Machete Review

Machete is a 2010 action exploitation B-movie homage, co-written, produced, and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis. This movie is Danny Trejo’s first (and, let’s be honest, probably last) starring role, and has an all star-cast including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan  Rose McGowan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, and Don Johnson.

 

Plot

 

We are introduced to Mexican Federale Machete, who is on a mission to rescue a kidnapped girl in Mexico. During the rescue attempt, he runs into a corrupt Chief as well as the powerful drug lord, Rogelio Torrez (played by Steven Seagal), who do their best to dispatch our hero. Three years later, Machete aimlessly roams Texas as an illegal immigrant, until businessman Michael Booth hires him to assassinate the corrupt Senator McLaughlin (played by Robert De Niro ) who holds a hard stance on illegal immigration for $150,000. Aided by Mexican illegal immigrant advocate Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and hampered by the likes of immigration officer Sartana Rivera (played by Jessica Alba) wackiness ensues.......

 

Review

 

In 2007, Rodriguez released Planet Terror alongside Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof which together made Grindhouse: a double-billed 70’s style exploitation film. The film was released in America on the Thanksgiving weekend and bombed as a result. The two movies were then split and released to the overseas DVD market, which did not help the films at all.

 

Whereas Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof  was more akin to the exploitation films of old in regard to script style and themes, Rodriguez simply threw in a zombie film he was working on at the time and labelled it Planet Terror. What the movie lacked in 70’s exploitation beats, it made up for in style: the colour turns red in anticipation of violence, the film jumps with action hits, such as punches and kicks, and there is even a missing reel between acts 2 and the final confrontation. Rodriguez  even went so far as to drive the film stock around his studio car park to get authentic scratches on the frames!

 

Of note is that Grindhouse  showcased many fake trailers influenced by exploitation films, such as sexploitation movie Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, the slasher Thanksgiving, Hobo with a Shotgun and, of course, exploitation movie Machete, which follows a Mexican federale who gets hired to do a hatchet job for the U.S. government for relatively low pay. The trailer’s plot alone was more in line with the exploitation movie that Rodriguez was attempting to emulate at the time, with themes of prejudice, racism, and Mexican US politics thrown into the mix. The relationship between illegal Mexican immigrants within the US is a staple of Spaghetti westerns and of Robert Rodriguiez’s earlier Mariachi Trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, Once upon a Time in Mexico which were influenced by Chinese action films Hard Boiled and The Killer), where Rodriguez reportedly got the idea for Machete in the first place.

 

The movie starts off surprisingly strong with a ludicrous rescue mission gone awry. All of the Planet Terror’s B-Movie visual film tricks are here; cut frames, scratches and dodgy colouring, blended with messy ultra violence and contemporary technology. This leads up to a fantastic, highly stylised credit sequence. Soon however, the style is brought down to contemporary digital film. The plot starts to waiver as more and more screen time is given to the villains of the piece, concentrating on the villains inter-relationships, their family and even their personal security. The plot also gets convoluted, as if  Rodriguez was repeating his mistakes made on Once upon a Time in Mexico. It is fun to see Machete when he is on screen, carving up the bad guys, but it is too little at this point. The film’s climax is too messily filmed and chaotic to appreciate and falls flat when compared to the fantastic introduction.

 

Of note however is Michelle Rodriguez phoenix-rising at film’s end; mustering up images of SS exploitation films and the work of Russ Meyer. Paradoxically, it is good to see Jessica Alba being given a strong character to play, even though her rousing speech at the movie’s climax is a bit of a stretch. In regards to Lindsay Lohan's first performance since her fall from grace.....meh. 

 

Rating

 

If Machete kept to its B-movie roots already set in the Grindhouse trailer, and just kept the energy and style of its opening, the movie would have been a no-brainer hit. As it is, it is a good bookend to Planet Terror.

 

2.5 out of 5 machetes

 

Check out the trailer, see what Margaret and David have to say and check out their interview with director Robert Rodriguez!

Luke McWilliams November 2010

Lost Boys The Thirst Review

Lost Boys: The Thirst is a 2010 horror film directed by Dario Piana.

Plot

We are quickly reintroduced to Edgar (played by Corey Feldman ) and Alan Frog (played by Jamison Newlander ) who interrupt a vampire from killing a Congressman. During the chaos however, Alan becomes infected with the Vampire virus.

