Film Review: Machete Kills (2013)

Release Date: September 19th, 2013 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez, Kyle Ward
Music by: Carl Thiel
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Tom Savini, Elon Musk, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

Quick Draw Productions, Troublemaker Studios, Open Road Films, 108 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2013.

“Machete don’t tweet.” – Machete

I was a big fan of Machete when it came out. It kept alive the modern revival of grindhouse cinema, which was reintroduced to the world a few years back by the films Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s own Planet Terror. Both films were released together as a double bill feature called Grindhouse. Between the two films, there were a series of faux trailers for other grindhouse pictures. One of those was for a film named Machete. The fake trailer was so popular that Rodriguez decided to make the film. Once that was successful, he decided to make this film. There is also a third planned.

Machete Kills doesn’t hold a candle to the first Machete film. Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable and had some awesome moments but it was lacking in energy and in scope. It felt smaller and more linear, whereas the original film was a wild ride taking many different unexpected turns. This film went from point A to point B and then introduced us to a point C. Had it not been for the awesome performance by Mel Gibson as the main antagonist of this film, it would’ve fallen much flatter than it did.

The cinematic style of this movie, mirrored the first and for the most part, stayed somewhat true to the grindhouse vibe. The problem I have with these modern grindhouse films though, is the use of CGI effects. I get that it is more affordable and that these films have a tight budget but the whole essence of grindhouse films is over-the-top violence and action and often times gore. In the old grindhouse days, they had to find ways to pull this off with very limited resources. Part of what made those movies so effective and respectable, was the ingenuity of the filmmakers. This film, like its predecessor really lacks in this area. It takes the easy road and frankly, I expected more from Robert Rodriguez.

I do love that Danny Trejo finally has a starring vehicle though and I do look forward to the next sequel. I could watch new installments of Machete for years to come. He’s a great character and at the end of the day, despite the few issues mentioned above, these films exceed the standard blockbuster action fare that Hollywood keeps pumping out at $300+ million dollar price tags.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Release Date: May 4th, 2017 (Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir, Guy Pearce, James Franco

Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 123 Minutes

Review:

“One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.” – Walter

Well, Alien: Covenant finally came out. We’re eight Alien movies deep into the franchise now, if you count the two Alien v. Predator movies (which you actually shouldn’t). Also, this one is a direct sequel to Prometheus and part of the prequel series of films leading up to the original Alien. This is also the third of these films directed by the man behind the franchise, Ridley Scott.

I generally disliked the first prequel, Prometheus, as it made the whole Alien mythos more confusing. Well, Alien: Covenant does more of the same in an attempt to connect some of the unconnected dots after Prometheus shook the snow globe to hell.

The problem with Alien: Covenant is that it shakes the snow globe even more. I’ve really just gotten to the point where I’m kind of dismissing a lot of the plot details in an effort to not let these films take anything away from the near masterpiece of the original Alien.

One thing is clear though, despite Ridley Scott saying he had a big plan for how all of these films lead to Alien, the people behind these movies are just making stuff up on the fly. There doesn’t seem to be a real plan, it’s sort of like, “Well, we’ve done this, so now how do we get from here to there?” I guess we won’t know for sure until the next film comes out but I can’t see how this is all going to magically come together and make a lick of sense. While I’m not a fan of having to over explain a movie, these films have painted themselves into a corner now and it’s almost necessary to have to spell everything out. Keeping things sort of ambiguous with a few minor reveals, here and there, just makes these films annoying.

Now the acting is top notch and the cast was pretty impressive. I was especially impressed with how good Danny McBride was in a serious role. I hope this opens some more doors for him. I also liked seeing Demián Bichir, as he is starting to get a lot more work and always brings some gravitas and style to a film. Katherine Waterson was a sort of proto-Ripley the same way that Noomi Rapace was in Prometheus but she doesn’t bring it like Rapace did. She’s okay but she’s not the good character that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw was or the great, great one that Ellen Ripley was.

The effects were a mixed bag. Everything was solid until the final third of the film. The battle on the crane ship was kind of hokey and the CGI was clunky in parts. It was almost comically bad and really ruined the tone of the film. Also, McBride is the pilot. He has one job and he really sucked at it. But at least we got a real alien xenomorph in the sequence.

One scene that worked really well though, was when our marooned heroes had to battle the albino xenomorphs in the grass field. It reminded me of that awesome velociraptor grassland scene from The Lost World where you see people running and raptor tails perking up above the tall grass as they stealthily pick people off.

Also, the scene where the android David is face-to-face with the tall albino xenomorph was really cool until Billy Crudup screwed it up. I wanted to see David communicate with the creature and to see where that was going to go, as he sees these homicidal beasts as his children.

