Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shipping Up to Boston: “The Town” is a Superbly Executed Heist Flick

A movie like “The Town” is the hardest type of movie to write a review of. It’s a great movie. You want to praise it, but not over do it. It’s a serious movie so it’s hard to crack jokes about a movie that takes itself so seriously. And it stars and is directed by Ben Affleck, he’s usually the butt of jokes but not here. As a director he’s a force to be reckoned with because as of now his stance is 2 for 2. A few years back he gave us the brilliant “Gone Baby Gone” and directed Amy Ryan’s powerful performance to an Academy Award nomination. Just how is it that this guy, who stared in flops like Gigli and Reindeer Games, on a winning streak in Hollywood. Once just tabloid fodder he is now an auteur who can take simple, emotional character based stories and turn them into fascinating, addictive films. How can you joke about that? Affleck I salute you!

“The Town,” taking place in Charlestown, Massachusetts, tells the story of a man named Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his three friends who are a team of bank robbers. They’re pretty stealth and rarely come into much trouble. They have a sophisticated system that helps them avoid capture from the authorities. The film opens up when them robbing a bank wearing scary monster masks. They take a woman hostage but eventually let her go. This woman is Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Claire is obviously shaken up by the robbery and fails to tell the FBI specific things about her captures (including a tattoo seen on the back of Jem’s (Jeremey Renner) neck. Doug begins to follow Claire around to make sure she hasn’t said anything to the feds that could put his team away. In so doing they begin a romantic relationship.

One could easily slap their forehead and claim that Claire is the stupidest character they’ve ever seen. She has no clue that Doug is one of the men who took her hostage and it’s simply fascinating to watch their relationship develop. And it never seems forced, it blossoms naturally. We can credit Affleck and the other two screenwriters Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard (who co-wrote Gone Baby Gone). They write realistic characters who are put into such a strange situation and it makes the viewer just sit there waiting to see what’s going to happen next (The film is based on a novel called “Pince of Thieves.”) Meanwhile FBI agent Adam Fawley (Jon Hamm) suspects Doug and his friends but needs more evidence. He almost gets more evidence during a breathtaking bank heist that almost goes wrong in which the team is dressed in disturbing nun masks. You’ve seen the posters and ads, it’s a very stark image and it stays with you. Doug, who actually works for a local Irish “florist” played by Pete Postweaite is sort of forced to go on a another robbery even though Doug wants out and to be with Claire. This time he’s forced to rob the Heart of Boston itself…. Fenway Park. Oh and Blake Lively from “Gossip Girl” skanks it up nicely as a white trash mom.

I can’t even begin to describe how well these heist scenes are shot and put together. The action is incredible and I don’t even recall blinking because I didn’t want to miss a millisecond of it. The gritty photography from Robert Elswit makes the film drip with a glorious 1970s vibe that I really dug. This is sort of “The French Connection” for today’s generation.

While I don’t think it’s better than something like say, “The Departed,” I think it can easily stand beside it as yet another wonderful Boston-set modern crime film that is exquisitely acted and directed. It’s such a well-made film you sometimes wonder why Ben Affleck spent so much time in front of the camera (although his performance is good here) when all along he should have been in that damn director’s chair from the beginning! GRADE: A

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Twin Beaks: “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of the Ga’Hoole” is…a Hoot

The only thing that really drags down Zack Snyder’s high flying owl adventure “Legends of the Guardians” is what I’m calling his trademark “slow motion hero shot” in which the characters are forced into slow motion while pouncing or attacking an enemy or accomplishing some other heroic action. Twice is cool, a dozen times is over doing it. But what else do you expect from the director of “300.” His fetish for slow motion shots abound, but at least this owl flick is entertaining for its ninety minute runtime.

I never thought I’d find a story about CGI owls interesting in the slightest. I have to say that I didn’t really love the film, but it was enjoyable for what it was. It’s basically “Apocalypto” with birds. We’re introduced to Soren (Jim Sturgess) a barn owl and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten). Like most brothers in stories like these, there’s a hint of jealousy between the brothers. They like hearing stories their father tells of these owl soldiers known as the “Guardians of Ga’Hoole.” And one day after ruffling each others feathers, Soren and Kludd find themselves knocked out of their nest and on the dangerous forest ground. Since they’re young owls they haven’t fully developed their ability to fly. They’re quickly snatched up by some scary owls who go around snatching up owlets to brainwash and form an army lead by the evil Metalbeak (Joel Egerton) and his equally intimidating Nyra (Helen Mirren). Mirren is intimating even as an animated bird.

