Robert Rodriguez, co-director of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, has assembled an impressive cast of marquee names for the long awaited followup to 2005’s Sin City.
Actors like Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis are returning from the first instalment, while newcomers to the series include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green and Josh Brolin.
Rodriguez welcomes back another name, Lady Gaga, who he first cast in Machete Kills.
“When I asked if she was interested in acting she said, ‘I studied acting and I always wanted to be in one of your movies because of the theatricality and the showmanship.”
When she finished shooting her role of a deadly assassin in Machete Kills, Rodriguez tweeted, “Holy Smokes. Blown away!” and promptly cast the singer in A Dame to Kill For.
For years, directors have looked to musicians to bring their natural charisma to the screen. Perhaps no one more than Nicolas Roeg has explored the potential for rock stars to become movie stars. “They have,” he said, “a greater ability to light up the screen than actors.”
In 1970 Roeg and co-director Donald Cammell made the psychedelic crime drama Performance, starring Mick Jagger in his first on screen role. The Rolling Stone played the mysterious Mr. Turner, a jaded former rock star who gives shelter to a violent East London gangster (James Fox). In 2009 Film Comment declared Mick Jagger’s Turner the best performance by a musician in a movie.
Next came The Man Who Fell to Earth, an existential sci-fi film about an extraterrestrial named Thomas Jerome Newton, starring a perfectly cast David Bowie in his feature film debut. Roeg says he “really came to believe that Bowie was a man who had come to Earth from another galaxy. His actual social behavior was extraordinary. He seemed to be alone — which is what Newton is in the film — isolated and alone.”
Finally, Bad Timing was advertised as a “terrifying love story” and called “a sick film made by sick people for sick people” by its own distributor. Art Garfunkel, of 60s folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, stars as a psychology professor living in Vienna whose sadistic relationship with a pill addicted woman (Theresa Russell) ends with a battle for her life. The sexually explicit film was difficult for the actors, and at one point Garfunkel even wanted out. Over martinis Roeg told his nervous actor, “I must ask you to trust that I know where I’m going. It’s a maze, but there is an end to it.’”
Garfunkel stayed on, delivering a performance that the New York Times called “very credible.”
In “Machete Kills,” the further adventures of Robert Rodriguez’s titular vengeance seeking ex-Mexican federale, the director comes up with new ways to cut a person in half. For the first time (in my memory anyway) a human being is bisected down the middle from cranium to crotch.
Unfortunately it’s the only new idea in a movie that slavishly pays tribute to el cheapo grindhouse flicks.
Danny Trejo is back and badder-than-ever as Machete. The man with the deadly machete is on the biggest caper of his career. Recruited by the President of the United States (Carlos Estevez)—with the lure of a green card—his mission is to find Marcos “the Madman” Mendes (Demian Bichir), a mentally unstable man turned terrorist who lives in an Aztec ruin along with a private army and a rocket aimed at Washington. “You know Mexico,” POTUS says to our hero. “Hell, you are Mexico!”
The trail to Mendes is littered with colourful characters, including a “man eating” madame (Sofía Vergara), a mysterious bounty hunter called El Cameleón (no spoilers here!) and billionaire arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson).
“Machete Kills” echoes the arch performances, over-the-top violence and cheeseball dialogue off the grainy old grindhouse movies that inspired Rodriguez in the first place. He nails the look and feel of those not-so-classic films—although he relies a bit too heavily on computer-generated gore over good old-fashioned special effects—but this time out he misses the spirit that made them great. I guess it’s harder to make a good bad movie than I thought.
It starts strong with a wild action sequence jammed with spraying splatter and gory gags. Stretch that out to a tight eighty-five minutes and “Machete Kills” would have been a fun guilty pleasure Saturday afternoon matinee. At one-hour-and-forty-five minutes, however, it feels drawn out, filled with scenes that seem to exist only to wedge another celebrity cameo into the story.
Trejo oozes grindhouse cool, but the movie itself commits an exploitation film sin—it’s dull. Scenes lumber along, blandly bereft of wit. Worse, the kitsch value that made “Grindhouse” and the first “Machete” movie so much fun is almost completely absent.
The movie begins with a grainy fake trailer for “Machete Kills Again… In Space,” the proposed third part of the saga. It’s a campy throwback to a simpler time and it’s a bit of fun. But at 2 minutes it also hammers home the point that a little Machete goes a long way.
To understand the wild new movie from co-directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez first you have to understand the premise. They have made a good old-fashioned exploitation movie double bill, complete with scratchy film and missing reels. They’ve recreated the grind house experience for an audience that may be too young to remember the days before multi-plexes dotted the landscape and people went to local theatres where movies were two for the price of one.
What is a grind house you ask? You may have been in a grindhouse theatre and not even known it.
