MACHETE: The Film Babble Blog Review

MACHETE (Dir. Robert Rodriquez, 2010)

One of the most successful elements in Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino’s little seen double feature GRINDHOUSE was a smattering of fake trailers. They were funny and totally authentic recreations of ‘70s drive-in fare with the titles “Don’t!”, “Werewolf Women Of The SS”, “Thanksgiving”, “Hobo With A Shotgun” * and “Machete”.

Now MACHETE is a real full length “Mexploitation” film with many of the same actors with re-stagings of shots from the phony trailer. Danny Trejo plays the title role – a crusty ex-Federale badass who is hired by a shady Jeff Fahey to assassinate a corrupt senator (Robert De Niro) running for office on a platform of severe anti-illegal-immigration laws.

Trejo soon finds out that he has been set up and goes on the lam. With the help of Michelle Rodriguez as a taco-truck lady/revolutionary warrior and Jessica Alba as a saucy immigrations officer, Trejo set outs to track down those who did him wrong.

A nice collection of B and C-movie actors like Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Steven Seagal put in nice supporting turns but Lindsay Lohan as Fahey’s air-headed daughter is a really odd choice for this kind of material.

MACHETE boasts enough in-your-face action, explosions, and blood to make THE EXPENDABLES look like ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, but it’s still not that great of a movie.

It seems that Rodriquez (and co-director/co-writer Ethan Maniquis) just can’t give up the GRINDHOUSE. It’s a genre that would be mostly forgotten if wasn’t for film geek film makers like Rodriquez and Tarantino (and in my area – the Triangle in N.C. – if not for the awesome “Cinema Overdrive” series at the Colony Theater in Raleigh), but their new fangled takes on such seedy exploitation don’t really seem to be catching on.

And again this begs the question – what is Lindsey Lohan doing here? She spends half her role nude then she’s dressed as a nun with a gun. None of it does much for the movie so I’m really stumped by her presence.

Some of the material in this movie and its tacky tone is fun at first, especially the opening, but it grew really tiresome as the body count grew bigger. Machete, the character, is just not that interesting. Trejo performs the actions with a stoical grace, but if you take away the slashing mayhem, but there’s nothing really there.

Maybe that’s a strange complaint because the men in the movies that this is a loving tribute to didn’t really have deep personas either. They were dolls thrown around or sliced and diced. They were movies that were all about pure cheap thrills.

At a budget of $20 million MACHETE is not so cheap though it tries to disguise that with fake scratches and bad splices. It should’ve just stayed being a 2 minute fake trailer for a nonexistent bad movie. Now that bad movie exists.

* Next year “Hobo With A Shot Gun” will also get the full length film treatment. Let’s see how that will work out for them.

More later…

BLACK DYNAMITE: The Film Babble Blog Review

BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders, 2009)

There have been blaxploitation parodies before, and also many stylistic throwbacks to 70’s cinema, but nothing like this that looks and feels so much like the original artifact that many will mistake it for the real thing. Authenticity is enhanced throughout with grainy saturated film stock, split screen dynamics, and many funk musical cues (every time our smooth hero walks into a room or shows up suddenly his name is sexily sung by a chorus of female soul singers).

That name is “Black Dynamite” (Michael Jai White who also co-wrote with director Sanders) – a Vietnam vet, Martial arts master, and former member of the CIA who’s “badder than SHAFT, SUPER FLY, and THE MACK put together” just as the trailer promised.

The mysterious death of Black Dynamite’s brother leads him into the underbelly of 1972 Los Angeles, where the ghettos are overrun with smack and Anaconda Malt Liquor, and “The Man” is in control. CIA Agent O’Leary (Kevin Chapman) tells the vengeance fueled fighter : “We heard about your brother’s death and we don’t want you running around turning the streets into rivers of blood.” Black Dynamite responds: “Then tell me who did it and I’ll just leave a puddle!” We know, of course, that just a puddle is out of the question; we’ll know him well by the trail of the dead well before the end of this motion picture. It doesn’t stop there though, in the form of cheap ass animation he even beats up, and it some instances blows up, many of the end credits.

