Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

Maniac (1980)

Starring Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Rita Montone, Tom Savini, Hyla Marrow

Directed by William Lustig

Expectations: High. Lustig, Savini, how can it not be good?

Sorry to those hoping for rainbows and unicorns, Maniac delivers manic thrills and nothing else. As long as you’re OK with that, and you’re down for some brutal Tom Savini FX work, then you should enjoy Maniac. It’s a unique take on the slasher film, and one that I won’t soon forget. This was William Lustig’s first legitimate film (after a few legitimate pornos), and it’s a frontrunner for the best thing I’ve seen from him. Maniac Cop and its sequel are both superb, and Vigilante is fun, but Maniac has a guerrilla quality to it that makes it seem just as seedy and grimy as the film’s main character, Frank.

The plot of Maniac is rather sparse, instead doing its best to deliver a character study of a madman. What this equates to is watching Joe Spinell stalk and brutally kill female victims for most of the movie. There’s no cops trailing him, or any real story to speak of. Even the dialogue scenes are all somewhat meaningless. This makes the film feel gratuitously sadistic, and it’s rather hard to watch at times. A slight story comes in during the second act, but even this is just a means to provide Frank with another victim, and ultimately bring us to the climax of the film. It does add some interesting situations for Frank, and ones that allow us to further explore his character, but the film still retains its initial structure. This might sound like it would be boring and hard to get through, but the film is incredibly watchable thanks to Spinell’s perfect portrayal of the madman, Lustig’s inspired direction, and Savini’s gory, ultra-realistic FX.

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Martin (1978)

Martin (1978)
AKA Martin the Blood Lover, Wampyr (Italy)

Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elyane Nadeau, Tom Savini, Sara Venable, Francine Middleton, Roger Caine

Directed by George A. Romero

Expectations: High. Romero, Savini, how can it not be good?

And here I thought I was getting a simple vampire story! Martin is anything but, instead completely removing every genre trope you expect from a vampire tale, and subverting the entire mythology into something of an urban serial killer film. It’s an incredibly interesting take on the vampire, and Martin is just as interesting a character. He’s somewhat slow mentally at times, but at other times he remarkably swift in his thinking, doing exactly what he needs to do to survive.

The film opens on a train, and our introduction to Martin leaves nothing to the imagination. He prepares a syringe and promptly breaks into a woman’s compartment. Inside he hides and injects her with the substance, viciously wrestling her to the floor as he waits for the sedative to take hold. When it does, Martin rapes the sleeping girl and then slices her forearm open and drinks her blood (which, as a sidenote, looks incredibly realistic thanks to Tom Savini’s FX). In the next scene we meet Cuda, Martin’s granduncle and it’s clear that he doesn’t much like Martin. He immediately starts calling him Nosferatu and threatens to take his life if he kills within the city. Oh… kay. This is definitely not your standard horror fare!

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Machete (2010)

Machete (2010)

Starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Shea Whigham, Tom Savini, Felix Sabates, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis

Expectations: Moderate, and hoping for the best.

One of my favorite aspects of the Rodriguez/Tarantino film Grindhouse were the fake trailers. Easily my favorite of the bunch was Rodriguez’s Machete trailer. When it was announced that a full film was being produced, my excitement was through the roof. If they could keep up that level of over-the-top insanity that the trailer promised, while not resorting to the overly digital filmmaking that Rodriguez seems to favor these days, this could be awesome! To my surprise, Rodriguez actually pulled it off (for the most part)!

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