IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Machete

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Like many movie-goers, my first taste of Robert Rodriguez came in the form of Desperado. I wasn't plugged into the indy film scene when I was a lad so El Mariachi kind of passed me by. The follow-up, however, grabbed me by the collar, fed me a shot of tequila and kicked me square in the ass, and I liked it. Now while I was blown away by the action, to say nothing of the always-appealing Salma Hayek, one of the things that stuck out in my mind was the silent knife-throwing assassin sent by the absentee drug lords. He was played by an absolute mountain of a Mexican, a man they call Danny Trejo. He's been in character roles since then, but here we have his first starring role: Machete.

Courtesy Troublemaker

Think of Machete as a Mexican 'Dirty Harry'. A dedicated supercop (that's 'Federale' south of the border) who runs afoul of a drug lord and pays the price in family, Machete is forced to leave his country and heads into America. Down on his luck and working as an illegal day laborer like many of his unfortunate countrymen in Texas, he is offered a shady deal by a shady businessman. There's a certain State Senator with a very hard stance against immigrant workers, and Machete is offered a large sum of money to kill the guy. Machete reluctantly accepts, but discovers too late that it's a set-up. This betrayal and subsequent surge in the senator's polls spells doom for Mexicans looking for a better life in America, unless Machete can focus his quest for heroic vengeance into the sort of inspirational spark that kindles the fires of revolution.

If this seems a little over the top or gratuitous in either message or execution, you win an award for spotting the bleeding obvious. Machete began as a gag trailer in the Rodriguez-Tarantino tag-team project Grindhouse, which has also spawned Hobo With A Shotgun and Werewolf Women of the SS. A tounge-in-cheek send-up of old-school schlock cinema with exploitative roles and themes aimed at the nigh-forgotten X rating, films like this in our day and age tend to get slapped with the 'post-modern deconstruction' label. And to an extent, that's true here. There's stunt casting, gratuity in terms of both sex and violence, and some very intentional tongue in cheek moments. That doesn't make the underlying theme of Machete any less obvious or any less sincere.

Courtesy Troublemaker
"I got my green card right here, pendejo."

It's clear that the makers of Machete have little love for the American policy regarding immigration in its current state. Considering it can take someone pursuing a legitimate means to reside and work in the United States years of bureaucratic runaround and thousands of dollars in government fees, it's no wonder there are people looking to cut corners and hop through loopholes. Rather than streamline the process to get these folks into the workforce in a legal way more quickly, many Americans prefer to lock down the borders entirely as if every single person crossing it is a member of that rather vocal minority of people who think blowing something up is a great way to promote the peaceful teachings of their prophet. The people caught in the middle with no means to support themselves and no recourse against the frustrating and obfuscatory ways and means of the government have done quite a bit to make things right, but they've never risen up in arms quite the way they do in Machete.

Racism has been tackled in many films before this one, from the dead serious dramatic portrayal in In the Heat of the Night to the side-splitting comedy of Blazing Saddles. While Machete's action and situations may be a bit too contrived to take seriously, its thematic material is just as sincere here as it is when it comes to immigration. It really is like taking a big, deep drink of something alcoholic to put you in a euphoric state of mind right before you get into a fight. It's violent, painful and extremely real, but you're laughing your way through it because of how the events are framed. Despite the toungue in cheek nature of its larger than life characters' delivery, there are really people like this in America and they really are this ignorant, manipulative, power-hungry and indecent. And Machete killing his way throuugh their ranks is every bit as cathartic as the actions of the Punisher or the Boondock Saints.

Courtesy Troublemaker
All this and brains, too.

Normally I'd harp on a movie using contrivance or spectacle for its own sake, but the truth is a good movie that includes such things make them part of the point. While being hilariously over the top is par for the course when it comes to grindhouse fodder, Rodriguiez cannily uses these familiar, schlocky tropes the same way a stage magician uses pyrotechnics or a scantily-clad assistant. It's all about distraction. You might not have realized it the first time you saw Machete, but while you were seeing Danny Trejo slice and dice his way through the bad guys, he was also delivering a B-52's worth of dropped anvils regarding the shoddy state of the immigration issue in the US. As they say on that infamous page, though, some anvils need to be dropped.

