Rewind Review: Machete

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Machete (2010)

Machete is the kind of movie that will leave you smiling ear to ear from beginning to end. The film is absolutely non-stop entertainment, laughs and action and one of the more enjoyable movie experiences you’re likely to have this year. Robert Rodriguez is a director who has two very disparate personas there is his action side and his kid’s film side. It’s kind of hard to compare the two but in terms of straight-up action this is likely his best offering since the cinematic miracle that put him on the map, El Mariachi.

One thing you need to know is that this movie is a grindhouse film from start to finish. There are intentional and digitally rendered scratches on the film in the opening portion, there are outlandish situations, gratuitous nudity and some over-the-top performances all done with a tongue-in-cheek spin to make it all spot on.
This is a film that owes its genesis to Rodriguez’s 2007 collaboration with Quentin Tarantino on the Grindhouse double-feature. In which we first saw a glimpse of Machete in a spoof trailer. Leave it to Robert Rodriguez to have the guts to like his idea enough to bring it to the big screen as a feature and it has been worth the wait.

What helps drive this film along is perhaps the best scoring in a film by Robert Rodriguez since Spy Kids. Robert does not take the task alone this time but has a band assembled referred to as Chingon and the sum is definitely greater than the whole of its parts. It is the toe-tapping overdrive that is needed for such a story.

Machete (2010, Troublemaker Studios)

Not only does this film remain in the grindhouse style from start to finish but it is so through to its bones meaning there will be no attempt at subtlety in conveying its message about immigration policies in this country. It occasionally comes right out and hits you over the head with them, typically in a very funny way but it all fits and makes sense. It is also commendable that as silly and fun as it is most of the time it still manages to be about something and is not just pure escapism.

Robert Rodriguez’s films are always notable for their casting. He typically gets commitments from bigger names by having them take smaller parts they like and working them only a few days but at the same time, like many established directors, he has his stable of favorites. Here he might just have done his best balancing act of his career. Of course, you have Danny Trejo as the titular character who is convincing every step of the way through and though he is age-wise in the ballpark of many of the stars of The Expendables it never crosses your mind (and odds are he can take a few). There’s Cheech Marin, who here he plays a priest in a much more convincing and Cheech-like way than he did in The Perfect Game because the circumstances are vastly different and you have Daryl Sabara, formerly the younger half of the Spy Kids tandem, as a member of “The Network” in a hysterical turn.

On the flip-side you have Robert De Niro as two-faced Texas State Senator, Don Johnson as a man hunting border-jumpers, Jeff Fahey as a duplicitous campaign manager and Jessica Alba, fittingly placed as an agent who has turned her back on her heritage and arrests illegal immigrants. Not to mention Lindsay Lohan in a part where few will reasonably think she’s acting and, of course, Steven Seagal who…well you just have to see it as it’s indescribably funny. It’s the perfect balance.

Machete (2010, Troublemaker Studios)

This film is downright hysterical from start to finish and is without question one of the best films of the year and will be hard to top as the most enjoyable time I had watching a movie. The end teases sequels and hopefully there are, and if there are Rodriguez certainly traded up dumping Sin City for this. This is an absolute triumph for Robert Rodriguez.

10/10

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2009 BAM Award Winners

In the last of the remaining re-posts here is a list of my 2009 BAM Award Winners complete with my rationale for each. Again, the text (save for minor grammar and syntax corrections) is mostly unchanged, in order to preserve my thoughts from the time accurately.

These awards and their winners are based on my opinion alone.

Best Picture

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most emotionally engaging experiences from beginning to end in a long time and also a purely visual film. When comparing all other Best Picture nominees, all of whom where great, nothing quite lives up to this.

Best Director

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)


Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

It always takes something very special to split Best Picture and Best Director and that didn’t happen this year. However, here you have a case of a film thriving due to the vision of its director. A man amongst the few who can truly be called a visionary and who had such a clear concept of this adaptation that Maurice Sendak endorsed it in featurettes leading up to the release. Spike Jonze made this film happen beginning to end struggles with the studio and all.