Eventually Soren is able to escape with his new friend Gylfie. They want to seek out the Guardians to help rescue his brother and all of the other kidnapped owls. We meet a bunch of other colorful characters along the way including a Burrowing Owl named Digger (David Wenham). Eventually they find the Guardians who help them making things right again in the owl kingdom. I never realized how ridiculous this plot seems once it’s all written out especially because all of the characters are OWLS. Of course the film is based on a series of books called “Guardians of Ga’Hoole.”

Zack Snyder seems like an odd choice to directed a family-friendly (although the film is pretty dark) animated film from the studio that brought us the overrated penguin flick “Happy Feet.” And while at first it does seem odd, as the film progresses it makes more sense. A bunch of soldiers who are basically the underdogs trying to fight off a band of evil bad guys? Isn’t that the plot of “300?” Of course this story works much better in animated form because we’re not distracted by annoying CGI effects mixed with live action performances. The whole thing is CGI so there’s that. The movie moves along swiftly enough, maybe too fast because as many colorful characters there are here, we don’t get to known them very well. The film seems to favor action over character for the most part, but I’m not too shocked by that.

Over all I found myself enjoying “Legends of the Guardians.” I thought the animation was pretty specactualr and the film did work as a fun 3D experience. It was immersive 3D rather than gimmick 3D (my personal favorite) but it worked for the film’s style. And I simply love the song “To the Sky” by the appropriately named Owl City. This is a movie you might just find yourself giving a hoot about. GRADE: B

Girlfight: A Great Cast Barely Saves “You Again” From Being Clichéd Tripe

“You Again” is a pure “Hollywood” film through and through. It features famous actors getting caught in unoriginal and preposterous situations and then wraps everything up neatly in a bow. These types of films aren’t always so horrendous in my eyes because sometimes just the littlest thing can make a movie worth seeing. Sometimes you get attached to a character or a performer and you’re willing to stick with them through all the ridiculousness that inevitably ensues. Take for instance a scene in “You Again” in which actress Jamie Lee Curtis uses the bathroom of her archnemesis Sigourney Weaver. She accidentally knocks one of Sigourney’s earrings down the drain and decides to retrieve it by kicking the sink’s pipe, which you guessed it, begins to spray water all over her at full force. She then mistakenly rips off a piece of Sigourney’s dress and uses it as a towel. Hilarious ensues! Why is this scene in this film? Is it funny to watch Jamie Lee Curtis being sprayed with water? Not really. It’s scenes like this that bog down “You Again.” It’s a film with a wonderful premise that could have gone a lot further with its story but alas that pesky PG rating sits there with its tongue out, mocking us for seeing it without anyone under the age of 12. (Watch “Freaky Friday” if you want to see a great PG rated film with a great performance from Ms. Curtis)

Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis are both great actresses. How Curtis has managed to avoid being nominated for an Oscar is beyond me, but I guess that is the curse of beginning your Hollywood career as a “Scream Queen.” Here they certainly make “You Again” worth watching if only because their snide and savvy ways just simply make themselves shine. Kristin Bell plays Marni who just found out that her brother is marrying Joanna (Odette Yustman) the mean girl from high school who made her life a living hell. Curtis is her mom Gail who also finds out that Joanna’s Aunt Romona (Weaver) was her former best friend from high school. They had a huge falling out, mostly for reasons that will come to light later on. The point is that these two generations of women are forced to deal with a dark past and look at it square in the face. I wasn’t too shocked by any of the film’s revelations but at least the actors give good performances.

The possibilities with a story like this are just simply endless, but “You Again” would rather play things a little too safe. Think “Death Becomes Her” without all the dark Looney Tunes violence. This is a situation ripe for black comedy, but the filmmakers would rather go for family comedy. It’s not too shocking to find out that director Andy Fickman directed two Disney movies starring The Rock (who also cameos here). Though he did make “She’s the Man” which, as crazy as that entire movie was, sort of ran with its silly premise and never felt as restrained as things are here. Screenwriter Moe Jelline can't even really find anything funny for Betty White, as Grandma Bunny, to do. She just sort of hangs around making wisecracks here and there in sitcom fashion. She was so well integrated in last summer’s “The Proposal” it’s a shame she’s not given as much to do (save for a priceless encounter with one of her high school rivals, which should have been something the film focused on).