I'm going to get off of my soapbox, now, and tell you that beyond this possibly overblown interpretation of the events of Machete, it's still a movie that's plenty entertaining in its own right. Like Desperado, From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Sin City, Rodriguiez tempers the breakneck pace of his shooting and cutting with funny character beats and smoldering sex appeal, this time around by Jessica Alba, his own wife Michelle and a surprisingly effective self-parody from Linsday Lohan. You get your recommended dose of Cheech Marin, Robert DeNiro's just having a ball, Jeff Fahey nibbles on some scenery in a way you can't help but appreciate, and Steven Segal... well, you can't win 'em all. There a misstep here or there, the occasional stumble that never brings the production to a screeching halt, but that is actually part of the appeal of Robert Rodriguez, in this reviewer's humble opinion. He isn't afraid to run with something that might not seem 100% clean if it keeps the story and action going or speeds us along to the next good-looking dame. If you saw Grindhouse or caught sight of Machete's special Cinco de Mayo message for Arizona on YouTube, and cracked a smile at the scenario or narration, definitely queue this one up. That's pretty much what got me to see it - that image of Danny Trejo, airborne on a motorcycle with a mounted gatling gun, while a deep, extremely sincere voice intoned: MACHETE. RATED X.

Courtesy Troublemaker
"Look at those bite marks on the scenery? Who in tarnation's gonna clean that up?"

Yeah. Definitely not for the kids. But if you're a fan of action, hot girls or criticisms of the United States government in the form of guns, blades and disembowlings? Machete's for you.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

No poll this time? But what of Democracy?

Just saw this recently myself. Gotta say I really liked it, and seeing Lindsay Lohan topless didn't hurt, either.

I also did not know Michelle Rodriguez was married to Robert Rodriguez. I guess I just took it as a common surname...

My basic opinion is that I have no problem with over the top movies, but like video games I think there are issues they need to stay away from. As you point out, despite it's over the top nature, this is a message movie, that wants to deal with real issues in it's own way, but it also does this by oversimplifying these issues and of course demonizing those who disagree to one dimensional stereotypes. Questions like "why is the plight of Mexico something I as an American should have to deal with?", along with the simple attitude of people being entitled to become American citizens if they want to (along with these huge lists being because we have people from all over the world, not just Mexico, wanting to get in, and dropping too many immigrants into society at once is a big deal. Every year we let thousands upon thousands of people into the country legally, it's not like we're keeping everyone out), not to mention the very real issue of drugs and violence. Not just from American enforcement, but with cartels fighting each other, and these things spill over onto both sides of the border leading to the criticisms of games like "Call Of Juarez: The Cartel" both in the US AND Mexico.

Taking a strong anti-immigration position isn't nessicarly evil, especially when you look at how we already have MASSIVE problems with assimilation, and within the educational system. We have cases where people who immigrate cause fears of violence over the display of their own flag... such as situations where kids attending American schools are prohibited from flying the American flag (which is also the flag of the immigrants, since they are now Americans) during things like Cinca De Mayo or whatever. With issues like this going on, is it any wonder that people want to hold off immigration? Sure, the guys waiting to come in might be desperate, but we're also getting pretty desperate when our generosity is making it so that we have issues with flying our own flag in our own country.

Don't get me wrong I "get" Machete, both in it's overblown nature, and in the way it approaches these issues. However I think that as a movie it's not something that should have been made right now, very much pouring fuel on the flames, and I don't think it "not being entirely serious" is much of an excuse.