Ultimately, Alien: Covenant isn’t the worst of the three Alien films directed by Scott, that goes to Prometheus. This is not a bad film but it doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose. It advances David’s story beyond Prometheus but nothing about his character or his motivations is surprising. The big twist involving him at the end is not shocking and it was actually anticipated.

Alien: Covenant is really a dud. I’d much rather see them make the Neill Blomkamp proposed Alien movie that features Ellen Ripley and Cpl. Hicks.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Prometheus

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Release Date: December 7th, 2015 (Cinerama Dome premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum

Double Feature Films, FilmColony, The Weinstein Company, 187 Minutes (special roadshow version), 168 Minutes (general theatrical)

the_hateful_eightReview:

The Hateful Eight is a mixed bag of good and bad.

To start, the story is pretty well constructed and executed. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns. You are never really sure of who you can and cannot trust. In most films these days, the mystery is either destroyed by something obvious or it is a completely disappointing curveball. That isn’t the case with The Hateful Eight. It is a perfectly woven tapestry from a narrative standpoint.

The score to the film was done by Ennio Morricone, my favorite film composer. It was nice hearing Morricone provide original material, as opposed to Tarantino ripping it off from other films, as has been his modus operandi for years. The original compositions were very well done although the musical tone of the film was ruined by the inclusion of a song by The White Stripes. But that’s Tarantino; he has to constantly remind us about how hip and edgy he is – even if it feels overly contrived and redundant due to being a recycled element within his filmmaking style.

Visually, the film is stunning. The landscapes are amazing and the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the majority of the film takes place, provides a visceral feeling of inviting warmth and horrific dread. The Haberdashery, in it’s own way, becomes a character within the film – if not, the main character.

The acting is superb but the picture has a great cast. Kurt Russell, Samuel Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and the others all pull their weight and add to the narrative in a powerful way. Walton Goggins was the best part about this movie but when isn’t he a scene stealer?

As far as the negatives, the film has a few moments where it just goes too far off the rails. Tarantino likes to go over the top here or there but sometimes, it feels out of place and becomes more of a distraction than anything else. There is a scene of characters violently puking a lot of blood. It is almost Evil Dead comical in its execution, as opposed to being horrifying. Maybe Tarantino wanted it to be comedic but it is out of place, unnecessary and pulls you out of the movie.

Additionally, there is a scene where two gunshots completely blow a guy’s face off. I get it though, he wants that Kill Bill vol. 1 moment where the chick’s arm got cut off and sprayed a geyser of blood. But that worked in that film, it doesn’t work so much in this one. But Tarantino will recycle certain elements of his style even to his detriment.

A couple of years ago, we got Tarantino’s other western Django Unchained. That film dealt with racism in America after the Civil War. Well, this film, in many ways, was a rehash of those issues he just tackled two years prior. Combine that with the fact that issues of race seem to be at the center of nearly every Tarantino film and by this one, his 8th film, it has been done to death. I can’t be the only person rolling their eyes at how many times Tarantino forces “nigger” into a script.

Django Unchained was so over the top and is so fresh in people’s minds still, that the use of the n-word just becomes insanely gratuitous in The Hateful Eight. But Tarantino has to remind us that he’s edgy and he’s the white voice for black people because he’s buddies with Sam Jackson and Pam Grier.

But seriously, he uses the word “nigger” more than the old school blaxploitation films he heavily borrows from. Hell, he uses it more than an N.W.A. record. And I don’t have any problem with it whatsoever when it is part of the narrative, but when it happens so often that it doesn’t even feel organic in a conversation, it becomes cringe worthy. With the absurd frequency of its use, it makes someone have to wonder what the point is, as I am doing now. But that Tarantino, he’s so edgy. But this isn’t the 90s anymore and everything doesn’t need to be done to the extreme just because it can be.

As is also customary with Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight is really long. It is too long. But fitting to his style pattern, we are given very lengthy dialogues throughout the three hour running time. Sometimes, it becomes exhausting. But it isn’t as bad as it was in Tarantino’s Death Proof. And it isn’t as drawn out as Inglourious Basterds, which was a great movie but felt like it was only three one-hour scenes.

The Hateful Eight is worth watching for the story itself. But be prepared to sit through a beast in running time. While I don’t have a problem sitting through 180 minute films, they had better be as good as a Sergio Leone epic. This is nowhere near that level of perfection but then again, not a lot of films are. And as much as Tarantino is trying to tap into his inner Sergio Leone, he can never be Leone.