Overall the film was easy to sit through and I was entertained enough. But you can label this as a disappointment. I was eager to see some of my favorite actresses duke it out. And yeah there is some fighting here and there, and I did find myself laughing, but the film had the potential to be great. It was nice to see Curtis on screen again though. Why she continues to be one of Hollywood’s most criminally underused actresses is beyond me. GRADE: B-

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Drag Me to Hell: Lucifer Takes an Elevator Ride in “Devil”

Poor M. Night Shyamalan. It started so high, there was nowhere else to go but down. “The Sixth Sense” is a great scary movie. It’s a great movie in general. He was nominated three times by the Academy the year of its release (as writer, director and producer). He’s gone from writing and directing Oscar nominated films, to merely producing films that will never ever be mentioned with the words “academy” or “awards.” Razzie maybe. Ok so I didn’t hate his latest endeavor “Devil” because it has a premise too great to completely ignore: five strangers are stuck in an elevator in a high-rise building and one of them is actually the devil in disguise hell-bent on taking the lives of the other four passengers. As great as is its that Mr. Shyamalan neither wrote the screenplay nor directed the film, it still has his mark all over it which will most likely turn off many viewers. The film has some positives and it has some negatives, but overall I think I in the very least enjoyed myself.

Shyamalan gets things pretentiously underway even before the story begins. We see a “The Night Chronicles” logo which flashes the number “1.” Come to find out this is the first in an intended trilogy of films based on Shyamalan’s short stories. Oh brother. But then as eyeball roll-inducing as that is, we get some near opening titles which are plastered over some jaw-droppingly cool and disorienting upside-down shots of a city skyline. We will learn by the film’s end that at the beginning of the film, things were not always “right-side up.” Director John Erick Dowdle (of “Quarantine” and the still yet unreleased “The Poughkeepsie Tapes”) makes his first mistake by not eliminating screenwriter Brian Nelson’s unnecessary and borderline obnoxious narration. I’m sure Shyamalan made sure that one stayed. He always needs to shove down his viewers’ throats that they are watching a “story” as if we didn’t know already.

We’re told that sometimes the devil comes to earth, in disguise to claim people who have done bad things. Sometimes there are bad omens which show he’s on his way, such as a person committing suicide. And nearly four minutes into the movie, a woman leaps to his death from a skyscraper. Then we’re introduced to five characters who are all sharing the same elevator. We have a black security guard who’s just a temp (Bokeem Woodbine), an elderly woman who seems harmless (Jenny O’Hara), a younger business savvy-looking woman (Bojana Novakovic), a sleazy mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend) and a mysterious mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green). After a few mintues the elevator stops. It seems to be just a simple malfunction. Even the security guards insist they will have the elevator running in just minutes. The guards Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and Lustig (Matt Craven) can view the people in the elevator and can even talk to them through a loudspeaker, but the guards can’t hear the passengers. Minutes go by and these people begin to get a little stir crazy as would probably be the case in real life if you were stuck in an enclosed space with total strangers. But things take a turn for the worse when the lights flicker, go out, and the younger woman gets what appears to be a huge bite mark in her back. She’s bleeding and the security guards call the cops. The detective called to the scene just so happens to be the same guy investigating the suicide from earlier in the day. Detective Bowen (Chris Messina) communicates with the people in the elevator and pretty soon the body count begins to pile up in perfect Agatha Christie style.

The film succeeds in that it is creepy and claustrophobic which I enjoyed. It was fun trying to figure out how things would play out, although I’m certainly most viewers would likely guess who the “devil” is. This is sort of a third act twist or revelation that can either be seen as contrived or pretentious. I don’t know, take your pick. One we get closing shots of the city’s skyline, now in their proper upright place and the voiceover tells us that if the devil does exists at least it means there’s a God, I felt like I should have been sprayed with Holy water on the way out of the theater. A little preachy, but I can deal with it.

Overall I enjoyed watching "Devil" mostly because I tend to like movies that take place in tight places and play out in real time (the film is a swift 80 minutes). I had been intrigued by this movie ever since it’s fascinating trailer hit the internet months ago and I’m not sure that it lived up to my expectations, but it was pretty decent for what it gave us. I thought it had genuine moments of creepiness and like true great works in horror had moments where listening to the soundtrack was scarier than anything that could have been shown. I had always been interested in seeing a film Shyamalan thought up but didn’t write or direct, but I’m not quite sure Devil was the winning masterpiece his fans have been waiting for. This isn’t “The Sixth Sense” no matter how much you hoped it would be. GRADE: B-

Friday, September 17, 2010

High School Floozical: “Easy A” is a Wonderfully Irreverent Look at High School and… The Scarlet Letter?

