Cheh's early swordplay movies where a slew of villains are slain with a single whirlwind sword strike from the hero.

Danny Trejo might be old, but his gravely, chiseled features impress a great deal without the aid of make up. The inspiration for Machete would seem to be ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK's Snake Plissken as well as the knife throwing assassin he played in DESPERADO (1995). There's a scene where Machete is shown a selection of weapons for him to choose from that recalls Carpenter's movie as well as Trejo's mostly silent performance save for some sporadic catch phrases. Two additional movies are threatened if the end credits are anything to go by. Hopefully, the filmmakers will leave the force fed political jargon at home.

Rodriguez is also successful at making his female stars overflow with sexiness. Jessica Alba isn't memorable at all (saddled with the spaghetti western name of Sartana), but her body language is despite her CGI'ed nude shower shot. Michelle Rodriguez fares far better and doesn't need to be naked to ooze sexuality as the Che Guevera styled Luz aka She. The seductive, full lipped Mayra Leal sheds it all during the opening sequence that's better than the entire film. Totally nude, she takes a cue from Japanese cinema--instead of a blade coming from between her legs, it's a cellphone.

Jessica Alba did this scene with underwear on which was digitally removed in post.

Lindsay Lohan, despite her bad attitude and obliviousness to obeying the law (hey, it fits with this movies theme, doesn't it?), got a lot of praise for her role, which is bizarre considering she's barely onscreen at all and is essentially playing herself as Fahey's drug addicted daughter. She has a nude scene, too, in a strange incestuous romp that recalls a similar scene in the borderline porn of BLACK SHAMPOO (1976). However, Lohan's strip off is obscured by either body doubles, or a carefully placed arm and long hair. Towards the end, she dons a nuns outfit and with a big hand gun, does her best Zoe Tamerlis impersonation from Abel Ferrara's hard hitting and artsy vigilante-rape revenge classic, MS. 45 (1981).

Tom Savini, horror cinema's favorite practical special effects ace, has a minor, thankless role as a hitman who vanishes towards the end; Jeff Fahey adds substance to his character; Don Johnson is at the beginning and forgotten about till the end; Robert De Niro embarrasses himself as the Senator in bed with the bad guys and Cheech Marin has another extended cameo. Funnily enough, one of his lines of dialog is borrowed from the number one spaghetti western hit of 1967, GOD FORGIVES...I DON'T!, the first pairing of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.

Steven Seagal (the star of HARD TO FILL 1990, OUT TO LUNCH 1991 and UNDER FED 1992) takes time out from a "secret" career as a deputy police officer in Louisiana, being a Tibetan Lama, various sexual harassment charges, cutting a record album and dodging wife/girlfriend beatings to "star" as the main heavy (and I do mean HEAVY!), Torrez. Seagal mumbles through his role whose only real memorable moment is the violence heavy opening segment. By the time the end rolls around, Seagal carefully waddles to his predestined meeting with Machete brandishing a sword that makes noise like the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN when it's unsheathed. This fight scene, heavily hyped throughout, is poorly done with no wide master shot, just close ups of either Trejo, or Seagal swinging their sword in random directions. Either Trejo's age, or Seagal's weight kept this fight from ending the film on a high note.

Executive Producer, Ashok Amritraj might be familiar to those who have followed 'B' actioners and Z grade entertainment since the late 1980s. One of his first vehicles was the stupid beyond words 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985), the movie that successfully assassinated Sho Kosugi's career relegating him to direct to video drivel like BLACK EAGLE (1987) co-starring Jean Claude Van Damme as the lead Russian villain.

Fans of that horrible excuse for an exploitation movie, GRINDHOUSE (2007), will likely lap this up, too. MACHETE is a far better representation of that type of film, although all the "Illegal immigration is good" rhetoric is poured on so thick, it becomes far more over the top than any of the numerous gore scenes. A sloppy, but slightly efficient trash flick with ample nudity, obscenities and a few good action sequences make it a safe bet as a rental.

This review is representative of the Fox DVD

From Beyond Television: The Wild, Wild West--Night of the Steel Assassin


THE WILD, WILD WEST: Season 1 episode 16 (aired January 7th, 1966)


Guest stars: John Dehner, Sue Ane Langdon

Directed by Lee Katzin

"...A really remarkable man. By all the rules in the book, Torres should have died in that explosion. By all the rules in the book, Torres should have died after each succeeding operation."

A vengeful man who fought during the Civil War returns to wreak revenge on his unit that left him for dead after a massive explosion. One of the men is President Grant. Jim and Arte investigate the series of murders that are soon linked to Colonel Torres, an exceptionally intelligent madman with over half his body made up of metal. He plots to use both his hypnotic powers as well as remote controlled rockets to assassinate the US President.

This was the very first episode of WWW I ever saw and instantly made me a fan. The first part of the show rests firmly in the realm of horror, but by the midway point, it switches over to an intrigue-revenge tale. There's some great atmosphere in the first portion of the show. West's first meeting with the brutish Torres occurs right at the beginning as Torres snaps the neck of one of his victims. Jim fires all his rounds at him (including one directly into his forehead!) with some of the shots peeling away his skin revealing metal underneath.

The gadgets include a lock pick hidden within Jim's lapel and a remote controlled pair of rockets devised by Torres to kill both the President and Jim West. This results in one of the most tense sequences in the episode where Jim must try and deter the rockets using his balance while hanging from the ceiling. He manages to direct both rockets towards him (by swinging and kicking the controls--one rocket for him, the other for the President) and evades death by using his agility. Arte figures into the climax by disguising himself as the President.

John Dehner plays Torres with a cold, gleefully detached fervor. The make up effects are extraordinary and extend to his voice which sounds garbled due to the number of operations he has undergone. Dehner is a familiar face on dozens of television shows such as THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW among them.

Director Lee Katzin was no stranger to great shows and 'B' movies including a literal bee movie entitled TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (1978; a sequel to the superior THE SAVAGE BEES from 1976) about killer bees who menace people trapped on a bus. Katzin also helmed the late entry Post Apocalyptic movie WORLD GONE WILD (1988) starring Bruce Dern and his decapitating hubcaps taking on cannibals and a religious fanatic villain played by Adam Ant.

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