Five years pass, and we find Edgar in San Cazador, California, facing eviction from his trailer. With no money and no surviving friends to help him out, romantic vampire novelist Gwen Lieber offers Edgar a job for a large sum of money and all the weaponry he wants: find her brother Peter who was kidnapped during a rave in Ibiza, Spain, where DJ X has been handing out a drug called “The Thirst”. From here on in, Vampiric wackiness ensues……………..

Review

The first Lost Boys directed by Joel Schumacher was a surprise 80’s classic, starting the careers of the Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, who, as the Corey’s made a slew of movies together afterwards. It was the first successful horror movie to make the allegory between being a teenager and being a vampire: you never have to grow up, never get old and you can stay out all night and sleep all day – a perfect marriage of immortality and power. Like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, these vampires never grew up, never accepted responsibility for their actions, but still yearned for a family and parental figures.

The design of the vampires has been replicated in every main-stream interpretation of a Vampire since, which you can see notably in Buffy, Angel and Tru Blood.

The Lost Boys sequel, the Tribe changed the location of the movie and made the main vampire clan surfers, repeating the original movie’s beats, without any fun to be had at all. The Thirst goes a little bit further by enhancing the main strengths of The Tribe: specifically Corey Fieldman’s Edgar Frog. A little bit of back-story from the Tribe introduced the notion that one of the Frog Brothers had become a Vampire, and that Corey Haim’s character is turning into one. Of course, due to Corey Haim’s untimely demise, he does not make an appearance in the Thirst apart from flash-back scenes to the original movie that pays tribute to him.

The Thirst is enjoyable if you are a fan of Corey Fieldman. It makes a passing remark to a generation of ravers being 'lost boys' but here is where the allegory begins and ends. This is a fun actioner, aimed at dispatching vamps with cool, albeit cheap, weapons, and not much more. It is unfortunately low budget, however the action sequences and special effects, especially when the Vamps reach their demise, really aren’t that bad, and, when compared to the Tribe, the acting and emotional beats are quite well done. Corey’s grunts and the movie’s humour does elicit laughs.

Rating

That all being said, a good episode of Tru-Blood, Buffy or Angel would beat this hands down. This is for nostalgia fans only, which, I guess, includes Corey Feldman fans.

2.5 fangs out of 5.

 

Check out the trailer and see what Rotten Tomatoes has to say!

Luke McWilliams November 2010

The Social Network Review

The Social Network is a drama directed by Fight Club’s David Fincher based on Ben Mezrich's novel The Accidental Billionaires.

 

Plot

We are introduced to Mark Zuckerberg (played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg) a Harvard University student. After having his heart broken by his girlfriend Erica Albright (played by Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara), Mark ventures back to his dorm room to get drunk, blog about his recent experience and to also create a website with an algorithm provided by his friend Eduardo Saverin (the new Spiderman Andrew Garfield) to rate the attractiveness of female Harvard undergraduates, as you do. The website becomes so popular that the Harvard server crashes.

 

Mark is punished with six months of academic probation as a result and is hated by the female population of Harvard. However his recent notoriety captures the attention of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Batman hopeful Armie Hammer), and their business partner. Mark accepts a job as the programmer of their website, Harvard Connection. Soon however, Mark develops his own ideas and plans to upgrade ‘FaceMash’ to an internet social networking site called The FaceBook, where wackiness ensues………………………

 

Review

 

Hollywood has a tradition of making rags to riches stories which detail the destructiveness the journey to materialistic success can have on individuals and their relationships. Perhaps this may be due to mass-audiences appreciating this type of story to reinstate a general fear of success: I’m glad I’m not a great success as bad things will happen.

 

It is this quality of focus, determination and low status that draws people to Mark. However, in his drive to connect the world through online social networking, these same qualities, along with his distrustful nature, coldness and social awkwardness are also what drives people away.

 

 All the characters in the movie are well rounded. Nobody is simply a hero or villain. We see all parties’ points of view equally represented, and can fully empathies with them; from Mark’s girlfriend, to his close friends and even business rivals. Justin Timberlake’s superficial and showy Napster Co-founder Sean Parker is still charismatic and fun, and the twins could easily have been painted as 1 dimensional silver-spoon snootie evil-doers. Instead, their empathy and doubts in their own legal and moral stance adds to the overall texture of this fascinating character study. It is for this reason we are glued to the screen, instead of throwing our hands up and exclaiming; “you all deserve each other” like most audiences to a civil legal dispute.