Teen movies can sometimes be amazing things. They appeal to high school kids mostly and are usually written off as just a piece of genre trash that only exist to make money. But the good ones, I’m talking about the really good ones tend to find a wider audience and even seep into the popular vernacular. I’m talking about movies like Clueless and Mean Girls and basically anything that John Hughes made back in the 1980s. Most people live by these movies and quote them nearly every day. It feels so wonderful to find a movie made today that feels just as fresh and original as anything that came out 20 years ago or 10 years ago or even five years ago. “Easy A” is a teen flick that I think most people will enjoy. It’s funny it’s witty and has a very appealing cast and will hopefully give the young and wonderfully talented actress Emma Stone the proper vehicle to drive on her road to superstardom.

I believe it takes several elements to have a successful “teen movie.” One you need an appealing lead. In most of these films the lead tends to be a young woman, ie Cher from “Clueless” or Cady from “Mean Girls,” or Chris Parker from “Adventures in Babystting”and even Viola from “She’s the Man.” They were all appealing. We wanted to follow them around for 2 hours. Here we have Olive (played wonderfully by Stone) who addresses the audience through her webcam. She says that she has a story to tell. And what a doozy it is. Teen movies need to also be sprinkled with wonderfully witty and quotable dialogue. Lines like “as if” and “so fetch” aren’t quoted all the time for no reason people. And lastly, you need warm and colorful characters for our heroine to interact with. These can be either fun-loving parents, siblings or BFFs. Easy A meets all of these requirements.

When Olive first addresses the audience so says she’s going to tell her side of a story. It seems as though a simply piece of gossip which was complete untrue spread around her high school like wildfire. She had told her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she lost her virginity to a guy from a local community college. Virginity is the epitome of embarrassment for kids in high school and it’s equally something that can easily damage one’s reputation. Once olive realizes that everyone thinks she lost it to some guy during a one night stand she uses it to her advantage. One of her guy friends Brandon (Dan Byrd), who’s constantly being picked on because he’s gay, needs her help. He figures if he acts straight he wont be bullied. If he were to have sex with a girl, even just pretend sex, with someone everyone already thinks is a slut, it could prove that he’s just a cool hetero dude. Olive and Brandon enter a bedroom at wild party and pretend to do it but yelling and jumping on his bed. She even gives him her panties. Classy. What do you know, everyone likes him now.

Olive uses this slutty image to her advantage. Boys of all shapes and sizes begin seeking Olive to help them out with by pretending to lose their v-cards. What girl would want to pretend to be a slut? Olive of course who realizes her reputation is already down the tube, even though it may hurt her chances with Todd (Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley) the guy she likes. Heck she might as well pretend to sleep with these losers and get some giftcards out of it. She even pins a red letter A to her dress at school, because ironically, like the best high school flicks, her assigned reading in English class is “The Scarlet Letter.” Olive even wittily tells us that if we were to be assigned the book in school it would be wise to watch the original film version and not the one with Demi Moore. Luckily, Olive has miracle, only-in-the-movies parents played terrifically by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. And thank goodness for Amanda Bynes who is wonderful as a leader of a religious clique who protests Olive’s adulterous ways.

The film is directed by Will Gluck who co-created the wonderful and underrated Fox sitcom “The Loop” which lasted pretty much 3.5 minutes. And even more shocking is that this is screenwriter Bert V. Royal’s first script. It is great and has some pretty droll observations about life in high school and how much gossip really influences the choices teens are forced to make at such a young age. The script works as a coy look at teenagers and it also works as wonderful tribute to all types of teen flicks most notably the ones by John Hughes.

Easy A is a wonderful teen comedy. I’m 27 and I certainly enjoyed it, so I think that anyone who is fan of irreverent humor and a different take on high school life will find something to like. Stone has never been more wonderful and I can’t wait to see what she has lined up next. GRADE: A-

Monday, September 06, 2010

Leap of Faith: The Mockumentary “The Last Exorcism” Offers Subtle and Eerie Chills

“The Last Exorcism” could have been called The Rosemary Exorcist Project.” That’s not an insult or anything, just a mere observation. It’s obvious that the film has been influenced by other scary films. I spotted influences from everywhere from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Blair Witch Project” and to me it has an overall eerie feeling much like the original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Sure some would say it just copies those films, but I think “Exorcism” can stand alone. I find it fascinating that movies with documentary looks, “mockumentaries” if you will, are so popular these days. Heck sometimes they’re even nominated for Best Picture (i.e. “District 9”)! While I’m not too worried about the state of the dolly grip in today’s film industry, I will say that it seems like the shakier the camera the more audiences are eating this stuff up. I don’t think it was a coincidence that both “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity” are two of the highest grossing low budget movies of all time.

