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.

The Killer Inside Me

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart”)
Written by: John Curran (debut)

It would be impossible to dismiss Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” wholeheartedly because of the solid albeit sometimes babbly performance by lead actor Casey Affleck or the stylish film noir environment created by Dutch cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (“A Might Heart”), but what little substance and emotional pull the controversial picture has is quickly lost even before Winterbottom’s intentions are fully revealed.

In “The Killer Inside Me,” Affleck, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing another killer in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” stars as Lou Ford, a well-respected sheriff in the 1950s who is suspected in a string of killings in a small West Texas town. The murders begin with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a known prostitute who Lou is having a sadomasochistic affair with after demanding she leave town.

Thorough flashbacks, we find that Lou’s mental problems stem from scarring events he experienced as a young boy. When he meets Joyce, who is open to violent sexual encounters, things start boiling over. Left waiting in the wings is Lou’s wife Amy (Kate Hudson), who is clueless to her husband’s indiscretions and psychopathic tendencies.

Intertwined in the sex, secrets, and sadism is a weak narrative about blackmail and corruption. Nothing, however, is as remotely interesting as trying to pin down what director Winterbottom is actually doing when he turns these curious fetishes into scenes of ultra-violent rage. If these scenarios are supposed to make viewers feel uncomfortable, they succeed. If they’re supposed to answer questions about Lou’s vicious character, they don’t.

What we’re left with is a thriller without much suspense and characterizations that fall by the wayside in favor of brutality that offers little to the script at hand. A film should never be penalized for being “too violent” especially if it enhances elements of the story. “The Killer Inside Me,” however, simply flaunts its ability to disturb, which makes it seem desperate to evoke some kind of sensation more than anything.

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

The Love Guru

June 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Marco Schnabel (debut)
Written by: Mike Myers (“Austin Powers International Man of Mystery”) and Graham Gordy (“War Eagle, Arkansas”)

It’s been six years since comedian/actor Mike Myers wrapped up his Austin Powers trilogy with “Goldmember,” and since then hasn’t returned to the writer’s chair until now. With “The Love Guru,” it only takes him 90 minutes to prove that six years away wasn’t long enough.

In the film, Myers plays Pitka, a love guru who is brought to Canada by Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba) so he can mentor their star player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), who hasn’t been playing up to standard because of a broken heart. His girlfriend has left him for Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake), a hockey nemesis who is famous for being anatomically blessed.

Pitka takes the job when he finds out that if he cures Darren, he can land a guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show and becomes as famous as real-life guru Deepak Chopra (cue the Chopra/Oprah gags).

Mike Myers is a child in a man’s body and sometimes children, although they have good intentions when they stand up in front of a group of adults and tell a joke, just aren’t that funny. He might have a few good musical numbers left in him, but building an entire movie on puns, vulgar surnames, bodily fluids, and acronyms is fatal filmmaking.

The Eye

February 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey
Directed by: David Moreau (“Ills”) and Xavier Palud (“Ills”)
Written by: Sebastian Gutierrez (“Snakes on a Plane”)

If there’s anything that Hollywood can currently do without (other than striking writers), it’s more Japanese and Chinese horror film remakes. Taking a page from “The Grudge,” “The Ring,” and both their unneeded sequels, “The Eye,” a modernized version of the Hong-Kong film “Jian Gui,” delivers a substandard plot and disguises it with unoriginal visual effects and cheap scare tactics.

The film follows Sydney Wells (Alba), a blind violin player who undergoes surgery to replace her eyes, which were damaged while playing with fireworks when she was a little girl. Although the transplant is a success from a medical standpoint, Sydney becomes terrorized by images she begins to see both in her dreams and while awake.

Not only are ghosts appearing and reappearing right in front of her (there’s a quick reference to “The Sixth Sense” in the middle of the film although I’m not too sure it was intentional), Sydney is also waking up every morning at 1:06 a.m. Gasp, I guess. Aren’t these delusional internal clocks getting a bit worn out in the horror genre?

Turning to eye specialist Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola), who is supposed to help her retrain her corneas, Sydney becomes increasingly curious as to whose eyes she has inherited and what secrets this person hid away before dying. In a superfluous role, Parker Posey plays Sydney’s sister Helen and does nothing for the picture except lend her name for the credits. There is another story behind the relationship of the two women (Helen seems to feel guilty around her sibling possibly because she blames herself for the childhood accident?), but French directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud never bother to explain.

Written by screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez (“Gothika,” “Snakes on a Plane”), “The Eye” has some interesting ideas embedded deep inside the lankiness of its actual storyline. Instead of building on its strengths, Gutierrez, along with Moreau and Palud, downplay Sydney’s physical condition and focus more on her mental instability, which comes to us in heavy doses of dream sequences and cliché editing. It would have been much more interesting to watch Sydney struggle with her new vision before inundating us with the dead.

Mark another missed opportunity for Alba. She has yet to prove that she is more than a pretty face in the industry. Until she grabs hold of a role that will give her something with substance to work with, her claim to fame just might be the “100 Hot Babes Lists” she always manages to top.