 

The film looks fantastic. Like the original Twilight movie, the everyday student life is not sexed-up to look like a modern-day school-based drama TV show. Rather we are locked into the mid-noighties in Harvard. The film looks dark and has an ambience that could be described as thrilleresque, aiding the coldness and detachment the protagonist experiences. Apparently depth of field overuse is the new lens-flare, but this assists in the representation of Mark being kept at an arm’s length from his surroundings and the people around him. 

 

 David Fincher has a very unique style of film and film-making. He is a genius of camera use (Panic Room’s sweeping camera through rooms and walls, giving audiences a visceral layout of the land), setting (Se7en’s atmosphere of an eroding city in moral decay), style (Fight Club’s neo-noir look: pumped up colours set in dark and grim surrounds) and themes (male relationships throughout his films, including Zodiac and heck! Even Alien 3!). They are all at play in this movie, albeit in an extremely underrated and restrained level. This may be a mark of a matured director, confident that he does not have to make such things front and centre, but having them in the background regardless, holding the movie together as a whole waiting to be appreciated by the observant movie-goer or to those willing to give it repeat viewings.

 

The movie does subtley reflect on the past decade. In the wake of September 11, the public were treated to a swath of fantasy films (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) or military propaganda movies (Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines). In the wake of the war against terror, which could strike anywhere at any-time, we retreated into our own lives with the use of the new iPod, whose marketing told us to play our own soundtracks to our lives. Little-by-little the public started to communicate again, albeit through the relatively ‘safe’ use of internet social networking sites, most notably Facebook, where one could have control over their chosen / perceived identities and over those who could view them. Of course, a whole generation was raised into this environment who took it as second nature: becoming ‘connected’ through electronic communication devices that intrinsically hold barriers.    

 

The movie deals with these themes of social isolation by weaving them through scenes showing social networking sites, legal proceedings and parties. It is quite sad to see that the founder of Facebook had to create the world’s biggest party just to get an invite.

 

Rating

 

Apart from a visually jarring (but still enjoyable) rowing sequence, this movie is a great collaboration of film technique, script, acting and music. A work from a matured director who keeps on learning as he goes – 5 out of 5 friends.

 

Check out the trailer, see what Margaret and David have to say and check out their interview with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin!

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010

How to Train Your Dragon review

How to Train Your Dragon is a Dreamworks Animation fantasy movie based on the book of the same name. The movie is DreamWorks Animation's fifth most successful film behind the Shrek film series.

 

Plot

 

We are immediately introduced to the Viking island of Berk and its inhabitants, including the Viking chief (voiced by Gerard Butler) and his awkard son named Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel), during a siege by dragons that raid the villagers animal stock.

 

Hiccup is desperate to win his Father’s approval and the acceptance of the village, by attempting to become a dragon slayer like most other villagers his age. Hiccup soon captures a Night Fury, a rare and greatly feared dragon that has never been seen before. However, Hiccup finds that he cannot go through with the deed of dispatching the dragon. Risking the wrath from his father and the rejection of the village, Hiccup chooses instead to train his dragon in secret, where wackiness ensues…………..

 

Review

 

The best thing about Dreamworks Animation pictures are their adult oriented storylines. This doubles the movie’s audience while also allowing viewers to see as much, or as little as they want. Opposed to the usual sickly sweet and simplistic Disney films of old, Dreamworks Animation have offered movies with layered mature themes, reaching their audience through the use of metaphor. Shrek served as a fantastic metaphor for the commercialization of fairy tales to the detriment of quality, whilst also delving into themes of prejudice and honest love.

 

How to Train Your Dragon holds host to themes of destiny, self-confidence, father issues, empathy for your enemy and surprisingly, people dealing with disabilities.

Hiccup’s hero’s journey is given a bit of a jolt as he is trying to live up to his father’s expectations in their island village, turning instead to a discovery of self. Nature overcomes nurture and Hiccup finds his greatest failure, in not being able to kill a dragon, give rise to his inherent strength: his ability to train them instead. The qualities he sees in himself as being negative when compared with others, such as his introverted, sensitive studious habits, actually soon become his tools of his eventual trade.

