It’s amazing how indifferent some people can be in the face of total, unapologetic, non-PC, old-school cool.
‘Grindhouse’ was a cineaste’s wet dream – and I say that as someone who has yet to see ‘Grindhouse’ in its intended cut (watching the DVDs of ‘Planet Terror’ and ‘Death Proof’ with a quick sprint to the computer at the half-way mark to watch the fake trailers as downloads is about as close as I’ve come to the proper ‘Grindhouse’ experience). Two exploitationers back-to-back: dirty, cheesy and full-on retro, one directed by Robert Rodriguez, the other by Quentin Tarantino – who could say no to that?
Depressingly, as it turned out, plenty of people. Maybe the fact that Rob and Quent wanted them to spend – shock, horror – over three and a half hours in a movie theatre was too gruelling. Maybe the concept of getting to watch two movies for the price of one seemed too good to be true and they stayed away out of sheer suspicion. Maybe the prospect of Rose MacGowan with a machinegun leg, Vanessa Ferlito lap-dancing and Kurt Russell being all kinds of badass was rather déclassé. Whatever reason, the fact remains: the underperformance of ‘Grindhouse’ at the US box office meant that a movie I’d been getting excited about in a way I normally reserve for Mrs F limped out onto UK screens as two separate releases, in the wrong order, with about three months between them.
Four years down the line, I remain slightly peeved by this.
One of the chief in-jokey pleasures of ‘Grindhouse’ was the spoof trailers. Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ managed, in three minutes, to be the best thing he’s ever made; Rob Zombie’s ‘Werewolf Women of the SS’ was madness in miniature, all Ilsa references, swastika armbands, Nic Cage going apeshit and Beethoven’s Ninth on the soundtrack; and Edgar Wright’s ‘Don’t’ nailed an entire subgenre of the Video Nasties list. But best of all was Rodriguez’s ‘Machete’, a masterpiece in miniature featuring Danny Trejo being a bad muthafucka in authentically grainy footage and kissing off the audience with greatest tag line ever.
“They just fucked with the wrong Mexican.”
Speculation was immediate: would Rodriguez extrapolate ‘Machete’ into a full feature? I prayed like no atheist, en-fox-holed or not, has ever prayed. Like Baron von Frankenstein raising his fists to heaven as the thunderstorm crashes, screaming, “Liiiiiiiiiiive! LIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!”, I sent the unyielding force of sheer will across the miles and the oceans in the general direction of Troublemaker Studios: “Make it,” I cried; “maaaaaaaaaaaaake iiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!”
Eventually, word trickled out. ‘Machete’ was casting. Danny Trejo was on board, natch. Robert de Niro. Steven Seagal. Jessica Alba. Michelle Rodriguez. Cheech Marin. Lindsay Lohan. Holy Mary mother of a made up character!!! Danny fuckin’ Trejo, Robert fuckin’ de Niro, Cheech fuckin’ Marin and Lindsay fuckin’ Lohan in the same fuckin’ movie!!! (Yes, I know that’s a lot of profanity, but danged if it isn’t an accurate representation of how stoked I was getting for ‘Machete’.)
Then – finally – it opened. It opened in the UK freakin’ ages after it opened in America. (Oh, my fellow bloggers Stateside, how I cursed as I read review after review on your blogs, knowing that I still had a couple of months till the Trej-meister fucked up shit my side of the pond. There’s your dictionary definition of frustration: right there!)
A funny thing happened during all of this. While the faithful (ie. my aforementioned fellow bloggers) were giving ‘Machete’ its dues, the get cinema-going unwashed collectively went “meh” and didn’t really give a shit. ‘Machete’ kind of came and went, not boding well for the Bond-style post-credits that “Machete will return in ‘Machete Kills’ … and ‘Machete Kills Again’.”
My lords, ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals, dudes and dudesses, cats and chicks, blokes and birds, let me state this once and for all. For the record. Let me tell it on the mountain, shout it from the rooftops, write in the sky and piss it in big yellow letters in the snow:
I did not go “meh” over ‘Machete’. Quite the contrary, oh my brothers.
I. Goddamn. Bloody. Love. ‘Machete’.
I love ‘Machete’ because it gives Danny Trejo an honest-to-God leading role and the man goes for it in fine style; because it’s got a Jessica Alba performance that’s not entirely insufferable; because Robert de Niro seems to be enjoying himself onscreen for only the second time in the last decade (the other occasion being ‘Stardust’); because Cheech Marin as a shotgun wielding priest quite simply redefines iconography; because Michelle Rodriguez looks tough and sexy in equal measures to their point where you’d probably be too scared to buy her a pint let alone spill it; because Lindsay Lohan’s first scene depicts her as a coked up socialite and her last as a gun-toting nun; because pudgy, whispering action start has-been Steven Seagal redeems himself for decades’ worth of unadulterated crap; and because the Crazy Babysitter Twins turn up in ridiculously skimpy nurses uniforms and fire off Uzis.
I love ‘Machete’ because it’s a 100-minute rollercoaster showcase for Danny Trejo fucking up the shit of all who cross him in a variety of gratuitous, capillary-siphoning and – most importantly of all – imaginative ways. This is a film where the hero utilizes knives, guns, swords, strimmers, surgical equipment, pimped-up cars that bounce a lot, and a motorbike with a gatling gun welded to the handlebars in his fight for truth, justice and rights of the downtrodden Mexican working class.
I love ‘Machete’ because it exists in a movie movie universe of unrestrained over-the-topness that makes ‘Kill Bill’ look like a Mike Leigh production*; because it looks more authentically like a 70’s exploitation than either part of ‘Grindhouse’; and because the contemporary touchstones are witheringly subverted (“Machete don’t text”).
I love ‘Machete’, in other words, because it manages to be batshit crazy and utterly true to itself at one and the same time. I love it because Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Manquis obviously didn’t have a single imperative – commercial or aesthetic – beyond having a good time and making the kind of movie they wanted to make. Gracias, dudes.
*Which, granted, would be interesting. Imagine: Imelda Staunton as The Bride and Jim Broadbent as Bill. Scene: a suburban kitchen. Bill is sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette and reading the Racing Post. Enter The Bride, laden down with shopping. The Bride: “You’re a right bloody sod you are, Bill. I ask you to do the pots and put the oven on and what do you do? You sit there smoking! I bet you put money on the horses again and lost it, didn’t yer? Didn’t yer?” Bill says nothing. The Bride starts crying histrionically. “I wish I’d never bloody married you, Bill.”