Best Actor

A Single Man (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Colin Firth A Single Man

A performance which is reserved when the character is trying to be as such is great, however, it is when that reserve cracks that the true greatness bubbles over: when he’s questioned by Charley, when he’s trying not to let his voice crack on the phone and tears are rolling down his face, when he’s allowing himself to be happy and many other moments.

Best Actress

Jimmy Bennett and Michell Monaghan in Trucker

Michelle Monaghan Trucker

During this performance Monaghan reminded me of several different leading ladies such that her persona was unique and all her own. She plays a frustrated, somewhat immature, lonely woman and while she never fundamentally changes who she is. We do see her change in her attitude and behavior. She’s a gritty, tough character who does not hesitate to run out into the street and protect her estranged son at the first sign of trouble. It is a moving and complete performance and it is great.

Best Supporting Actor

landainglourious

Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds

Absolutely the easiest decision to make. This performance is the work of a virtuoso in action. How Waltz remained unknown to the American public this long is a mystery and it’s a credit to Tarantino that he cast him.

Best Supporting Actress

inglourious_basterds47

Diane Kruger Inglourious Basterds

A strong an impactive part very deftly played by Miss Kruger. She is believably a movie star, a lady of society and a spy. She is quite convincing in pain and like Waltz perfromed in more than one language astutely which is very admirable indeed.

Best Cinematography

Before Tomorrow (2008, Isuma)

Norman Cohn and Félix Lajeunesse Before Tomorrow

This is a film which spends a lot of its time in the cramped confines of a tent or cave but also shoots majestic arctic vistas. However, landscape and wilderness cinematography is not enough to win there is framing and exposure to consider and how these shots tell the simple story of the film which is just enchanting. The fire-lit scenes inside allow for added intensity in the simplest scenes and day scenes in tents allow for diffused backlight.

Best Makeup

Film Title: The Unborn

The Unborn

Creepy and effectively done job on several fronts where makeup and not effects were used.

Most Overrated Film

Paranormal Activity (2007, Paramount)

Paranormal Activity

Hyperbolic critical acclaim not withstanding this film never escalated whatever tension it did build far enough to be a satisfactory experience. How it can be cited by some as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen is a mystery.

Most Underrated Film

Aliens in the Attic (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Aliens in the Attic

A grossly underrated family film that is reminiscent of 1980s family films and sci-fi. It’s funny and a pretty good action film at the same time.

Worst Picture

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Orphan

The tagline says it all: “There’s something wrong with Esther.” This is a movie that starts going downhill and never stops.

Best Editing

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


Mark Day Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This film feels so much shorter than its running time. Everything is always visually clear the story is told well and none of the cuts leave you scratching your head.

Best Song


“Quiero Que Me Quieras” Gael Garcia Bernal Rudo y Cursi

As catchy as the original, if not catchier, “I Want You to Want Me,” however, this version has a Northern Mexican flair and also a very comedic side as can be witnessed here.

Best Score

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

Carter Burwell and Karen O. Where the Wild Things Are

The score to Where the Wild Things Are not only made itself instantly felt and known but also played on a loop in this critic’s head for at least a solid week.

Best Sound Editing

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

This version of the award truly combines the edit and the design and both, from what can told in a single screening, are great in this film.

Best Visual Effects

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

Probably the most impressive display of effects that has graced the silver screen in a long time. This is truly a technical milestone and it appears WETA has surpassed ILM at least for the time being.

Best Cast

A Single Man

The intimacy of scene in A Single Man is as cinematic as you can get. There are flashbacks, two-person parties, conversations in hushed tones and all demanding that scene partners match Firth. While it’s true he’s frequently alone it is through his character’s interactions with the world that we learn about him and for that the whole cast needs to be up to snuff, whether it be leads or smaller characters like Carlos and Jennifer Strunk.