To say anymore about the plot, especially to reveal the severe side effect of Anaconda Malt Liquor or who turns out to be the evil mastermind, would be to spoil the fun, and there’s a lot of fun here, so I’ll leave it at that. I laughed more during this movie than any other film this year. It’s a hilarious homage instead of a savage satire but its dead-on attention to detail never lets up and neither do the non-stop laughs.

The amusing aesthetics of actors’ eyes darting to off screen cue cards, visible boom mikes dropping too low into the shot, and not quite timed right edits are much more effective than the fake scratches and bogus missing reels of the more expensive retro exercise GRINDHOUSE, with the mixing in of period footage effectively matching the newly made material. I think we see the same shot of a car driving of a cliff twice but it really doesn’t matter, or it matters absolutely, in the fast pace free for all flow.

There are few familiar faces in BLACK DYNAMITE, but Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davison, Richard Edson, Nicole Sullivan, and Mike Starr all stand out in gloriously stereotyped roles. With its tons of quotable lines, scores of explosive action set pieces, and more jokes per minute than a dozen of current commercial comedies, this has cult film written all over it. That would be nice for the its future, but the film is in limited release right now so it’d be nicer if it got the packed houses it deserves much sooner. The genre may be mostly forgotten by all but die-hard fans and film buffs, but this hysterical yet sturdy tribute brings blaxploitation back with riotous results and should not be missed.

More later…

Chatting With The Creators Of Cinema Overdrive Part 1 of 4

Next week a new series starts at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh, NC (Yes, this is another local-centric post) entitled “Cinema Overdrive”. As readers should well know, I’ve been a huge fan of the theater’s ongoing series “Cool Classics @ The Colony” which has long provided area movie goers with special showings of 35 Millimeter prints of long loved cult movies like ERASERHEAD, LABYRINTH, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and PURPLE RAIN. “Cinema Overdrive” however, goes much further. As the description on their website says they present “the best in high-octane cult/horror/exploitation/drive-in and forgotten films that are waiting to find an audience.”

The series kicks off next Wednesday (August 12th at 8:00 PM) with DEATH RACE 2000. Future showings will be of SHOGUN ASSASSIN, VICE SQUAD, PIECES, and LADY TERMINATOR (see the picture montage above). I had a cool chat with a couple of the creators (the other being Adam Hulin who I hope to talk to soon) of this exciting new series: Denver Hill and Matt Pennachi. Both are 35 MM film collectors and fellow film fanatics so it was an engrossing conversation I’m anxious to share. In this first part we discuss just what “Cinema Overdrive” is about, what was wrong with the movie GRINDHOUSE, and why everybody should make it out to SHOGUN ASSASSIN in September.

Dan: How did “Cinema Overdrive” come together? What was the impetus for it?

Denver: Well, Matt and I have been friends for a couple of years. We both collect 35 millimeter, and I’ve always been a fan of “Retrofantasma” (Pennachi’s former series at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC). That actually inspired the “Cool Classics” and we had the opportunity, I just said “hey, do you want to try this in Raleigh?”

Matt: Yeah, well one thing I’ll say about “Cinema Overdrive”, there’s other repertory series in the area including “Cool Classics”, but with ours we’re bringing a little danger back to movie going. All the others are kind of safe, this one – the faint of heart may not necessarily need to apply. If you have even the worry that it may not be politically correct enough for you, you shouldn’t buy a ticket. The 70’s weren’t very politically correct.

Denver: But that’s what we want though – we want to challenge. Like with “Cool Classics” it’s like maybe one of your favorite movies but you never saw it in the theater, but with “Cinema Overdrive” it’s probably a movie you’ve never seen before. It maybe offend or shock or just make you go “Oh my God!” you know, but we just want to bring the excitement back.

Matt: I think we have the opportunity because I have enough respect and faith in film fans in the Triangle – I think there’s a lot of really savvy film people in this area.

Dan: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Matt: I mean if your idea of being a real film nerd is having an in depth conversation about Tim Burton, we’re probably not for you. But I mean if you really love…you know, we’re everything that Quentin Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE was supposed to be.

Dan: What did you think of that film? That’s a movie that comes up when I think of the idea behind “Cinema Overdrive”. Was it too much that it was fake “Grindhouse”? I had a friend who said that “if only Tarantino and Rodriquez worked with real Grindhouse budgets”, you know?

