Through the years, my tastes diversified (thank God) and genuine quality became ever the more attainable through television, DVD and the internet. That being said, I always looked fondly upon that era-never truly having an option about what you could watch and having to find enjoyment in poorly produced fare.
It is partly due to this that I find myself envious of the Tarantino/Rodriguez relationship-they clearly have similar views regarding these old movies and as a result, created the 'Grindhouse' films-Planet Terror and Death Proof. I can understand why many disliked the combo, as they are effectively tantamount to a film insider's joke. Even the faux trailers (with celebrity directors, no less) serve to contribute to recreating that Grindhouse experience. My own personal favourite had to be 'Machete': the Rodriguez directed, Danny Trejo starring, revenge tale of a Mexican Federale double crossed and left for dead.
When news surfaced on the IMDB that Rodriguez intended on actually filming 'Machete', I was a little wary-while I enjoy his films, his renowned excesses can sometimes hamper enjoyment simply because he doesn't seem aware that moderation can, in fact, strengthen his work. Further to this, dialogue tends to be a bit of a stumbling block for him in the writing process (Sin City doesn't count as it was more or less a straight to screen adaptation). Even while his work will never be considered on par with legendary film-makers, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief for the duration of his films, they can be relatively entertaining.
Having now seen the film, I walk away somewhat disappointed, but not for the reasons that I've listed above. The writing is perfunctory (though lacking the bite that a quick Tarantino rewrite could have provided), the excesses are predictable (though not distracting) and the direction is solid. So what could have ruined a half decent premise for a long-awaited Danny Trejo vehicle? Let me provide a hint: money.
"So," says you, "what's the problem with that? More bang for my buck, as far as I'm concerned." Well, the glory of Grindhouse lies in its ability to glorify violence and exploit sexuality, albeit with exceptionally low production values. 'Machete', on the other hand, positively reeks of money. Granted, it is believed to have only cost $20 million to make-a paltry sum by Hollywood standards-but when you consider that Paranormal Activity only cost $11,000, the highly polished nature of 'Machete' starts to become incongruous with the subject matter. At the very outset of the film, there was a glimpse of what could have been. The scratches and false film-grain combined with no-name actors (with the exception of Seagal rearing his fat-necked face) in a dilapidated Mexican setting successfully recreated some of that charm. Alas, after the opening credits, Rodriguez firmly rooted the action in a pristinely filmed, modern-day America. Even the delightful news-network name reference to Pulp Fiction doesn't help to save 'Machete' from being another wasted opportunity.
|Wasted opportunity wields a machete.|
Having a cast that are so instantly recognisable detracts from the film itself: not once do you ever catch De Niro mid-sentence and think, "he's genuinely trying to nail this character." Instead, you know that he's not taking the role seriously. And this goes for every member of the cast. Why should this matter? The fundamental difference with films from the Grindhouse genre is that the actors are actually acting. Poor acting, yes, but it's taken seriously and this is what contributes to the film's essential charm. An example I would use to illustrate this: Planet Terror was amusing for the most part, but fell into the same trap, whereas Death Proof did not. The difference? The cast of Death Proof treated it as a real film and while they still seem to be having fantastic fun ("he's Stuntman-Mike!), it never gets in the way of the narrative.
In retrospect, I think that my expectations were probably too high-that my deep and sincere love for the trailer would never easily transfer to a longer big-screen adaptation (fir if the trailer was perfect, how could they better it?); however, one can't help but think that if Tarantino had been in the writer/director's chair, this probably wouldn't have happened.
Catch this only if you're a devout Rodriguez fan.
Check back soon for a Retroview on another David Lean masterpiece: "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
*Also just want to say-thank you for everyone's continued support-if anyone has a specific film review they would like to request, just ask in the comments and I'll see what I can do.*