The movie was made, I don't think we should ban it or anything (free speech), but I'm of the opinion that it should not have been made or released at this time in history. Perhaps 50 years down the road if these problems are resolved and someone wanted to make an over the top exploitation movie based around the immigration issues of a previous era... okay, that would be one thing. Right now it's just asking for trouble, since as messed up as it is, the problems we're dealing with... like flying American flags in America, are just as over the top and ridiculous as that movie is in their own way.

http://www.frugal-cafe.com/public_html/frugal-blog/frugal-cafe-blogzone/2010/05/06/american-flag-banned-at-california-school-students-sent-home-for-wearing-us-flag-t-shirts-on-cinco-de-mayo/

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/12/school-reverses-course-ordering-student-remove-flag-bike/

There are more incidents, and a lot of other coverage on these incidents as well (just the first responses to my search, and links I had used before). Seriously sit down and read that and then tell me that's not as insane as Machete is in it's own way, and that immigration is a straightforward issue.

See, I'm one of those guys who is of the opinion that we need the abillity to remove citizenship from immigrants and deport them after they immigrate. Simply put I feel that if immigrants aren't assimilating, even after a generation or so, they don't belong here. I'm increasingly intolerant of the whole "born in the USA" clause being used here for kids that are raised as if in a foreign country on American soil and don't even speak in the US, or Anchor Babies in general. In my opinion if someone is offended by seeing their own flag (being Americans) or are prioritizing foreign holidays over our own to the point of being offended by the national symbols of what is their own country, they really don't belong here. I mean I'm sorry, there are people who actually want to be Americans where I don't think we should bother with them. What's more I don't think people from other countries are entitled to immigrating, no matter what the condition of their home country. I mean I DO feel sorry for the conditions where they are, but at the same time I don't see why it's MY responsibility to adopt and care for those people. Heck, we have tons of homeless people and those in dire situations to begin with, without bringing in even more, above and beyond immigration issues.

Ahh well, enough ranting. The bottom line is that I can deal with offensive, over the top, and irreverant movies. I think this one for all it's professed justifictions, is pretty much all about trying to make trouble by beying ridiculously one sided on a touchy political issue.

Grey_Focks:
Just saw this recently myself. Gotta say I really liked it, and seeing Lindsay Lohan topless didn't hurt, either.

I also did not know Michelle Rodriguez was married to Robert Rodriguez. I guess I just took it as a common surname...

I thought Michelle was his daughter! ....This explains a lot.

theonlyblaze2:

Grey_Focks:
Just saw this recently myself. Gotta say I really liked it, and seeing Lindsay Lohan topless didn't hurt, either.

I also did not know Michelle Rodriguez was married to Robert Rodriguez. I guess I just took it as a common surname...

I thought Michelle was his daughter! ....This explains a lot.

Actually, I have to say I was wrong on that count. There is apparently no relation between the two.

Always a treat to watch someone use gardening tools to mess dudes up. Also, yeah, no kids around for this.

First of all Robert and Michelle Rodriguez were never married or anything.

On to the movie, I loved it. I just took it for what it was, stylized aesthetic violence and over the top action designed to be cool and entertaining, along with some jabs at political policies in the states. I really don't think the latter was supposed to be taken extremely seriously or incite a revolution of any kind though.

The pace slowed down a little as it went on I felt and didn't seem to know where it was going all the time, but I guess it was impossible to keep it as exciting as the beginning all the way through. And the ending spiced things up a little again. So overall it was a fun watch, and I'd probably watch it again some day.

Is this in the Watch Instantly library? I might have to give this a go.

Therumancer:
-snip-

I'm sorry, but I really did try to read this post, and all I could see was the phrase "There dun got too many brown people" repeated over and over again.

OP: Good review, great film. Rodriguez can get away with a simple portrayal of the issues, because frankly, the issues are simple, and I loved the way that this film acknowledged that and painted the opposition as what they are; mean spirited, obfuscating, closet racists :P The fact that it managed to do so while also being one of the most entertaining bits of action-schlock in the last decade perfectly illustrates that, while I like Tarantino, Rodriguez is top-dog.

 

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