Best Performance by a Child Actor

Is Anybody There? (2008, BBC Films)

Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

As stated in the review of the film Bill Milner is the greatest actor of his generation, meaning professional child actors around his age, there is seemingly nothing he can’t do just based on this performance and Son of Rambow. Should he continue taking smaller independent work he’ll be allowed to grow and could transition quite seamlessly into an adult career as currently his talents seem boundless.

Best Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basterds (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds

It’s an original. The title takes its inspiration from an Italian film of the late 70s about American GIs behind enemy lines but similarities end there. Tarantino doesn’t second guess himself once and he created one of the most unique and enjoyable films of the year.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Spike Jonze, David Eggers and Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are

Jonze spoke about how he worked with Sendak to get something he felt was true. Sandak was quoted as saying he felt this film elevated his work. It was a brilliant adaptation which lead to a brilliant film. It was the rare adaptation which allows for expansion of tale as opposed to its contraction and it succeeded due in part to that fact.

Best Art Direction

Is Anybody There?

anybody_9small_1241523992_crop_550x362

This is a film that not only dresses a house but its roof, the yard, a train station, Clarence’s magic lorry and a cemetery amongst others. There is a muted tonality to everything in the film and there are great conscious decisions made all over the sets and appearing in frames all over.

Best Costumes

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

Thankfully CG was only needed for the faces of the Wild Things, and a great job was done there, however, if the Wild Things has been all CG it would’ve greatly diminished the overall effect and charm of the film.

Django Unchained: Mandingo Fighting and Phrenology

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the last of four posts. The first can be found here, the second part can be found here and the third here.

Mandingo Fighting and Phrenology

Here’s another section where some may have missed the forest for the trees. When we go to Candieland, perhaps the most deliciously hilarious and ironic name for a plantation to American audiences for its allusion to a board game where almost everything is wonderful, and, well, candy; we are introduced, directly and indirectly to two concepts: the first is Mandingo fighting.

Now, here’s a piece that covers the niggling question of “Is Mandingo fighting even a thing?” To be completely honest, I hadn’t read any piece on it until now, because to an extent it didn’t matter, and I’ll explain why shortly.

Next, there’s John Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) “scientific” assertions of why blacks are inherently subservient. The speech, his illustration of the ridges on the inside of the skull and the smashing of said skull are ultimately what won Leonardo DiCaprio his second BAM Award for Best Supporting actor; it’s a moment as captivating as it is chilling.

Django Unchained (AP/The Weinstein Co.)

Now, getting back to the matter of truth, I will draw a parallel to Argo. Right after Argo won its anticipated Best Picture some select Canadians decided to go into a tizzy about the historical inaccuracies of the film. Apparently, they needed to be reintroduced to what movies are and the fact that just because they purport to be based on historical events does not mean they are under any sort of oath to be factual.

Coming back to Django, it does not purport to be based on historical events. Quite to the contrary it is consciously telling an alternate history. So, how come when we as the film nerds hear of gripes about a historical thriller we rationally say “Well, it’s not a documentary and doesn’t have to report the facts” yet, invention in a work of fiction can bother us? I ask this question hypothetically just to point it out. I don’t think too many people were upset by either of these elements in the film, but why should a film that’s not beholden to as many facts as one “based on a true story” not invent things?

Mandingo fighting as an element in the film is not only an ode to blaxploitation film of the 1970s, but it’s also an allegorical representation of how the slave states were in essence cannibalizing the African populous and profiting off their bloodshed. As King Schultz would say it was “another flesh for cash trade.” If nothing else in the film, things that actually happened like slaves being branded and whipped, people being lynched or the Klan burning crosses and terrorizing the ignorant, then this would; and it did me.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Co.)