 

The theme of empathy has been explored recently with Avatar, which drew from the legend of Pocahontas. In  Dragon however, we are treated to the strengths of stylized cartoon imagery. Whereas Avatar boarded on photo-realistic images of a fantastical land, Dragon’s hyper-stylised characters use extremely simple expressions and characteristics to viscerally communicate emotions extremely effectively. This is a lesson the box-office bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within learned and corrected with their release of Final Fantasy: Advent Children. For this reason, I felt more for Hiccup and his Dragon, both in the dramatic and the amazing flying sequences then Jake Scully in Avatar.

 

Rating

 

How to Train Your Dragon is an amazing visual experience. Its style is well selected, the geography well established, the dragon construction and the animation detail is amazing. I would have loved to have seen it in 3D just for the flying sequences alone!

 

Apart from the speedily resolved love interest and the commercial audio-tuned song at film’s end, which also irritated me with the horrible Alice in Wonderland, I actually will be seeing this again. Right up there with the original Shrek, I give this Dragon 4 out of 5 fireballs!

 

Check out the trailer, and see what Margaret and David have to say!

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010

Animal Kingdom Review

Animal Kingdom is a 2010 crime movie debut of David Michod which has won the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie was inspired by the 1988 Walsh Street police shootings. Jackie Weaving has been nominated for an AFI (Australian Film Institute) award for her performance and is tipped for an Oscar for supporting actor!


Plot

We meet seventeen year old Joshua 'J' Cody (played by first time actor James Frecheville), sitting on the couch, watching television next to the body of his mother who has just died from a heroin overdose. Once the paramedics arrive and take her away, Josh reluctantly contacts his grandmother Janine 'Smurf' Cody (played chillingly by Jacki Weaver). Soon Josh is taken into Janine’s Melbourne-based criminal family that consists of her sons: armed robber Andrew "Pope"(played by Ben Mendelsohn), drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (played by Luke Ford). Soon Andrew and his bank robbing partner Barry 'Baz' Brown (played by Joel Edgerton) are grooming young Josh as an apprentice, all the while with Melbourne's Armed Robbery Squad and Homicide Detective Senior Segeant Nathan Leckie (played by Guy Pearce) gunning for Pope and trying its hardest for Josh not to get caught up in this Animal Kingdom..............................


Review

Unlike The Town and other crime-genre films, we are not made privy to any of the bank robberies performed by the lead criminals. The film instead specifically targets its focus on the inner-workings and social hierarchy of a criminal family which is governed by its matriarch.


The acting is fantastic, especially Ben Mendelsohn, who was so wonderful in last year’s Beautiful Kate. The career criminals seem at odds with progressing society, being comfortable doing what they know best: their trade of robbing banks. Their ashen, still faces chillingly hide their emotions like expert poker players. We never feel at ease around them as we have no idea what they are capable of at any given moment. For this reason Guy Pearce’s character is refreshing when he is on screen, as he shines a light of honour and goodness. However he is quickly missed when he is gone!


The film has an air of unease and dread throughout as we empathise with Josh, who is caught right in the middle of his criminal family who are all that he has left, and the police who are tugging at his conscious, appearing to care for his well-being, but maybe only because it suits their immediate needs. Like The Town, we see that the criminal hierarchy is balanced in a way that any disruption caused to it will result in severe consequences as the order is re-established for the kingdom to continue its survival.


Rating

This is a fantastic film that does exactly what it sets out to do. The actors give a tour-de-force in their performances, with special note to Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver, as we have never seen them as these types of characters before. James Frecheville has enjoyed a solid introduction to Australian film, and I hope that his future goes from strength-to-strength from here.


Ultimately, I did not enjoy the film as I found it un-enjoyable. It keeps you anxiously on the edge of your seat, and the tense ambiance is nauseating. Of course this is subjective bias as to what an individual took from a movie, so I highly recommend seeing it, although it is not one to check out on date night.


A very unsettling but strong 3.5 criminal brothers out of 5.

 

Check out what Margaret and David have to say, have a look at an interview, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010

 


The Town Review

The Town is a crime heist drama, co-written and directed by and starring Ben Affleck. It is adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. Affleck’s previous directorial debut was another crime movie set in Boston, Massachusetts, Gone Baby Gone.