If the ushers in the theatre carried a flashlight in one hand and a two by four (known as the “peacekeeper”) in the other, chances are, you were in a grind house.
If they played Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in July, that’s a grind house.
If there were gaps in the story, or if the reels were out of order, you were in a grind house.
Most of those seedy theatres are gone now, but you can relive the experience in the new film Grindhouse, a double feature of two new films aged to look like classic exploitation fare, complete with coming attraction trailers. The only thing missing is the usher with the two by four.
The first film, Planet Terror is Robert Rodriguez’s riff on the zombie genre. Set in a small, dark Texas town on the edge of nowhere the story begins when a toxic bio-chemical weapon that turns God-fearing citizens into flesh-starved zombies is unleashed on the public. The fate of the world rests in the hands of band of vigilantes led by a plucky Go-Go dancer named Cherry (Rose McGowan) and her mysterious companion, and former boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez).
Director Rodriguez kicks out the jams, layering one over-the-top exploitation cliché over another. Where else would you see a one legged Go-Go dancer with a machine gun prosthetic who uses stripper moves to avoid getting shot? McGown plays Cherry as the ultimate b-movie babe—beautiful, dangerous and just slightly silly (although you wouldn’t tell her that, she’d likely blow you into a million pieces). With her is Wray, the enigmatic hero, whose back-story is cleverly omitted because of a missing reel. Together they battle creatures that resemble past their expiration date versions of The Toxic Avenger. It’s gooey, ghastly and gross and darkly funny.
Between the first and second features are trailers for make-believe movies. Splat Pack directors Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright contribute funny and outrageous promos for Werewolf Women of the SS and Don’t! respectively. Eli Roth contributes a third twisted trailer that is exactly what you would expect from the warped mind that gave us movies like Hostel and Cabin Fever.
Filling out the bottom of the bill is Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the killer car movies of the 1970s, Death Proof. Kurt Russell dusts off his badass image, retired after making a string of movies like Escape from LA, to play Stuntman Mike, a psychopath with a 1972 Chevy Nova. The stuntman’s MO is simple; he befriends and stalks women before using his car to commit vehicular murder. When he targets a couple of female stunt drivers, however, he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
Tarantino’s film is the more textured of the two. Whereas Rodriguez’s film takes off like a rocket, Death Proof takes its time. Like its Austin locale, the movie is laid back and just a little quirky. We meet radio DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her friends who are chillin’ out, getting high and making girl talk. When Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) agrees to give Stuntman Mike a lap-dance, she inadvertently seals the fate of her and her friends.
From there Mike turns his attention to four gal pals who are working on a nearby movie set. They literally give him a run for his money in one of the most exciting car chases in recent memory. The movie’s languid pace evaporates like water in the hot Texas sun as Tarantino skillfully turns Death Proof into an action packed revenge drama.
Despite some star power—Sin City’s Rosario Dawson is the above-the-title name—it’s a relative new comer who steals the movie. Stuntwoman Zoë Bell, who doubled for Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies, plays herself and it is her presence that lends the movie much of its oomph. The realism of her dangerous looking stunts—Tarantino filmed all her dialogue scenes first just in case she was hurt (or worse) during the elaborate car chase scene—kicks the movie up a notch and drew cheers from the audience I saw the movie with.
Planet Terror and Death Proof are both clearly labors of love for the directors. From the insane plots to the faded film stock to the missing reels, they have nailed the look and feel of 70s exploitation flicks. Both directors are smart enough not to take to the mickey out of the movies. The outrageous material is played straight, with the actors and directors taking the story seriously. The result is a certain earnestness in the performances that transcends campiness.
Grindhouse succeeds because it creates an entire atmosphere, whisking the viewer away to a different time and place where ushers carried two-by-fours.
Robert Rodriguez is possibly the most two-faced filmmaker working today. For every one of the movies on his resume like the hard R rated “Sin City” or “Planet Terror” that splatter the screen with blood and guts there is a kid friendly title that the whole family can enjoy. He’s half grindhouse director, half low budget Walt Disney. His new film “Shorts” follows in the same footsteps as his other Saturday matinee movies “Spy Kids” and “Shark Boy and Lava Girl.”
The movie is set in the community of Black Falls, a small company town where everybody works for the same business, the “all-in-one gadget” makers Black Box Industries. When a freak thunderstorm deposits the mysterious Rainbow Rock in the neighborhood, which grants wishes to anyone who finds it, the area transforms from suburban to strange overnight. As the strange rock passes from person to person it becomes clear that you really have to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.
That’s the condensed version. Because the Rainbow Rock throws the town into such chaos, the story is told in a series of nonlinear episodes or shorts. Think of this as “Pulp Fiction” for tots.