Matt: I feel the same way. My major problem was when I first saw it I was like well, it’s relatively entertaining…but my main problem is when I heard it was that it was a 72 million dollar film I was like wouldn’t it have been more interesting if they said we’re going to try to recreate 1974 and put it on a inflation adjusted dollar and that means, okay Jack Hill would’ve made that for $800,000 – inflation adjusted that’s 3.4 million so meaning if we can’t get Kurt Russell and have to make the movie with Ken Wahl from Wiseguy, somebody call up and find Ken Wahl. That would’ve been a more interesting experiment to me. And the thing is, I think particularly with Rodriquez’s segment, he brought the poster to life more than the actual film. There were no “Grindhouse” movies that had people jumping on motorcycles with monstrous town-size explosions – they never could afford it.

Denver: Well, I didn’t like all the fake scratches and fake splices.

Dan: The “missing reels”?

Matt: First of all, the “missing reel” thing is something that never ever existed in a “Grindhouse” cinema. You know why? Because if you were in a shit-hole cinema and there was a reel missing there’s no way on earth they were going to let you know. Never.

Denver: You know, the Triangle is one of the top 5 growing areas in the country. We have people from all of the country moving here so there’s definitely a demand for all these types of movies that we’re showing.

Matt: Even though I don’t make it out because I have kids basically and my wife works in the evening, I love the concept of “Cool Classics”. It’s a lot of movies you know but it’s not fixated to one genre. There might be something mega-famous and safe like LABYRINTH and then there also might be something that’s famous in the sense that a lot of people know what ERASERHEAD is but haven’t necessarily seen it. (To Denver) Oh, Phil Blankenship, I told him about your PURPLE RAIN show, and he said PURPLE RAIN is just a home run ball – we did it out here in LA and it was the same thing. Patton Oswalt came! It’s like I said, ‘I wouldn’t have guessed it’, he was like “I wouldn’t have either but PURPLE RAIN is still huge!

Denver: Yeah, we need to show that one again.

Matt: I’ll be honest I’ve never that movie. I’ve always meant to.

Dan: Last summer was the first time I’d seen it all the way through.

Matt: Did you like it?

Dan: Oh, I liked it a lot. There’s a huge cheese factor to it, but that’s what makes it great. The live sequences at 1st Avenue and the Morris Day whatnot, all of that is crowd pleasing stuff. In fact, not long ago on “Sound Opinions”, you know that show? NPR?

Matt: That’s a great show!

Dan: Yeah, they were doing one of their “album dissections” on “Purple Rain”, because it’s the 25th anniversary. One of them, Jim I think, was saying “You see it once and you don’t ever have to see ‘Purple Rain’ again”, and I was like ‘are you crazy? There’s a high re-watchability factor!

Matt: Maybe they haven’t watched it enough to know that.

Dan: Yeah, that’s the thing I was wondering, have they really re-watched it lately?

Matt: It’s like there’s millions of people that went out and saw KILL BILL: VOL. 2, right? Well at the end there’s that touching scene where the Bride and her daughter watch SHOGUN ASSASSIN. Well, how many people have seen SHOGUN ASSASSIN? If they come here in September we’ll show them SHOGUN ASSASSIN.

Dan: I’ve never seen it. There are so many films, that as a “film guy” I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen.

Matt: Oh my God! That movie is amazing theatrically. It’s just jaw dropping. I feel so ebullient when I run the print. I love this movie.

Denver: We joked about it at first but I think we really are trying to educate people about film.

Matt: It’s not like “Mystery Science 3000”, it’s like going to church. You go to have a social experience but you also go to learn about something that you have great faith in!

Next week: Part 2 of my chat with Denver and Matt. We’ll discuss their premiere showing of DEATH RACE 2000 and go off on more crazy tangents surrounding “Cinema Overdrive” and other obsessive film fodder. Please stay tuned.

