Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Status report and a movie review of Machete

Hey y'all. I'm going to keep this somewhat brief because it's not quite right to be spilling personal business all over the Internets like the contents of a pop can you left on the dryer, but the gist of it is this: My wife's uncle, to whom she was very close, passed away this weekend at the same time one of the students on our speech team lost her father out-of-the-blue. I was set to be incommunicado over the weekend for a vacation, but it quickly became out-of-touch due to mourning. Both Abbie (my wife) and Steph (the girl who lost her dad) are among the brightest, lightest, most wonderful people you ever could meet. Seeing either of them sad hurts like a steel-toed kick to the face, but watching both forced to suffer is downright torture. If you know them, love them extra hard right now. If you don't, send prayers and positive thoughts there way anyway. Either way, please understand if I'm a bit down and short this week.

I have two reviews I could have run with this preamble. One is a somber, serious character sketch that pontificates on death.
The other is Machete. Here's a review of Machete from Justin Senkbile.

Killer Kitsch
Machete takes a stab at immigration reform
Justin Senkbile

Director Robert Rodriguez’s latest film, Machete, is terrible…but I’m guessing you already knew that. Terrible—the right kind of terrible—is what they’re going for, and fans of this sporadic neo-exploitation genre (think Snakes on a Plane and everything Quentin Tarantino has ever done) will likely find their appetites thoroughly satisfied.

Machete (Danny Trejo) used to be the best Federale in Mexico, until his renegade instincts and incorruptible sense of do-goodery put him on the wrong side of powerful drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal). We find him living, undocumented, in Texas, finding odd jobs and the occasional street fight. When he takes up an offer to assassinate the violently anti-immigrant state Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) and things go awry, Machete finds himself again on the wrong side of those in power.

Also present are Jessica Alba as a steely immigration officer and Michelle Rodriguez as a taco truck owner and sometime freedom fighter. Cheech Marin is the most memorable of the cast, playing Machete’s brother, a priest. Lindsay Lohan’s turn as a drug-addled crazy is just as memorable, but only in that it’s so uncomfortable to watch.

Machete began as one of the fake trailers created to run during Grindhouse, 2007’s Rodriguez/Tarantino double-bill experiment. Grindhouse is interesting in that it was immensely fun but only worked in the context of being an “event.” The films themselves (Planet Terror and Death Proof) don’t hold up too well on their own, and such is Machete. Without the Grindhouse atmosphere (fake trailers and assorted vintage ads) it seems particularly silly watching a high-priority, A-grade movie pretend as a B-level cheapie.

Blood, sex, politics and race relations are such things as Machete is made of, and Rodriguez dumbs all ingredients down to such a giddily mindless level that at times it almost feels like you’re watching some new kind of extremely liberated cinema. It’s easy and surprisingly fun to have immigration presented as a totally cut and dry issue, with white, drawling Texans as the villains and a ragtag bunch of down-and-out immigrants on the side of right.

Of course such simplification is wrong, but this sort of dialed-down intellectual approach is an essential part of exploitation cinema; perhaps the reason for the apparently timeless appeal of the genre lies more in the convenience of easy morality than in the sex and violence or even the “so-bad-it’s-good” factor.

Although movies like Machete seem to be, and insist upon, being too goofy to be taken seriously, their mass appeal is reason enough for thoughtful pause. Is Machete brilliantly subversive or just a careless exercise in style? Why can a movie get away with stereotypes and generalizations we’d never tolerate from a TV sitcom or an advertisement?

One thing is for sure: Machete has some fun moments, but not nearly enough to justify its stupidity.

Grade: C-

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