As for the Candie theory on black subservience, considering that the pseudoscience of phrenology purported that the characteristics of the skull indicated ones faculties or mental traits, this is not that outlandish to put into a racist character’s mouth. What’s outlandish in this day and age is anyone giving any credence to phrenology. However, even if phrenology charts never went so far as to say indicate “African subservience” there was a generally unfounded and accepted belief that these were inferior, in fact, inhuman beings and these were the most dramatic rendition that Tarantino found to illustrate those points, and he drove them home so hard it should shame anyone.

Whether there is any basis in fact for these constructs is virtually irrelevant. For as Hitchcock said “…in my fantasies, plausibility is not allowed to rear its ugly head.” Any of Hitchcock’s edicts needed to be ciphered a bit. I think he meant he didn’t lose sleep if something seemed plausible, I think he did worry about if it made the story better and if it made sense, and I think these touches by Tarantino definitely do.

Django Unchained: Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the third of four posts. The first can be found here and the second part can be found here.

The Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo

Two of the more aesthetically controversial decisions in Django Unchained, ones that were fairly roundly criticized, were in the latter section of the film and interrelated in the story’s chronology. They are Django’s being sold into slavery anew to a mining company and Quentin Tarantino’s cameo appearance. The main critique of the section is that it adds an unnecessary half-hour to an already bloated film. Now, clearly I’ve already stated that Django was my favorite film of last year, so I can’t debate and cajole one into liking it more than one does, or liking it period if one dislikes it.

However, I wonder if the people who claim that there’s an extraneous half-hour in Django have fully considered the ramifications of truncating the story by that much. If not giving those critiquing the benefit of the doubt, you end up with a fairly anti-climcatic tragedy, wherein there’s bloodshed but Django doesn’t win. Now, given the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume you’d have given Django some improbable escape from Stephen’s clutches and the final show down is bumped up, it’s still not as effective. The apparent defeat of Django is not strong enough. What this segment does is it puts Django back where he was when the film started. However, this time there is no King Schultz to get him out of it by “legitimate” means. This is where Django truly becomes the hero of the tale. He brilliantly, through his own intelligence, skill-set and quick reflexes gets himself away from his captors. Now he’s a hero. Now he stands on his own. Now he can truly ride off into the sunset after his triumph.

So the existence of this section of the film is not only fine by me, but essential in my estimation. Tarantino’s appearance, to the extent that it it’s there, isn’t so much. Now, I will state a few facts to clear this up just a bit. Firstly, I was not surprised that Tarantino appeared in the film, what was more surprising was where he appeared. His cameo may have been better served on a plantation or in the KKK scene, which was funny anyway. However, based on the chatter I did think it was more involved and longer than it was. Now, did it play into my decision-making during my personal awards with regards to Best Cast and Best Director nominations and winners? Yes. However, to be fair I think that auteur criticism, once feared to be an overly-cultist altar of worship has started to reverse itself a bit in the internet age to an overly-nitpicky bitch-fest.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

There’s no such thing as perfect film. Yes, there are little things, which are what nitpicks are, you can point out that are off, whether in fact or in your subjective opinion, about every single film. All of them. My favorite film professor relayed a story to us about his one conversation with Robert Wise. Wise being the acclaimed director, who previously edited Citizen Kane. My professor said to him he thought it perfect or nearly so. Wise immediately pointed out he wished he didn’t leave such a long beat coming out of one of Raymond’s flashbacks. And I had noticed that, and when he heard it mentioned my professor agreed. Regardless of what you think of Kane the moral of the tale is simple: no film is perfect. Though I see where and how Tarantino appears in this film as an actor as a misstep, it’s not a serious error that affects the whole of the film.