More later…

Burning Down The GRINDHOUSE

“I’m shrinking here, because I don’t know those films. Gone With the Wind, I know that one. Victor Fleming was one hell of a director!
– Bob Clark (Dir. the PORKY’S franchise, the BABY GENUISES movies, RHINESTONE and a bunch of other crap except A CHRISTMAS STORY which was actually good) taken from the
GRINDHOUSE filmmaker Summit (LA Weekly 4/4/07) *

Got some reviews of movies in current release plus DVD babble so hey ho let’s go –

GRINDHOUSE (Dir. Robert Rodriquez/Quentin Tarantino 2007) 2 movies in one – that is 2 full-length feature films by 2 notorious directors for the price of one. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it’s fake – don’t get me wrong it really is 2 complete movies but it’s a fake expl
oitation experience with fake trailers, bucket after bucket of fake blood splatters on everything, fake hair, fake dismembered human organs, fake projector noise, fake scratches on the film, fake missing reel announcements, fake fake fake. The only thing that’s not fake is the fun – and there’s lots of it here. Both films take place in the modern day but as if the schlock methods of ‘70’s era sleaze cinema never went away. In the minds of Tarantino and Rodriquez they never did.

After a fake funny as Hell trailer for a Mexican vigilante flick called “Machete” we are presented with Rodriquez’s eco-zombie action-horror spectacle entitled “Planet Terror”. We’ve got Freddy Rodriquez (best known as Federico Diaz on HBO’s SIX FEET UNDER series 2001-2005) as a cocky outlaw gunslinger who outfits his go-go dancer girlfriend Rose McGowan having lost a leg in the first wave of the attack (“a missing leg that’s now missing”) with a machine gun and they join forces with other non-contaminated humans against the hordes of slime covered with giant zit popping zombies. Along the way Bruce Willis and Tarantino himself put in cameos, Josh Brolin appears as a murderous doctor targeting his cheating lesbian wife Marley Shelton, and grisly yet sentimental BBQ chef Jeff Fahey protects an old secret family recipe right to the grave. The action and humor never lag and the breathlessly and purposely crude construction make this one of Rodriquez’s most enjoyable movies. Then come more fake trailers.

The trailers for “Werewolf Women of the SS” (made by Rob Zombie), “Don’t” (by SHAUN OF THE DEAD director Edgar Wright), and “Thanksgiving” (By director/actor Eli Roth) are so authentic looking, so perfect in their exclamations of low-brow glee, and so funny that it occurs to me that maybe the whole movie should have been made of fake trailers. I guess that would have gotten tiresome after a bit. Speaking of tiresome Tarantino’s “Death Proof” has more of a polished sophistication than Rodriquez’s and unfortunately that means a drop-off in fun. Dominated by lengthy dialogue scenes that sound at times like Tarentino lecturing us on his sexual agenda, obscure pop-culture references, and hip-hopisms through the disguise of girl talk. This bit brings the whole GRINDHOUSE down but once it gets rolling it redeems itself roaringly.
As we wind through the non-stop chatting of 2 separate groups of women (including Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, and McGowan again this time as a non-ass kicking blond) we get a leisurely introduction to Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who turns out to be a predatory psychopath – though one not without charms. The 3rd act is car -chase road-rage revenge city with Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the KILL BILL movies) spending a good deal of the action on the hood of a 1970 Dodge Charger hanging on for dear life by a belt latched to the door frame while Stuntman Mike’s death proof muscle car rams and bams up repeatedely up against the side.

Bell, playing herself and amazingly doing all her own stunts with no CGI help, wants to take the car out for a test drive because it’s the same model as the car in the 70’s cult classic VANISHING POINT – a movie that’s referenced to a number of times and that calls out the difference between Rodriquez and Tarantino; not one movie or song title obscure or otherwise is mentioned in “Planet Terror.” “Death Proof” features numerous pop-culture pontifications and it suffers for it. Tarantino appears to be in love with his own dialogue while I and the audience around me were getting antsy. Probably the most apt old-school Hollywood phrase would be “cut to the chase”. Once he does it’s a thrill ride and the audience woke up and even cheered at the end. Even as a low-concept double feature fake-out GRINDHOUSE is awfully awesome, blazingly badass, and most importantly hilarious.

THE HOST (Dir. Joon-ho Bong, 2006) The early reports that posited this Hong Kong monster movie as a mixture of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and JAWS weren’t completely off the mark. Sure that kind of oft-repeated critical shorthand irks me but the clumsy neurotic antics of a family whose youngest is abducted by a bizzare beast – one that was created by discarded lab chemicals in the Han River by an American military officer mind you – does recall at times the best moments and heart of those accessible reference points. River-side snack shop slacker Song Kang-ho aided by his ornery father Byeon Heui-bong and sister Bae Du-na who has a handy flair for archery struggle to save Kanh-ho’s school girl daughter Ko A-sun who spends most of the movie in a sewer with other captured Koreans. The Host which is so named because the tenacled CGI sea creature is the carrier of a deadly virus, drags quite a bit in it’s second half and the action is too often restricted to the dank disgusting gutters or the sterile flourescent lit labs but there is an undeniable heartbeat here. With hope more quirky horror or creature feature genre exercises will follow suit.

