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.

The Avengers

The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s six people in varying levels of skin-tight costume! It’s an introductory paragraph that makes no sense because this Superman reference has nothing to do with The Avengers! Nanananana Batman!

So this it, finally. The big show. The whole schbang. The big bopper. I don’t know, you get the idea. For those unfamiliar with what the heck I’m talking about, this movie has been a long time coming, with lots of build up. Five movies worth of build up.

You may not have realized it but we have been being primed for this film for a number of years. It started with The Incredible Hulk (the Edward Norton one) and Iron Man in 2008. In 2010 we had Iron Man 2 and then 2011 brought Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger (big hint there). Oh right, and like 70 odd years worth of comic books. And now? Now they are all together in one super movie. Hot diggity dog!

And I’m going to say it and declare that it’s better then at least 84 per cent of the movies leading up to it. Keep in mind though that I don’t understand math and that I made that number up. Regardless, barring Iron Man perhaps, The Avengers is the best superhero, Marvel comic book movie of them all and it lives up to the hype.

This has to be one of the best movie audience experiences I’ve had in a long time. People were stoked. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard an audience break into applause, not even for the end of the movie, but during the movie. Everyone was totally digging it. People, adults even, were leaving the theatre fired up about how “awesome” it was. I was in a rotten mood when I saw it, but it managed to even pick me up. Which is what good entertainment movies should do.

And my matinee crowd were not alone in our excitement. I’m not a numbers, box office guy really, but The Avengers pulled in $200 million this weekend in the United States alone. That is huge. In fact, it’s the biggest opening weekend for a film ever. Ever. More than Harry Potter. More than Twilight. More than Hunger Games. You get the picture. People like their superhero movies it seems.

And why not? They’re a hell of a lot of fun. And The Avengers is no exception. It’s completely over the top, ridiculous and insane, just the way it should be. There are a lot of personalities up on the screen and Whedon, super geek that he is, knows how to wield them just right. The most enjoyable part of the movie is easily watching these characters that we already know from the lead up films come together and make with the wisecracks and the tensions and all the rest of it.

That’s what makes the movie work so well. It’s not just about special effects. It isn’t just explosions and garbled action sequences and shiny things (Transformers anyone?). Really, what it’s about is characters that we actually care about. Sure it’s got all that other stuff, and it would be quite a different movie if it was just about these characters in a room together (Superhero Carnage?), but it has a solid base to build off of. It’s that fundamentals of good movie making stuff: characters, relatable situations, a sense of humour, love, etc.

I have mixed feels about Whedon, but he was the man for the job here. This is his baby really, as he wrote and directed it. I thought Cabin in the Woods, which he produced and wrote, was a little too geeky smart for its own good. And although it was an interesting spin on a genre, I still prefer the genre itself. In this movie Whedon is in full genre mode and embraces it like a 12-year-old with a new comic.

You can tell he is just loving making this movie and that’s what makes it so much fun. Whedon knows what it’s all about, he gets it, and that’s a joy to witness. This is a big movie, and as a big movie I want it to be over-the-top, exuberant and, mainly, fun. And that’s what we get. There are insane, weird villains, huge action sequences, big special effects and fantastic characters. It’s got it all. But it isn’t a mess, which it so easily could have been. Whedon gets the balance right and pulls it off.

Movies often don’t live up to their hype, but The Avengers does. It is pure summer movie blockbuster squealy fun. If Hollywood could pull off more films like this you would hear fewer complaints from me. Because I’m sure that really bugs all those producers down there. “CineFile called us out again! Drat!” Right.

The Avengers is in theatres now.

We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo (2011), directed by Cameron Crowe

This is a movie about a family that buys a zoo. And then they say to each other “We bought a zoo!” a whole lot. Seriously. I have to say though, I’m a big fan of the literal title. This one isn’t quite as bang on as Hobo With a Shotgun (about a hobo with a shotgun) or even Cowboys and Aliens (which featured, primarily, cowboys and aliens), but I’ll take it. And it’s not entirely literal because really, I didn’t have anything to do with the purchase of this zoo. Don’t include me in your zoological financial transactions. I just signed up for a movie, nothing more. Just so we’re clear.

This is also the movie that everybody made fun of when it came out. We don’t take to kindly to sentiment and innocence in our culture these days, so when a movie by Cameron “The Sappy” Crowe staring Matt Damon as a single father who moves his family to a zoo and, it looked like, learns how to love again came out, people threw up a little in their mouths.

Here comes the honesty train: I kind of liked it. Granted it’s been a bit of a crummy week and I was in just the right mood for something innocent and hopeful. But still, it was sweet. Shut up.

By no means is it perfect, or a great movie. It’s far too long, has one to many ‘uh-oh, are they going to be able to get the zoo open?’ obstacles (that rain sequence was entirely unnecessary) and is, no question, sappy. But come on. They buy a zoo! There’s tigers and peacocks. How cute is that?

Let’s be honest about what saves this movie really: it has the cutest little girl in the world in it. She’s seven and her name is Maggie Elizabeth Jones, and even as a fully grown adult male with something left of my youthful masculinity intact (debatable) I gotta say: cute as a God-damn button. If this little girl doesn’t make your heart melt like T-1000 then you are made of sterner stuff then I (and mimetic poly-alloy).

Not that one little girl is reason enough to make a movie, but without her We Bought a Zoo would never hit those high notes. Crowe has always been good with casting, though, and this is a great example. We understand why Damon’s character, Benjamin, is trying so hard to do right by his family. Not that he shouldn’t for an ugly, boring daughter, but we get invested as an audience because we instantly fall in love with her too. She’s so well-spoken and adorable. Maybe it’s cheap but it works.

And who doesn’t like Matt Damon? He could play Pol Pot and I would still probably root for him and want him to be my best friend. Then again, that would be a really strange casting decision.

Only Scarlett Johansson looks out of place. Not only because she’s 27 (my age) and Matt Damon is 56 (okay, 42. But seriously Matt, back off dude). And not only because she is clearly a movie star goddess and is cast here as someone who spends most of her time cleaning up monkey dung. Beautiful, and not-beautiful, people can clearly do whatever floats their beautiful, and not-beautiful, boats.

Yet still, I never quite believed her. It’s probably just me and it is because it’s SCARLETT JOHANSSON playing a zookeeper nerd. Kevin James is a bit of a stretch (for other reasons. I mean, you need a degree right?) but Johansson? I’m probably just jealous. I would buy a box factory if Scarlett Johansson worked there.

The other portrayal I really question is John Michael Higgins as Walter Ferris, the crotchety, stickler of a zoo inspector. He is set up as the comical villain of the movie who may prevent the zoo from being opened. Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me a zoo inspector is probably a pretty important thing to have. Not only does he make sure the animals are being treated well but he assures the safety of the visitors. Dude asks for higher fences on the lion enclosure though (which are like three feet high, by the way) and we’re supposed to treat him like the dean from Animal House.

Really they should have never been allowed to open. They (spoiler) let a grizzly bear get loose and it wanders into town. If I had been the zoo inspector I would have shut that whole place down before someone gets mauled. I mean, what if it was Scarlett Johansson? What then?

Still, if you feel like getting off your supercool, ‘I don’t believe in feelings’ high-horse (or zebra) and watching a nice, sweet, innocuous movie that might make you smile, then I’m going to recommend this one. It’s even good for kids (although when did we start letting people say ‘s@#!’ in PG movies?), with more then enough laughs and gags for the older folks. And it’s got a good heart. I may have even got misty eyed. Shut up.

We Bought a Zoo is available on DVD and Blu-ray.