Muppets Most Wanted

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Ricky Gervais
Directed by: James Bobin (“The Muppets”)
Written by: James Bobin (debut) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)

After years of languishing in ho-hum theatrical features and increasingly boring TV movies, Disney finally put the full heft of their family-friendly marketing machine behind Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang with 2011’s “The Muppets,” a delightfully nostalgic yet wonderfully fresh take on the late Jim Henson’s greatest creation. Bolstered by the presence of avowed Muppet fan Jason Segal in front of the camera and behind the scenes (he co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller), “The Muppets” managed to win the hearts of jaded old Muppet fans burned by years of mediocre offerings like myself while also successfully introducing the characters to a new batch of young fans—not to mention bringing the market for Muppet merchandise back from the dead.

Because no hit movies in Hollywood are left without one, 2014 brings us a sequel: “Muppets Most Wanted.” Kicking off literally seconds after “The Muppets” wrapped up on Hollywood Boulevard (with stand-ins playing the backs of the sorely-missed Segal and Amy Adams), “Muppets Most Wanted” sends the Muppets packing on a European tour at the urging of shady tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais…and it’s pronounced “bad-jee”) that finds them playing some of the swankiest theaters on the continent. Meanwhile Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog—and dead ringer for Kermit, save the presence of a mole—has made a daring escape from a Russian gulag. If you haven’t guessed by now, Dominic and Constantine are working together, using the Muppets’ tour stops as decoys to break into vaults all across Europe. The duo quickly dispatch Kermit to the Russian gulag overseen by closet Kermit the Frog fan Nadya (Tina Fey) while Constantine poses poorly as Kermit, even though none of the other Muppets are any the wiser. With a bumbling INTERPOL agent (Ty Burrell) and a no-nonsense CIA agent (Sam the Eagle) on their trail, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal their biggest prize of all: the British Crown Jewels.

While the laughs are there and the songs, again by Oscar-winner Bret Mackenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame), are solid, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels much less satisfying than the last effort. The cast, though all seasoned comedy vets, feels more like the cast of a TV movie, as if the three human leads weren’t the first or even second choices for the roles. Again, Segal’s goofy man-child sincerity for the material is missed, leaving the movie with a going-through-the-motions feel which, to be fair, it half-heartedly acknowledges in the big wink of a song “We’re Doing A Sequel” that kicks the movie off. Throw in the fact that it looks like Disney cheaped out, with terrible special effects marring the climax and the final sequence of the film, and “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like an unfortunate letdown.

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.

Danny Trejo – Death Race 2 (DVD)

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Coming off the first lead role of his career in “Machete” last year, actor Danny Trejo is as busy as always. Slated to star in about 15 films in 2011 according to imdb.com, Trejo’s most recent project is “Death Race 2,” a prequel to the violent 2008 action thriller remake about prisoners who participate in a brutal car race to win their freedom.

During an interview with me, Trejo, 66, talked about why people stay away from him when he’s behind the wheel of one of his lowriders and who he hopes to hang out with when he shoots “The Muppets” movie this year.

Tell me about your character Goldberg in “Death Race 2.”

You know, it caught me by surprise when they told me they wanted me to play a character named Goldberg. I said, “Whaaaaat?!” (Laughs) Goldberg is a lead mechanic in the prison. He’s chingón (badass) when it comes to working on cars.

Are you pretty knowledgeable under the hood of a car in real life?

Yeah, on older cars, but I don’t mess with anything new. I got a ’36 Dodge I got all cherried-out, a ’52 Chevy pickup, and a ’76 Cadillac DeVille that I work on all the time. But they’re not really race cars, they’re lowriders.

So, are you more of a defensive or offensive driver?

(Laughs) Let’s just say if I’m bumping loud sounds [in my lowrider] people stay away from me.

Did any of the cars on the set of “Death Race 2” catch your eye?

I loved all of them. You have to know, these cars weren’t made to carry the weight they had on them. They had a lot of steel and metal. It wasn’t like driving a regular car. It was like driving a tank. To make a turn, you had to start turning about five second before you would usually start turning. The stunt guys were amazing. They were doing about 80 mph in them. I did about 30 mph.

You’re known for your countless movie roles, but recently you did an TV episode of “Modern Family” on ABC. What was that experience like?

Standing next to Sofia Vergara – damn! She’s beautiful. I had done a TV series with her before called “Nights in Prosperity.” She was a lot of fun.

You get to work with all the beautiful ladies. Sofia Vergara, Jessica Alba in “Machete,” and now Tanit Phoenix in “Death Race 2.”

Phoenix was worth the trip to Cape Town, South Africa (location where “Death Race 2” was shot). She is just so warmhearted. She’s actually from Cape Town, so she showed me around. I got to see South Africa from somebody who really knows it. It was a blast.

Do you think she would make a good superheroine? Her name has come up in rumors to play Wonder Woman in the DC Comics movie.

Yeah, she’s got these long legs that can kick you in the face! She actually looks a little bit like Lynda Carter (the actress who played Wonder Woman in the original 1975 TV series). They’d be stupid if they don’t get her.

Who would win in a fight: Wonder Woman or Machete?

Wonder Woman because Machete would give up real quick. (Laughs) He’d be trying to make out with her.

What’s going on with “The Muppets” movie? Are you officially signed on for that?