Ok so “The Last Exorcism” isn’t as good as any of the above films I’ve mentioned but it still has its moments. Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the film starts off sort of lighthearted by introducing us to our hero Reverend Cotton Marcus (Saved by the Bell The College Years’ Professor Lasky himself Patrick Fabian). He’s a disillusioned man of faith who performs “exorcisms” on people claiming to be possessed. But like you and me, he doesn’t believe any of it. He invites a documentary crew to document what he says will be his last exorcism. He wants to expose his ministry for the frauds they are. He picks up a random letter sent to him and perhaps gets more than he bargained for. And that is of course when the film begins to get super creepy. Marcus goes to see the Sweetzer family who lives in a dilapidated farm house in the middle of nowhere. Leatherface might as well be their neighbor. It seems the young teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) blacks out during the night and slaughters animals on the farm. Her father Louis (Louis Herthum) believes his daughter is possessed. It doesn’t help that Nell’s brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) is almost as strange as anything that Nell does while being possessed. With a few simple parlor tricks, Marcus tricks the family into thinking he has exorcised the demon from within Nell. And then the sh*t really hits the fan.

The film is directed by Daniel Stamm and from what I can tell this is the first film about exorcism that has been filmed in this documentary style. I think the film benefits from this for a couple reasons. The pov camera is great for scary movies because you never know what’s hiding just out of frame. There are several scenes that are 100% more suspenseful because of the camerawork. I enjoyed how the characters actually interact with the film crew which includes the cameraman Dan (Adam Grimes) and the director and producer Iris (Iris Bahr). Dan and Iris, thinking they’re making a film about the fraudulent nature of exorcism have no idea what they’re getting into and that really works here. The film, by starting out sort of lighthearted, takes its time building suspense and focuses on mood. Nothing we see is completely and utterly horrifying but it’s creepy and quietly disturbing. I imagine many will find the film truly terrifying while some will find it merely atmospheric. Perhaps even more will be disappointed with the film’s abrupt end. For everyone person who loved how “The Blair Witch Project” ended (like me) there were ten times as many people who simply hated it.

“The Last Exorcism” is a great example of how much reality television has really influenced cinema in the past several years. I can’t imagine a movie like this playing in multiplexes before the days of “The Blair Witch Project.” This film borrows heavily from other better films, but if offers good and realist performances and has an interesting take on the nature of religion in our society. It offers some creepy and disturbing scenes and will certainly get people talking once the film has ended. GRADE: B

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Glad Romance: “Going the Distance” Offers a Fresh Take on the Long Distance Relationship

It is known that the success of a romantic comedy depends on how much you want the main couple to stay together. In bad romantic comedies you hate them and want them to just die already (see “The Break-Up” for instance). This genre is also known for rampant clichés and stereotypes. We always get the main characters discussing their love lives with their best male or female friend, a gay best friend, or a brother or sister. There’s always that big reveal that forces the couple to break up only to be reunited in the end. Some of that stuff makes itself known in “Going the Distance” but besides a few clichés here and there, this is a refreshing romantic comedy that actually has laughs and you don’t need to feel embarrassed for actually having liked it.

I enjoy Drew Barrymore. She’s not the world’s best actress but she knows how to get the job done. She’s appealing. She sort of feels like a real life person, instead of a glamorous movie star. And Justin Long, he’s just a handsome nerdy guy who doesn’t exactly radiate movie stardom. So when Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett (Long) find each other bonding over their mutual love for the arcade game Centipede (of the non-human variety) it seems genuine rather than forced. I imagine most people who fall in love bond over a mutual interest rather than just locking eyes the way, for instance, Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin fall for each other in the recent flick “The Back-Up Plan.” Erin and Garret seem to have a lot in common and enjoy spending time with each other until, six weeks later, it’s time for Erin to fly back home to San Francisco where she’s attending graduate school. Rather than miss a great opportunity to have a really great relationship they decide to stay exclusive, even if they’re more than 2,000 miles apart. And here lies the film’s “dramatic conflict.” Can two people have a successful romantic relationship when there are so far apart?