There’s a hint of 1960s Saturday matinee charm to “Shorts.” It’s a clearly low budget—Rodriguez famously made his first movie for $7000 and then wrote a book about filmmaking on a shoe string budget—but despite looking like it cost a $1.25 to make, it has a hip action adventure feel that kids should be drawn to. This isn’t slick Disney style kid’s entertainment—I doubt that any of Walt’s movies would feature a character named The Booger Monster—it’s a little more down and dirty than that, a little more like the way kids really think and act.
Coupled with the movie’s anarchic spirit are the usual messages for kids about the dangers of bullying, the advantages of teamwork and saving the environment. Also prominent is the less seen (on screen at least) lesson about not eating boogers.
“Shorts” is an entertaining blast from an inventive filmmaker who seems to understand what kids want to see on screen. I’m not sure that parents will have much interest in the film, but 10 and 11 year olds will likely enjoy.
Robert Rodriguez is putting his extremely profitable kid’s franchise to bed with a 3-D story that is, unfortunately not as multi-dimensional as the name would imply. Three years ago the original Spy Kids seemed like a breath of fresh air, it was a colourful, exuberant affair that burst with inventiveness and humour. The inevitable sequel, 2001’s The Island of Lost Dreams, proved that there is some merit in the theory of diminishing returns, while Game Over confirms that additional incremental input will produce a declining incremental amount of output.
In other words, most sequels suck.
In this instalment older sister Carmen (Alex Vega) is being held hostage in an elaborate virtual reality videogame called Game Over, run by the evil Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Brother Juni, (Daryl Sabara) who has retired from the spy business to concentrate on his career as a private eye must rescue his sister and shut down the game. Once inside the cyberspace monolith he loses his heart to a brave young girl (played by Emily Osment, sister of the Oscar nominated Haley Joel), races giant motorbikes and gives the viewer a headache watching all the swirling action through flimsy red and green 3-D glasses.
Rodriguez may have based the character of the Toymaker on himself. Like the evil genius in the movie, Rodriguez appears to be lost in his own creation, too fascinated by the 3-D technology to concentrate on giving the movie any kind of plot. What little story there is simply kick-starts the action, placing Juni in the game, and thus is an excuse to rev up the special effects. Turned loose in cyberspace the film careens through forty mind-numbing minutes of Super Mario Brothers quality graphics that flip and fly through the air, and even though things appear to literally jump off the screen, Spy Kids 3-D is flat.
Spy Kids 3-D has everything the first two instalments didn’t have from cardboard characters, to headache inducing special effects all the way down to bland dialogue.
The film is packed with several “don’t blink or you’ll miss ‘em” celebrity cameos. Rodriguez pal George Clooney provides one of the film’s few legitimate laughs (Spoiler Warning!) with his subtle Sylvester Stallone impression, while Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood, Bill Paxton and Salma Hayek check in, but aren’t given much to do. Only Ricardo Montalban as the wheelchair bound grandfather seems to relish his role. Once inside the game he hams it up, trading in his chair for an animated metal superhero costume. He’s entertaining to watch because he seems to be having so much fun with the silly material. He even sneaks in a joke about “fine Corinthian leather.” It’s a line that the kids won’t get, but anyone over the age of thirty will recognize from his years as the spokesperson for Chrysler.
Montalban brings some joyfulness to the movie, and so does Stallone, it’s just a different kind of joy. It’s the kind of mean-spirited delight that comes from watching a formerly popular actor completely embarrass himself onscreen. Displaying an emotional depth that ranges from Rocky to Rambo, Stallone plays the evil Toymaker and three of his alter-egos, a nerdy scientist, a burn-out hippie and a war mongering general. The last time I heard such “hilarious” accents I was at my nine-year-old nephew’s school play.
Once Rodriguez moves the action out of the videogame the film takes on a warmer, more familiar tone, but it is too little too late. One hopes that the movie’s name is prophetic, and it really is game over for the Spy Kids franchise.
This is a family film in the truest sense of the word, directed by Robert Rodriguez, produced by his wife and conceived/co-written by his eight-year-old son Racer Max. I liked this movie—even though I think anyone over the age of 12 will find the 3-D glasses more annoying than cool—and think that kids aged 10 – 14 will too. It is based on dreams and has a surreal feel, as if Salvador Dali’s kid imagined the visuals, but also has a pretty good adventure story and a moral of sorts. I’m not sure that kids will get the existential jokes—like the Train of Thought etc—but certainly the parents will. The gimmick is the 3-D which Rodriguez doesn’t use as liberally as he did in Spy Kids 3-D. It is mostly giant fingers which seem to come off the screen to point at you, and weird liquids that appear to fly through the air. I could have used less 3-D and David Arquette and more of George Lopez’s fun portrayal of Mr. Electricity.
If you liked the first Spy Kids movie, I think you’ll enjoy The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D.