One thing you have to respect about Tarantino, even when it comes to bug you, is that he doesn’t care; that’s practically what auteurism is. He’s making the film his way and if you don’t like it, tough. The last filmmaker who seriously overstepped the cameo appearance into supporting character was M. Night Shyamalan in Signs. He’s since pulled that back to where it should be. Shyamalan is also a prime example of auteur theory gone awry. People came to expect the twist ending from him in everything such that when people either didn’t get one or didn’t like the twist it altered their feelings on the film. I’m quite certain his prior filmography is why he dropped out of Life of Pi ages ago, and I can almost guarantee that if was exactly the same film with his name on it the reception wouldn’t have been as positive.

This is where auteur theory needs some checks on it. It doesn’t mean filmmakers or films get a pass, but just a little more perspective is taken into account, like is it par for the course for the filmmaker for said element to be featured? If so, does it work? If not, how big a deal is it really? If it was an intended departure those expectations shouldn’t factor in and so on. So, yes, that bit of casting was off, however, I don’t think it colors the whole film. I think the double whammy for many is that they didn’t necessarily see the need for the section of the film he was in so his appearance is further jarring.

Django Unchained: The Politics of Language

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the second of four posts. The first can be found here.

The Politics of Language

This brings us to the racial component of the film. Here’s where the mistaken impression about genre can come in for many people. There is comedy in this film, but it’s not a comedy. This is no more a comedy than For a Fistful of Dollars is. Yes, it’s funny the way Django turns around his former owners line and says to him “I like the way you die, boy.” It’s also funny when Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars changes his intial coffin order to four. It doesn’t make either film a comedy.

However, the facade of a western is where the similarity between the film ends. The moments of overt comedy are there for you to laugh at in Django Unchained. The Klan eyehole scene may have been the funniest scene in any film I saw last year simply because it was such an ingenious cutting down of a hateful organization that seeks to taunt, terrify and kill. Yes, even some of the laughs can be tinged with uneasiness, but that’s the goal.

The death of slave owners is designed to be laughed at, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some deadened reactions to that. Upon introducing another, even more risqué skit than he had done previously (this one about a white family with a coincidentally racist name) Dave Chappelle said something to the effect of “Apparently, people didn’t think killing a slave owner was funny. I could watch that all day.” Which brings us to another source of controversy in this film the usage of the N-word.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Is it difficult to listen to it that many times, and spouted so hatefully? Of course. Especially when either Django or Stephen uses it. That’s the point and intent for a modern audience. Then there’s also the fact that that’s not far off the frequency you would’ve heard back then.

Yes, some words invariably cause issues as I noted in The Gay Dilemma, but when a script is well-crafted you can go a step beyond what is a generally accepted politically-correct norm and make a point as in The Sitter. I’m not one for censorship, and am in favor of artistic license, and the word belongs in this film as much as it does in Huckleberry Finn. In others it may be gratuitous and unnecessary, but that’s why I tend to take things like this on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, one shouldn’t allow the presence of a word, even one as disparaging and denigrating as that one, obscure the totality of the film. While he does get assistance, Django gets necessary training to be able to be the hero of the story, which he is. Will Smith’s assessment about Django’s secondary nature is only accurate if you’re into counting words of dialogue. King’s departure from the narrative gives Django plenty of time when the tale is his alone. He’s the one who has flashbacks and whose goals drive the story. Most importantly, in terms of race, Django’s nobility and heroism is not shown solely through his fortitude, his ability to withstand punishment like Kunta Kinte; his strength is his ability to fight back. And as much training as he gets, his intelligence is something he’s born with not given.

Django Unchained: Introduction and the Spaghetti Western Treatment

Introduction

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

So after having translated a post regarding Django Unchained here are my thoughts on the film, which will appear weekly in four parts. With regards to the translated post there is scarcely a thing I disagreed with that was being stated. However, the reason we read and the reason we write is that everyone has a slightly different perspective.

The reason I didn’t touch on Django at the end of last year was two-fold: first, there is the overwhelming crush of the end of year wherein I try to view as many films as I can and should to consider for my annual awards and list. The second reason is that I didn’t want to rush such a writing is that Django is a film that touches on enough raw nerves and opens enough old wounds, though skillfully, that a discussion on it should not be held in haste and cramming something in late December just because I wanted something to link to when I announced my awards. That wouldn’t be right.