Plot

Career criminals Doug MacRay ( played by Ben Affleck), James "Jem" Coughlin (played by the Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner), Albert and Desmond "Dez" Elden are life-long friends from CharlestownBoston Massachusetts. We are introduced to the foursome, seeing them do what they do best as they successfully rob a Cambridge bank. Breaking tradition, Jem decides to kidnap the bank manager (played by Rebecca Hall), which leads to a possible loose end. With the FBI hot on their tail, led by the relentless Agent Adamn Frawley (played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), Doug soon plans to lead a life with the kidnap victim that he is falling for, away from his friends and the town that is so much a part of him, and wackiness ensues.

Review

Ben Affleck seems to be in a career revival. Ben received an Oscar for his writing on Good Will Hunting, and gained rave reviews for his first directorial effort Gone Baby Gone.  Now it seems he is lending his talents at creating a meaty role for himself to really show his acting chops. It is as if Ben has reassessed his career after a few years of box-office bombs ( although he was the bomb in Phantoms) and, like Heath Ledger before him, has deconstructed his acting image back down to its bare bones, starting from scratch from the place it all began, this time under his complete control.

Once again in Boston, Ben builds up his fan base, appealing to the fans that got him started in the first place. Like J-Lo trying to convince us that she is just Jenny-From The Block, Affleck is showing that he is a part of the town that did so much for him. Like Good Will Hunting and  Gone Baby Gone, Ben demonstrates that he understands the culture, history and the relationships bred out of Massachusetts, and that he is proud of them.

Critics are unfairly comparing the Town to Michael Mann’s crime caper Heat, when in fact, the plot elements and characters of both movies are staples of the Crime heist gangster film which has helped form Michael’s career thus far..

During the years between the 1920’s – 1934, movie content was restricted by local laws, negotiations between the Studio Relations Committee and the major studios, and obviously popular opinion. Gangsters in movies during this period like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and Scarface were presented in a much more heroic way. Morally corrupt characters often profited from their deeds, in some cases without any consequence to their actions and drug use was a topic of several films.

In the wake of increasing crime in Hollywood, the American Catholics launched a campaign against what they deemed the immorality of American cinema, which led to The Motion Picture Production Code: a set of industry censorship guidelines that governed the production of US pictures from 1930 to 1968.

The code stipulated that crimes against law shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation. This gave way to movies that demonstrated that ‘Crime Does not Pay’.

The Town goes a long way to establish sympathy for the lead criminal, explaining where he came from and his ties to his past and therefore current geography. He was born into a criminal family and is expected to carry on the mantle left behind by his jailbird father. We understand the repercussions if he chooses to leave, but share his enthusiasm at a chance to leave it all behind.

Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm are perfectly cast in their roles. Both are similar types: tall, good looking, well mannered and well spoken. Like the perfect comic book rivals (both have had a brief flirt with being casted as Superman), they share many similarities but find themselves on opposite sides of the law, each other’s fate intertwined with the other’s. Like Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Public Enemies and Al Pacino, Robert De Niro in Heat however, the law enforcer receives little pity or empathy from the audience, being played as one-dimensional and dogged . This is perhaps due to such a character being a staple of the genre, the inability of the actors playing the law enforcer characters or maybe its from an inbuilt stance of anti-authoritarianism that resides in us all, and the movie is trying to tap into.

Like Robin Hood, stealing back the villagers’ taxes from a corrupt kingdom, Ben and his merry men knock off banks, telling its employers not to worry as they are insured against it. The Boston setting uses its Irish roots to bolster the underdog that we ultimately cheer for, even against the almost unbearable weight of fatalistic doom that follows the movie throughout as we all know that this cannot end well.

Rating

The Town is a very enjoyable, entertaining experience. The genre is well trodden but this movie hits its beats. The action is intense and surprisingly realistic, set around a story that holds all of its characters in a delicate house of cards. The ending does seem overlong, going too far to completely wrap up the story and its various characters, including the neighbourhood itself. That being said, The Town is another feather in Ben’s renaissance hat, and I look forward to what he does next: 4 banks out of 5

See what Rotten Tomatoes have to say, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams November 2010