Latest Reviews

Entries in Danny Trejo (3)

Friday
Nov042011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

People get way too excited for Christmas way too fast. November barely begins before radio stations start pumping out Christmas music, stores start stocking for the impending rush and nearly every television commercial transitions to holiday themes. If you ask me, looking forward to Christmas over a month and a half ahead of time is a bit silly, but people like it and there’s a demand for it, at least in most cases. I can’t imagine the Christian based and family oriented communities were clamoring for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a movie that takes the sacred holiday (and the iconography associated with it) and uses it in the most offensive way possible. Don’t grab granny for this one kids.

Years have gone by since Harold (John Cho) and Kumar’s (Kal Penn) last adventure and the two have drifted apart. Kumar is still the same slacker-stoner he’s always been while Harold has moved on, married and nabbed a high paying job on Wall Street. He wants nothing more than to live a normal life, but when Kumar shows up at Harold’s house on Christmas Eve, they find themselves victims of yet another crazy adventure.

That’s about all you really need to know about the “plot” because the “plot” is inconsequential. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is about gags and the film goes about getting them any way it can, even if that means disregarding entire portions of the story. We find out early on that Kumar’s ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child, for instance, but it only serves as a late film character redemption, an unnecessary narrative arc in a movie where the characters turn into clay and whip out their penises for no other reason than to allow the audience to see one in 3D. There’s also a side story involving two characters who are trapped in a closet at a mob boss’s house, but it depressingly goes nowhere and serves as filler in between the comic absurdities of the main story, which, come to think of it, fares about the same.

The situations the two find themselves in are so ridiculous and strung together by such a loose narrative thread that one could write a thesis paper with a hypothesis arguing that the entire movie was really a drug trip journeying through Kumar’s narcotics-laced brain, especially since he spends the entire opening moments getting high. There is nothing holding this thing together from scene to scene, but there are moments of genuine hilarity, which, at least for the purpose of this franchise, trumps poor storytelling. Sure, the drug jokes are old and you can only watch the characters blow CGI smoke towards your face so many times before it starts to wear thin, but if nothing else, you’ll laugh at its political incorrectness and willingness to dope a young child up with marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. A sequel set 10 years in the future where that young child has become a crack whore selling her body on the street for drugs might not be too amusing, but it sure is now.

The star of the show once again, however, is Neil Patrick Harris. His cameo was an added treat in the original movie and single-handedly saved the second from the brink of disaster. Well, he’s back here and he’s better than ever. The movie slyly works his homosexuality into the story, dealing with it in its own crude way and Neil Patrick Harris simply plays along. He may only be in the film for about ten minutes, but it’s ten of the funniest minutes you’ll see all year.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas shows signs of farcical intelligence early on, mocking the use of 3D while utilizing its unwelcome effect. In that sense, it takes a new approach to the format and makes it work, but that approach is not constant. Aside from a few clever moments, the 3D is simply there (but just barely), once again rearing its ugly, unnecessary and worthless head. Still, there is some holiday joy to be found in it, perverted and juvenile though it may be. One thing’s for sure. After watching this, you’ll never be able to look at A Christmas Story the same way again.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep032010

Machete

In a summer filled with action movies that, at their best, are stupid fun and nothing more, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie like Machete, the chaotic, deliberately silly and ultra violent full length feature spawned from the terrific faux trailer attached between the two films in 2007’s overlooked Grindhouse. In all its unrestrained glory, this is a movie that has brains behind its ridiculousness. It may be because this year at the cinema has been particularly underwhelming, but Machete is, at this point, one of the best films of the year.

The movie begins in Mexico where a Mexican cop called Machete (Danny Trejo) is on his way to rescue a girl being held captive by Torrez (Steven Seagal), a druglord who has complete control over all law enforcement in the country. When Machete arrives, Torrez surprise attacks him and ends up killing his wife. Three years later, Machete is living in Texas as an illegal immigrant. Election time is coming up and Republican Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) is running under the promise of completely wiping out all illegal immigration and closing off the borders with a giant electrified fence. One day, Machete is approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey) and given $150,000 to kill McLaughlin. He agrees, but is quickly double crossed and finds himself on a mission of revenge and righteousness.

Machete is a cynical movie, sarcastically portraying right wing ideologies in as humorous and degrading a way as possible. With the central theme of immigration as its crux, the film takes a stand on the idea that we are fighting a fight that doesn’t need to be fought. While any economist that has studied the issue will agree, many conservatives will not and the film, quite effectively, shows the ignorance and hatred that seeps out of the most extreme. If they aren’t unfairly calling all immigrants “terrorists,” they show how the craziest of those on the right are greedy and power hungry.