Having said that I did want a few writings on my site with regards to the film because with Django being my favorite film of 2012, it earned it. And the class of 2011 with Super 8 and Hugo had quite a few write-ups along the way and since that documented a different facet of the film that appealed to me.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The next obstacle would be what specifically to tackle in such a sprawling an epic film. The dangers in doing so come from both ends of the spectrum; one could either be too broad or too myopic in one focus. I’ve decided to split the difference and give each topic of the film I saw fit to address some attention in a sort of epistolary fashion, with headlined sections below.

I have made some commentary on the film in my awards, but will augment some points and talk about some new ones here.

The Spaghetti Western Treatment

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Tarantino has embarked on a seeming trilogy, if not more films, that deal in alternative history. When Inglourious Basterds rolled around I wasn’t sure before I saw it how far into an alternative history it would go. Some works of fiction that take place during World War II have told such microcosmic tales that whether or not they did happen, could happen, or could not happen, are academic points. With Inglourious Basterds it became very clear that the escalation wouldn’t end until a triumphant climax wherein the big wigs would be killed from Hitler on down. There would be no cowardly suicide for Hitler in this tale. Basterds was also constructed much in a similar way to some of Tarantino’s other films with chapters that seem disconnected at first, but form a whole when they combine and connect.

For a work like Django Unchained, one that would roundly explore America’s racist slave-owning past, a different approach was needed. In Basterds the heroes would clearly be the enemies of the Nazis both military (“The Basterds” in the US Army) and civilian, a Jewish girl and a black man. Here with slavery, a much longer running, entrenched and regulated system, a different tact was needed if it was to be an antebellum tale, which it is.

This tale predating the Civil War is very significant. It brings the story to a more personal place and takes much of the politics out of it. There’s no washing away of sin through a Union army whose “truth is marching on,” or a benevolent leader doing what he can to keep the country together and free the slaves. Not in this film.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

However, the film must pay lip service to credibility, to borrow a phrase from Stephen King, which is where King Schultz comes in. King Schultz on the surface could seem to be the typical benevolent white character whose presence is nearly always a prerequisite in a film on race relations in the US. There are key differences here though: mainly, Schultz is German. Now, wanting to work with Waltz again I’m sure factored into Tarantino’s decision. However, when looking at the films in tandem it makes an interesting delineation: Nazis are the enemy, not Germans. Look at how King can see what’s right and wrong, how he uses the system to exploit it. The film goes further to incorporate Teutonic sensibilities by having Django’s wife, his motivation, be named Broomhilda and know how to speak German. Furthermore, one of the great scenes of the film is King’s relating the legend of Siegfried to Django. This by extension takes back a legend, made more popular by Wagner, from Nazi clutches.

Simply using something like the Underground Railroad or a white abolitionist plot doesn’t fit the script of the justified revenge that was built in to Basterds and was the goal here. So Schultz assisting Django to manipulate the system by buying his freedom, teaching him to be a bounty hunter and then concocting a scheme to find and free his wife is necessary so that revenge can play out in this film as well.

The way the scheme works out, the play-acting required by Django to succeed are all things that make the Spaghetti Western structure perfect for this tale. What made the Spaghetti Western so popular, for the most part, was the graying of the hero. The methods weren’t always honorable, both ends were played against the middle, even who was the villain was at times nebulous. All these things were for the most part new to the genre. All these things were things a black cowboy, a freeman, would need in order to be able to reclaim his wife in this era. Cinematically, however, it’s also an interesting comment. It took Italian filmmakers with new ideas and a fresh outlook on a beloved American genre to re-invent and re-invigorate it. It took those same cinematic precepts used by an American to give us one of the most brutally honest, compelling and refreshing looks at race in America for quite some time.