Yeah, but I don’t know what they got me cast as yet. I just have to be the pretty face and show up. I want to be one of the old grouchy guys on the balcony (Statler and Waldorf).

Any other favorite Muppets?

Miss Piggy. I have a dog named Miss Piggy. I’m going to bring her to the set. She’s a little fat pit bull. She’s only 18 inches tall, but she weights about 90 lbs. She’s got more personality than anybody. We started to paint her nails, so now she puts her paw up.

Danny Trejo – Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Danny Trejo’s never met a movie role he didn’t like. Since breaking into the film industry in 1985, after spending a majority of his adulthood in and out of prison, Trejo’s familiar chiseled-with-a-serrated-edge look has earned him screen time in over 140 movies, including “Bound by Honor,” “Con Air,” and just about every film directed by his cousin Robert Rodriguez. In “Machete,” Trejo, 66, plays the title character, a revenge-seeking, blade-wielding former Mexican Federale with an ax to grind (literally). He spoke to me via phone about starring in the first lead role of his career.

You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. Did you always think a lead role like this was going to come sooner or later if you were just patient enough?

You know, acting to me is like any other job. It’s like a painter or a plumber. You just keep working. It’s just a job that I love. Everybody’s asking me if I’m just going to take lead roles now. Hell no! Give me a job. Like a housepainter, I’ll paint whatever house you want me to paint.

You must be the hardest working house-painter in the business. Your imdb.com page lists you in 20 movies this year.

(Laughs) Yeah, I’m starting to do everything. I just did a movie in Austin with a young, first-time director. They paid me $100. My son is producing a movie right now called “Skinny Dip.” He better give me a job.

Can you give me an example of a role you might turn down?

If the bad guy wins, I probably wouldn’t do it. They always say, “Oh, you’re always the killer or the robber,” but I always die! Even Al Pacino got killed off in “Scarface.” That’s life.

Yeah, I was a bit disappointed you made an early exit in “Predators.”

(Laughs) Well, they had to kill me off quick because I made everyone else look too soft.

This movie has been a rumor for a long time. How much pestering did it take from you to get Robert to finally do it?

I was calling him every day! There’s a line in the movie that says, “Machete don’t text.” It’s in the movie because Robert kept telling me, “Stop calling me! Just text me! I can’t always answer the phone!” I told him, “Machete don’t text.” So, he put it in the script!

Any dramatic roles in your future?

Well, I did a movie called “Sherrybaby” [in 2006]. But dramatic movies…they bore me, holmes. It’s like, “Wake me up when I gotta be on set!” I love action roles. I love shooting and running over buildings and jumping through windows.

And it’s probably easier to cuddle up with actresses like Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez when you’re playing a badass.

Oh, you watch. The things I do with Jessica in this movie, I’m like, “Thank you, Jesus!” God worked overtime for me on that one.

Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Ethan Maniquis (debut)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and Alvaro Rodriguez (“Shorts”)

Continuing where he left off after teasing audiences with a faux trailer in 2007’s “Grindhouse,” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) serves up a dish of entertaining mayhem and timely political satire in the form of “Machete.” It’s a contemporary exploitation flick with all the aesthetics of the hardcore vigilante films of the 70s, but with one discernable difference: This time a Mexican’s in charge.

In “Machete,” veteran actor Danny Trejo (“Con Air”) stars as the title character, a former Mexican Federale out for revenge against the men who set him up during an assassination attempt against racist politician Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). The senator, who spends his free time playing border enforcer and shooting Mexicans who cross into the U.S., is betting that his idea to eradicate all illegal immigrants and erect an electrified border fence will garner enough support to win the upcoming election.

Tied to the senator is Torrez (Steven Segal, who was smart to take this role instead of embarrassing himself in “The Expendables”), a drug cartel kingpin who just happens to be the same man carrying the sword that beheaded Machete’s wife.

On the run, Machete is reeled into “Operation Network,” an underground group of activists fighting for the rights of Mexican immigrants everywhere. Led by a revolutionist known as Shé (an obvious homage to Ché Guevara), “The Network” is a complex system of justice-seekers watching out for their fellow hombres.

Michelle Rodriguez (“Avatar”) plays Luz, a taco-truck owner who may or may not be a major part of “The Network,” but takes care of her own nonetheless. Jessica Alba (“Sin City”) is Sartana, an official with the U.S. Immigration Department who is forced to choose between the law and her empathy for the cause. Precious time is wasted on a topless Lindsay Lohan (“Georgia Rule”) as April, Booth’s meth-head daughter who is on screen long enough for her to flash her breasts and dress like a nun for the final shootout.

Already labeled as a “Mexploitation” film, “Machete” doesn’t disappoint in delivering incredibly campy violence by way of swords, surgical tools, and even a customized weed whacker with a little extra cutting power. No matter what, if any, political stance the film takes, Machete himself is simply a fun character to cheer for despite his lack of real personality.

Nevermind how much disarray immigration reform is across the country, Machete has actually taught us something that can’t be learned from watching Fox News or CNN. He’s taught us about survival. He’s taught us that a man can only be pushed so far before he starts pushing (slicing in this case) back. Most importantly, he’s taught us that whoever coined the first rule of modern warfare – “never bring a knife to a gunfight” – didn’t consider what a vengeful Mexican could actually do with a bad attitude and a blade.