And once again by popular demand – some more new release DVD reviews :

MARIE ANTONIETTE (Dir. Sofia Coppola, 2006) Sofia Coppola’s 3rd movie as director reworks the same theme – a young woman coming of age in a unfamiliar almost alien world – this time around the legendary 18th century French queen of the title gets to do the fish out of water honors and to a hip contemporary soundtrack no less (New Order, Sioxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, etc). Kirsten Dunst is adequate (or as Lindsay Lohan would say “adequite”) in the role – she wears the extravagant wardrobe well and has the appropriate glibness down but is more than a little out of her depth. Jason Swartzman as Louis XVI is also questionably cast – he’s Coppola’s cousin and that seems to be the sole reason he’s here. Better with tone and prescence in supporting rolesare Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Steve Coogan, Molly Shannon and Marriane Faithful.

Turning the oft told historical tale into one big glossy rock video is not a deplorable idea – it actually works at times like when a costume banquet-ball is shot like a decadent all night rave – but a sense of narrative drive is severely lacking. Coppola’s technical skill is impressive with a definitive visual flair and confident color scheme – it’s just not as interesting as I’m sure future projects of hers will be.

COLOR ME KUBRICK (Dir. Brian W. Cook, 2006)

“Steven Spielberg has just died and he’s being greeted at the gates of heaven by Gabriel and Gabriel says: ‘God’s really dug a lot of your movies and he wants to make sure you’re comfortable. If there’s anything you need, you come to me, I’m your man.’ And Steven says ‘Well, you know I always wanted to meet Stanley Kubrick, do you think you could arrange that?’ And Gabriel looks at him and says: ‘You know, Steven, of all the things that you could ask for, why would you ask for that? You know that Stanley doesn’t take meetings.’ He says, “well, you said that if there was anything I wanted.’ Gabreil says ‘I’m really sorry. I can’t do that.’ So now he’s showing him around heaven and Steven says to Gabriel: ‘Oh, my God, look over there, that’s Stanley Kubrick. Couldn’t we just stop him and say hello?’ And Gabriel pulls Steven to the side and says, ‘That’s not Stanley Kubrick; that’s God – he just thinks he’s Stanley Kubrick.’”
– Matthew Modine (actor in Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET, 1987)

Alan Conway (aptly named) was an odd British man who for a period in the early 90’s impersonated legendary film director Stanley Kubrick (2001,DR. STRANGELOVE, THE SHINING, and so on). The fact is that he did it for such piddily low degree theviery reasons and was rarely able to get more than the money to but a few drinks is the crux of this particular cinematic biscuit. Portrayed flamboyantly by John Malkovich in COLOUR ME KUBRICK which has the tagline of “A TRUE…ISH STORY” Conway is finally gets his coveted spot-light but one that never shows a good side of him. Every time we start to feel for the increasingly irritating imposter he does or acts in an even worse unforgivable and/or embarrassing manner that swindles our sympathy immediately from us. It’s especially sad when he hoodwinks comedian/singer Lee Pratt (Jim Davidson – who was actually conned by the real Conway as the accompanying making of featurette tells us).

A few Kubrickian touches are thrown in by director Brian W. Cook (who was Kubrick’s assistant director on 3 movies) – an opening scene involving punks coming close to roughing up an elderly high class couple while hunting down Conway for an unpaid bar tab recalls A CLORKWORK ORANGE and Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (better known as “2001 theme”) amusingly accompanies Conway as he carries a garbage bag filled with his dirty clothes to a local dive laundromat. Malkovich is for the most part hilarious as the vodka-swilling tackily dressed shyster who uses a different contrived accent for each of his victums. COLOUR ME KUBRICK is by no means a great must-see film but a good one. Well maybe good…ish.

* This post is dedicated to Bob Clark 1939-2007

More later…