The film is pretty enjoyable for what it is. It doesn’t transcend the genre the way the recent “(500) Days of Summer” did, but that was a very unconventional type of movie. “Going the Distance” plays it straight, and rather safe, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positive qualities here. Director Nanette Burstein who cut her teeth directing documentaries tries out her first fiction film with decent success. She goes for a more realistic look at relationships and even employs a lot of handheld camerawork. The script, by first time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe has worked in some pretty good stuff. I particuarlly enjoyed everything about Charlie Day’s character Dan (I’m a big fan of his work on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). For instance, when Erin and Garrett begin to share their first kiss he blasts “Take My Breath Away” because he can hear them talking about Top Gun through their apartment’s paper thin walls. Also Chrstina Applegate shows some great timing as Erin’s older and married sister. The whole thing sort of has a Judd Apatow-light feeling, which is a good thing.

“Going the Distance” begins to stumble over itself as it enters its third act because honestly, how much can they really do with a story about two people in love living across the country from each other? That’s really the movie’s only conflict which it establishes during the entire middle section of the film. We don’t know if Erin will end up moving back to New York or if Garrett will quit his job and move out to California. That’s about it. Besides a final act that seems to be stretched a little thin, “Going the Distance” is definitely one of the better romantic comedies out there. It has charming actors and some witty observations; you can’t really ask for more when it comes to this stuff. GRADE: B

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Mexican: The Grindhouse Full Length Feature “Machete” is a Bloody Good Time

Audiences were first introduced to the Mexican “superhero” Machete in the 2004 ode to 70s exploitation flicks, “Grindhouse.” Although not too many people were actually introduced to him; “Grindhouse” was a box office stinker, unfortunately. Luckily Machete lived on in the DVD for Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” which opens with a trailer for a fake movie. I turns out Robert actually wanted to make the trailer into a full length feature and he did just that. Maybe audiences will turn out for Machete even though they’re only getting one movie for the price of one, instead of two movies for the price of one. Had the economic crisis happened in 2004, why do I have the feeling Grindhouse would be a screaming success? But here we are and Robert has given us “Machete” about a Mexican cop left for dead and wrongfully accused. Someone has just “messed” with the wrong Mexican.

Danny Trejo stars as Machete. Trejo is a character actor who has probably shown up in a movie or two you may have seen. He’s certainly a face you wouldn’t soon forget and that works with actors. Sure he may not be your standard heartthrob action hero but he can certainly kick some ass. He wields a mean, err, machete or any other sharp object. For his feature length debut Rodriguez cooks up a wonderful story all about illegal immigration. Robert De Niro, who seems a far cry from the crime pictures of the 1970s but has still got it if you ask me, plays a conservative (read: prick) senator seeking reelection. He’s running on a platform against illegal immigration. In fact, he just wants those damn Mexicans practically locked up in their homeland, even if it means shooting them himself. Jeff Fahey is his campaign manager and he sets up a complicated scenario which involves framing Machete for the attampted assassination of the senator. Now on the run, and pissed off, Machete must clear his name, and viciously slaughter every bad guy who crosses his path. And occasionally get with hot chicks.

Rodriguez knows exactly what he’s doing with “Machete.” He fills his film with over-the-top gratuitous violence (one scene involves Machete putting intestines to good use) and sexuality. Of course on and off again rehaber/actress Lindsay Lohan shows up as a coke-addled skank, a role that seems left over from her “I Know Who Killed Me” days. I’m sure her career will bounce back. One day. “Machete” is in the vein that he and Quentin Tarantino set up so well in “Grindhouse.” I hope all the fake trailers, which were arguably the best part of the “Grindhouse” theatrical experience, could one day be adapted into real feature films. I still think that “Planet Terror,” and “Death Proof,” are technically better films and come to think of it, I guess that’s why those movies bombed. Rodriguez and Tarantino (who I'll say is much more talented of the two) made really good movies that happened to be an homage to really bad movies. They were cult films made with big budgets. They were meant to be bombs, like their original counterparts, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be box office sensations.

I’m interested to see how audiences will react to “Machete.” I wasn’t around in the 1970s so I have no idea how authentic this movie is, but it seems to fit in that grimy era from what I’ve read and seen. All of the performances are purposely over-the-top. Everyone is in on the joke. The film is pretty funny too. I’m not too sure everyone who sees the film will “get it” and I’m not really sure general audiences are craving mainstream exploitation films in their local multiplex, but what better way to end the summer than a badass Mexican kicking some major whitey butt? As an ode to a certain era of films, it's certainly a whole lot better than Stallone's attempt with the dreadful flick "The Expendables."GRADE: B

Original Grindhouse Faux Trailer: