Machete Kills

October 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Demian Bechir, Mel Gibson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Sin City”)
Written by: Kyle Ward (debut)

Despite being San Antonio-born and a champion of Texas filmmaking, director Robert Rodriguez’s work traditionally hasn’t done much to inspire local pride. While he seems like a swell guy to make movies with—based on some of the cool, eclectic casts he’s managed to put together—the end results range from mediocre to downright embarrassing. Even high points like “Sin City” and the original “Spy Kids” were undone by muddy plotting and crummy visuals. The low points, like all the rest of the “Spy Kids” films and “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” well…they’re completely awful.

Rodriguez, though, seems to have settled into a groove as of late, releasing the low-budget B-movie side of his personality that he’d tried to tamp down. The first trip down this road was “Machete,” famously spun into a feature after beginning life as a fake trailer. While not completely successful, the sense was Rodriguez was finally growing more comfortable in his own skin. In the sequel, “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez confirms he’s ready to finally embrace the fun of batshit insane cinema.

“Machete Kills” picks up with Danny Trejo’s badass ex-Federale Machete Cortez losing his partner/lover in a raid gone bad. A summons from the President of the Untied States (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez) saves Machete from the clutches of a racist Arizona sheriff determined to to hang himself an illegal immigrant. Soon Machete is charged with stopping a Mexican madman (Demian Bichir, wonderfully nuts) with a missile pointed at Washington D.C. Along the way, Machete has a rendezvous with Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), tangles with a gun bra-wielding madame (Sofia Vergara), and is pursued by El Cameleon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas), finally culminating in a showdown with Mel Gibson’s villainous Voz.

While the original “Machete” struggled under the weight of cramming social commentary regarding immigration in with ridiculous action and gratuitous nudity, “Machete Kills” doesn’t waste time on any of that bullshit. Equal parts satire and parody, “Machete Kills” piles on the craziness with reckless abandon from the get-go, kicking things off with a grainy, scratchy trailer for a space-faring sequel to a film that isn’t even in pre-production. Despite a saggy middle section of the movie that makes it feel much longer than its 107 minutes, “Machete Kills” is arguably the best Robert Rodriguez movie yet. Until “Machete Kills Again…In Space” hits theaters, anyway.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Written by: Danny Strong (HBO’s “Game Change”)
Directed by: Lee Daniels (“Precious”)

The portrayal of African Americans in a domestic capacity in cinema over the last 75 years has been a sensitive one to say the least. From Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award-winning role as a house servant in 1939’s “Gone with the Wind” to actress Octavia Spencer receiving the same accolades playing a civil-rights era maid in “The Help” two years ago, debate continues on whether or not these subservient characters should even be depicted anymore. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” an ambitious biopic detailing the life of a White House butler over the course of eight presidencies, proves that they should. While the film is far from flawless, it’s one that takes pride in its narrative and succeeds in dignifying an occupation deemed stereotypical by some. With Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) fully embracing the project and an impressive ensemble cast that brings to life America’s dark racist past, “The Butler” is significant.

Whitaker is at top form as Cecile Gaines, a character based on real-life White House butler Eugene Allen whose 34-year tenure at the White House saw him rise from a “pantry man” at the end of the Truman presidency to his retirement as maitre d’ for President Ronald Regan. Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong (HBO’s “Game Change”) may take many creative liberties with Allen’s story, but it’s never lacking in heart. The script does skim across history at times, but the civil rights movement itself is incorporated extremely well and reveals the most powerful scenes of the film. As Cecile’s militant son Louis, actor David Oyelowo (“Lincoln”) is especially noteworthy. The comeback of Oprah Winfrey to the big screen in a live-action film after 15 years (she plays Cecile’s wife Gloria) might be attracting all the headlines, but it is Oyelowo’s turn as an activist who butts heads with his father that deserves the most attention. One scene in particular where Louis and Cecile argue about the legitimacy of acclaimed actor Sidney Poitier  will go down as one of the best of the year.

Emotionally effective and intensified strongly by issues of the era, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” benefits from its talent in front of the camera and Daniels’ acceptance of what this film is not. It’s not trying to be as impactful as something like “Mississippi Burning” or (ironically) “In the Heat of the Night,” but as a human-interest story with some of those elements, the material practically writes itself.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Written by: Danny Strong (HBO’s “Game Change”)
Directed by: Lee Daniels (“Precious”)

An effective drama led by a star-studded cast, “The Butler” shows the history, struggles, and triumphs of the civil rights movement through the lifespan of a White House butler.

After growing up on a cotton field where his father was killed and mother was sexually assaulted, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) grows up and decides he wants more out of life. After impressing the right people while serving drinks at a fancy hotel, Gaines is hired to be a butler at the White House. Though he loves his job, family life isn’t always easy with his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) upset with him always being gone and his son Louis, (David Oyelowo) a civil rights activist, embarrassed of his fathers’ profession. Through the years as butler under several presidencies, the film chronicles the struggles of African Americans not only in the White House, but across the South in their fight for civil rights.

The film serves as a nice return to form for Whitaker, who has been far from critical praise since his Best Actor Oscar win in 2006. He is able to give life to his age-spanning character and does so with great personality. Much will be made of Winfrey’s return to acting, though her role was simply average in the grand scheme of things. The rest of the film is rounded out by a rather large list of supporting actors, the best of which is Oyelowo. He does a great job of butting heads with Whitaker, proving to be the strongest character relationship in the film. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz are also standouts from the cast, providing the comic relief in the film. As impressive as the list of presidents is, none of them truly make a lasting impact other than very brief moments of decent impersonations.

The decision to make the film essentially a journey through the civil rights movement using Gaines’ tenure as a butler through multiple presidential administrations as a framing device is largely a successful one. Through this format, Daniels is able to tell a few stories at once, balancing between the historical facts of the civil rights movement and a struggle between a father and son. The latter plotline, which is entirely fabricated compared to the real life story of Eugene Allen, is where the film cannot avoid stepping into melodrama. While the relationship between Gaines and his son Louis is executed nicely, it is far too convenient to create a character that just so happens to be at multiple events through the civil rights era.

Through interviews, it has been clear that Daniels had to tone down “The Butler” in order to secure a PG-13 rating. It’s especially clear in the film, as the audio jarringly drops out of a couple of scenes including during the punch line of a joke from Gooding, Jr. and an f-bomb or two. It’s understandable, considering how much more difficult it is to get an R-rated film out to a wide audience, but perhaps it would have been preferable for Daniels to be unflinching with a film that covers the ugliness of the civil rights movement.

Much of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” teeters the line of hokey, Oscar-baiting moments and legitimately intriguing storytelling and an accurate portrayal of the struggles of black Americans. Daniels takes liberties with the real life story of Allen to inject more drama into his film, but is surprisingly able to bring in the reigns and tap dance around melodrama for the most part. For every moment that feels contrived, there is another that is earned, and through the strength of its more powerful moments and excellent ensemble performance “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” prospers.