Machete Kills

So I’ve been going to see movies, I swear, but I’ve been having trouble finding time to write about them. I know, poor me, but life, she gets busy, no?

So in the spirit of not having much time, I proudly present:

CineFile’s Half-Assed Capsule Review Roundup!

Lucky you. Here we go!

Machete Kills (2013), directed by Robert Rodriquez

While I enjoyed the original Machete movie I don’t think I’ve thought about it since it came out and I’ve certainly had no real desire to see it again. It’s just one of those types of movies.

Well the sequel is even less of one of those types of movies. I saw it about two weeks ago and already I can remember very little about it other than how silly it was and also how tame it seemed to the first one.

One thing I liked about Machete was how it didn’t hold back on violence or nudity or whatever. It embraced it like a good exploitation movie should. It actually seemed like a rough alternative to glossy Hollywood action.

Well Machete Kills is more action comedy than exploitation knockoff and it suffers for it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some funny moments and some enjoyably over-the-top performances, notably from Demian Bichir, who really stole the show as the demented former-cartel leader turned radical. He’s seriously fantastic.

But overall the film is so ridiculous there is nothing to take away from it. It tries for nothing other than laugh-at-it type jokes. There’s no truly fantastic kills or set pieces, everything is set up to look throwaway and jokey. Which is fine, but I need something more, and we all know Rodriquez can do better.

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Don Jon (2013), directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It got kind of lukewarm reviews, but I actually really enjoyed Don Jon and found it to have a pretty refreshingly frank take on modern sexuality, porn and relationships.

It’s no masterpiece, but Gordon-Levitt’s Jon character was an interesting man to watch, because there’s probably a little bit of Jon in all of us modern men, whether we admit it or not. And it had a nice idea for comparing the reverse fantastical corruption of romcoms.

Maybe some older critics might not have personal connection with these issues, but for those of us who grew up with the Internet, there has to be at least a little recognition of these as real issues. And it’s a touchy subject right, because it has to do with pornography and sexuality and things we still don’t like to talk about very much.

So I like that the film had the guts to take on the topic, but also to do so in a lightly entertaining way, so everyone watching can relax a little and just let the issues trickle into the brain a little. Spoon full of sugar, that kind of idea.

I’m just saying if James Franco had made this, God bless him, none of us would have gotten anything out of it because none of us would have known what the hell he was driving at.

Anyway, it’s a breakthrough performance by JGL and the film shows he has chops behind the camera as well, and something to say, which is kind of rare.

Kid’s got promise.

Gravity

Gravity (2013), directed by  Alfonso Cuaron

It seems a shame to throw this one into a series of capsule reviews, seeing as most people seem to be losing their minds over this 3D extravaganza, but you know what? I think it’s kind of fitting.

Because to me Gravity was a slight film.

Settle down.

Listen, visually it is incredible, nobody is arguing against that. I went to the 3D IMAX showing and my eyeballs gave it five-out-of-five and two retinas up. They’re still talking about it.

My brain and my heart, on the other hand, have been arguing with my eyeballs about it ever since.

For all the visual splendour, the characters and the story seemed like afterthoughts. I get it, they’re out in space doing whatever, but then everything goes insane in some way I never really understood. Something to do with blowing up a satellite and it taking out every other satellite in orbit.

It’s not explained very well because it doesn’t matter. All that matter’s is the astronaut’s plight to find a way back to Earth.

And that’s fine too, except they turn Sandra Bullock’s character into a Hollywood fluff cliche about a woman who lost her child and now drives around listening to the radio all night. Why couldn’t she just be a normal astronaut who wants to get home? Why the cheesy, heart tugging back story? Seemed unnecessary and trite to me. It took me right out of the movie.

All I could think about during Gravity was how good Apollo 13 was. It’s a similar concept, only it’s a true story and finds its power in the reality of the situation and not in a series of preposterous extravagances. Ron Howard’s movie is clinical, grounded (so to speak) and tense. Gravity is mostly ludicrous. Beautifully ludicrous, but ludicrous none the less.

You another movie which does more with similar themes?

All Is Lost

All Is Lost (2013), directed by J.C. Chandor

Here we have another film about the will to survive but instead of highfalutin speeches and massive set pieces, Chandor leans primarily on silence and the steadfast, logical determination of his central character to create his tension and turmoil. And it’s captivating.

