Tuesday, June 28, 2011


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.”


Hannah said...

YES! The day I start following this blog you make a post about my favourite film of this year (watched a tad illegally some time ago). Rekindled my faith in several of the aforementioned actors, and quite frankly Robert Rodriguez.

Did you have a favourite moment? I have none, but have taken to mumbling 'Machete don't text' in stressful situations.

Headsup: If you're in the UK, Blockbuster are currently selling Machete new for a fiver. Yes this confused me too.


Neil Fulwood said...

Hi Hannah, thanks for following my blog and for leaving a comment. Yeah, I thought Rodriguez was coasting a bit before this came out, and I hadn't seen de Niro, Alba, Lohan or quite a few of the others in anything I'd liked much for quite a while.

Favourite moment? Ooooh, too many to count. The scene that made me laugh the hardest was all the pimpmobiles bouncing as Machete and co. drive to the compound for the showdown. The whole church scene, set to 'Ave Maria', is pretty cool as well.

Damn - a fiver at Blockbuster! I shelled over a tenner for in only a couple of months ago. Grrrr!

The Film Connoisseur said...

I had a blast with it (as you could probably tell from my review), yeah it wasnt entirely perfect, the ending was a bit messy, but overall? Its a fun experience.

The scene with Machete jumping out that window while hanging from that dudes intestines....GENIUS!

I need a movie based on 'She' like right NOW! Michelle Rodriguez could do it all on her own I know it.

The Film Connoisseur said...

By the way, your new Banner, rocks the house!

Samuel Wilson said...

Neil, I always thought the problem with Grindhouse was brand confusion. You had ads touting Planet Terror and Death Proof but you didn't see those names on the marquee. The package deserved better and Machete made a worthy sequel -- with Hobo With a Shotgun a quasi-followup and Thanksgiving still occasionally discussed. Given some of the blog reviews I've read, I think Rodriguez's in-your-face defense of illegal immigration probably hurt the film here, but the film was also a bit of a mess by the end. Still, we need Machete Kills because Tom Savini has to pay for what he did!

A hero never dies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A hero never dies said...

Fuck Machete kills, I want Mike Leigh's re-imagining of Kill Bill first.

BRENT said...

Ah Neil you are a man after my own heart cos I freakin' love Machette!! A great cast and so over the top it is hilarious. The arms being chopped of at the start had me in histerics!
The Grindhouse movies didn't play here as two movies but I did see Deathproof and was the only one in the theatre!!!!!!!!
I'm a huge fan of both Tarantino and Rodriquez, and really, really loved Sin City. Great write up and anyone would be mistaken into thinking you kinda liked Danny Trejo finally in a lead role!
Machette may not text but he sure kicks arse!!!!

J.D. said...

Count me in as rabid fan of this film and, yes, they need to do a sequel if only to give Tom Savini more screen time! His tantalizing subplot left me wanting more.

This is such an unabashedly fun, trashy film and would make a good double bill with THE EXPENDABLES.

Bryce Wilson said...

Duly Note Neil. Well done.

If Machete Kills ever does come to fruition I hope Robert DeNiro comes back with a voice box ala Return Of The Streetfighter.

Tim said...

I couldn't really explain why, but this review made me happier than anything I've read in weeks.

FWIW, seeing Grindhouse in the theater was one of the all-time great experiences in my life as a filmgoer, largely on account of how the projectionist mixed up the parts. Not to rub salt in the wound or anything.

Neil Fulwood said...

Franco – agreed, my man. ‘She’ as a spin-off movie with Michelle Rodriguez continuing the fight and looking dangerously sexy. I’d pay good money to see that. (Glad you dig the banner, btw. I kinda like Sister Lindsay with a big gun as patron saint of Agitation. Think I’m going to leave her up there for a while.)

Sam – good call on the brand issue; there was very little in the way of lobby displays, etc. in cinemas around Nottingham (I can’t speak for the rest of the UK) and these were very quickly pulled and replaced with posters for ‘Death Proof’ alone, touting it as “the 4th film by Quentin Tarantino, and making no reference to Rodriguez or ‘Planet Terror’. Looking forward to ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ – which opens in the UK next month – and, yeah, I’d love to see ‘Machete Kills’ and more of Savini.

A Hero Never Dies – I think a late-period career shift into exploitation would suit Mike Leigh: ‘Hobo in a Dole Queue’, ‘Machete Pickets’ and ‘Machete Pickets Again’ would be good follow-ups to his kitchen-sink version of ‘Kill Bill’. (“You know what, Bill? You know bloody what? Elle Driver lost an eye coz she had to have it done on the NHS. If you’d stumped up so she could go private, she’d wouldn’t be wearing an eye-patch now. Christ, you’re a rotten bloody sod, Bill.”)

Brent – I kind of envy you seeing ‘Grindhouse’ in its proper format on the big screen; can’t that you were the only person in the theatre! I’m a big fan of ‘Sin City’ as well, although so many of my friends really hated it when it first came out that I felt like I was in a minority. Funny that the chief complaint was that it was violent, nasty and cynical – that was actually the point! It also nailed the look of a graphic novel a lot better than ‘300’ or ‘The Spirit’.

J.D. – amen again on wanting more Savini action!

Bryce – ‘Machete Kills’ with a vengeful Trejo facing off against Savini’s hitman and de Niro with a voicebox. Someone get Rodriguez on the phone – this needs to happen!

Tim – if you got as much pleasure reading the review as I did writing it, then it’s a win-win situation. This was the first time in a while that I’ve written a piece for the blog at such white-hot speed (as the typos can attest!) and with a big dumb grin plastered across my face. I remember reading your ‘Grindhouse’ review and deconstructing how the muddled reels actually improved your viewing experience. Wish I’d been at that screening with you.

Thanks for your comments, guys.

John Bem said...

Hurrah for the Machete love! It is an outright abomination that you never got to witness Grindhouse in-theater in its proper format. The hours just flew by; I could've gone all night. I agree with Tim: it was an awesome moviegoing experience. I was sorely disappointed that many people didn't 'get' the Grindhouse idea. Were the 1970s really that long ago? I'm very appreciative to Tarantino and Rodriguez for keeping alive, in acutality and in spirit, a genre (in my mind, grindhouse is a genre) of movie that many of us adore and prefer. During Machete, there were parts where I actually cheered. Along with everything else it is, it's a great story of the underdog rising up against the Man that's keeping him down: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us" is one of the best lines in any movie anytime anywhere. Thanks for the great post.