Of course, there’s not really a message here as much as playful poking. There’s no hidden left wing agenda supporting immigration and no true hatred for those on the opposite side. The conservative characters come off as mere caricatures, not indicative of the majority of reasonable righties. That’s not what this film is about. It’s about recapturing the feeling of an old, gritty grindhouse picture and it succeeds.

Known for their sexually exploitative and graphically violent nature, grindhouse films are inherently bad, B-movies by their very nature. Machete mimics that experience, but does it purposely, fully aware of how silly it is. Limbs are hacked, throats are cut, people are shot and gratuitous nudity are all basic features. Where it lacks, however, is in its aesthetics. Recall the underappreciated Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse, which used visual tricks to capture the look of an actual grindhouse film, complete with missing frames and dust specks, intentionally aging its print. Outside of its opening credits, Machete fails to do the same. It captures the feeling of a grindhouse picture, but it overlooks the necessary visuals to accommodate it. But when you’re having this much fun and laughing at the endless amount of gory ingenuity, including a hilarious intestinal rappel, it’s hard to quibble too much.

I haven't enjoyed a goofy, madcap, knowingly absurd movie like this since Shoot ‘Em Up. I loved Machete and if the Bond-esque closing that promises the title character will return is true to its word, my enthusiasm is only just beginning.

Machete receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jul092010

Predators

The Predator is one of the most iconic creatures in science fiction history. Show a picture of it and even those who haven’t yet met it call it by name. On the page, the Predator has battled with Batman, Superman, the Terminator and even Judge Dredd. It has starred in two full length video games facing off against the beasts from Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it began its killing spree on film in 1987 with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite a bad sequel (Predator 2) and two abysmal crossover films (Alien vs. Predator, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem), the Predator has stuck around based solely off the strength of the original film. The creature’s lasting ability is telling. Now, finally, after 23 years we have a sequel fit to carry on the legacy in Predators.

At the beginning of the film, we meet Royce (Adrien Brody) who is free-falling in mid-sleep. Luckily, he wakes up and is able to open his parachute, though he does so a little too late and lands with a thud in the middle of a jungle. On the ground he runs into seven other survivors, including Edwin (Topher Grace), Isabelle (Alice Braga), Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Stans (Walter Goggins), Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). None of them know how or why they got there and only remember seeing a light before passing out. Forced to work together, they head off to seek answers, but realize none are to be found when they run into the Predators.

Much like the transition from Alien to Aliens, Predators is less a cold, calculated study on terror and more an action movie extravaganza. While Predator wasn’t exactly a horror show, it nevertheless took its time to build suspense and flesh out its characters. This time around it's run and gun. Plus, there was only one creature. Here, there are many. Rather than the scary thought that they could be lurking anywhere, you know from the get-go that they are everywhere.

It doesn’t quite have the same effect as the original, but it doesn’t intend to. Director Nimród Antal seems to be having quite a deal of fun delivering mindless action and the inherent cheesiness of classic action hero one-liners. The only two previous films of note to Antal’s name are the thriller Vacancy and the action picture Armored, both of which lacked the thrills and excitement required from their respective genres. However, he seems to have refined his craft and delivers well staged action scenes complete with both aforementioned traits, even if they do come off as a bit derivative.

Truth be told, this is another one of those “dumb fun” action pictures that have been flooding our screens lately. It isn’t nearly as refined as the original and fails to live up to the quality expected of a summer tent-pole release. In this instance, it’s because of the mediocre writing and some questionable casting. Topher Grace as the comic relief aside, Adrien Brody doesn’t fit comfortably in the role of the tough guy archetype. He spouts tough guy phrases, stands in tough guy positions and talks in a tough guy whisper, but the tough guy persona still seems missing, especially considering he’s working opposite renowned tough guy Danny Trejo.

It's a problem because Predators hinges on its actors and action due to a lackluster story. Outside of the kills, it’s impossible to spoil this movie because nothing really happens. The characters run around the jungle and come into contact with some Predators, some from both factions are killed and then it ends. Somewhere within all of that, the film fits in an assortment of clichés that really drag down the experience, like when one character pulls out a picture of his children to show the group, thus sealing his fate, and a silly, random swordfight between a human and a Predator that, for all intents and purposes, ends in a draw.

Predators isn’t going to change the way we look at action movies, nor is it going to bring a choir of praise as the original did, but it provides a fun, swift adrenaline kick that will surely be appreciated by moviegoers. It may not match the 1987 classic, but it’s certainly the best since.

Predators receives 3/5