All Is Lost is a fantastic film, largely free of dialogue and with a late-career highlight of a performance from Robert Redford as a sailboater (is that the right term?) up the Indian Sea without a paddle. And a hole in his boat.

This is another film where the possibility of death permeates every decision made. And in this film you really feel the weight of that decision because of the filmmaker’s grounded approach.

Knowing less about Redford’s character made the film all the more powerful, because by doing so he becomes an everyman. We have no idea why he is out sailing. We never learn if he is married or has kids or what he enjoys listening to on the car radio, primarily because it doesn’t matter.

The heart of the matter is that Redford is a human being with an instinct to survive. Watching him try to figure out how to is the entertainment of the movie. Watching him fail and succeed and seeing the emotions he goes through throughout it all is the power.

Maybe it comes down to the personality of the viewer, but I would take a film like All Is Lost over a Gravity any day, as much as I love grand, ambitious movies. All Is Lost is perfect at what it is trying to be, while Gravity gets lost in trying so hard to throw on a bunch of extra bells and whistles.

Characterization is always stronger through implication than explanation. Show, don’t tell.

All Is Lost tells nothing and is the stronger film for it, one of the best I’ve seen in some time.

Okay, there’s a couple more, but I might try to do a Horror Pledge 2013 roundup, which would include Carrie, and I might try to tackle Escape Plan on its own. Because, you know, Sly.

All of these films are in cinemas now. Except maybe Machete Kills, which disappeared almost immediately.

Melancholia/The Descendants

I wrote these mini-reviews at my blog’s former (and current…) home but will re-post them here because both films come out on DVD today. I saw them one after the other on a movie theatre marathon adventure in December as I scrambled to catch up on flicks before the end of the year. Anyway, enjoy!

Melancholia (2011), directed by Lars von Trier

Thanks to an outrageous media storm some may know this movie as the one by that Nazi guy. This is because von Trier made some really miscalculated jokes at Cannes about Hitler and got himself kicked out of the festival. He’s not a Nazi, he’s just European and has a weird sense of humour. Let’s move on.

I have a lot of respect for von Trier as a director. I think Breaking the Waves and Antichrist were brilliant. I’m not a nut about him but I always find his films interesting at the very least. And Melancholia is certainly that. The movie is about two sisters. One half of the film is about Justine (Kirsten Dunst) getting married while battling crippling depression and a dysfunctional family. The other half centres on Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her family as a previously undiscovered planet hurdles towards earth. Yeah.

This is a slow, methodic, beautiful, trying, devastating film. It’s hard to say I enjoyed it because this isn’t really the kind of film one “enjoys” really. I found it interesting. At times it is staggering in its power, helped in part by its use of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, one of my favourite pieces of music. It’s certainly compelling but does at times border on boring. As all von Trier films it is excessive in its “art film” sensibilities but like all von Trier films it is backed up by enough talent and ambition to justify it.

Out of all the films I saw it certainly left me with the most to think about. It’s still rolling around up there. I can’t say I loved it but I’m glad I saw it.

The Descendants (2011), directed by Alexander Payne

Because a movie about the end of the world didn’t quite get me depressed enough I decided to then go and see a movie about death. Tis the season and all that (?).

The Descendants is about a family that lives in Hawaii. The mother gets in a boating accident and is in a coma, one she will not come out of. The father, Matt King (George Clooney), collects his messed up 17-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) from boarding school and, along with younger daughter Scottie, they, as a family, begin the process of telling friends and family and saying goodbye. And then Alex reveals to Matt that his wife, her mother, was having an affair.

The Descendants is a dramedy, or a comama, if you will (I might), of sorts. As can be expected from the director of Sideways and About Schmidt the film is heartfelt and somewhat desperate, but somehow touching and inspiring. It’s a very emotional movie, as one would expect from a film about family and death. But Payne has a knack of making emotional films about serious subjects without making them feel manipulative or overtly sentimental. Instead they feel cathartic. At points it is also hilarious. At others fun.

This is a beautiful movie with a touching, compelling story, full of great performances and a gentle, mature touch from director Payne.

Melancholia and The Descendants are available on DVD and Blu-ray.