Friday Fisticuffs Blu-Review: Machete Kills (2013)

machete kills I get a lot of random PR emails. I’m not sure how I got on some of the lists and a lot of them wind up in the ol’ trash bin, but every now and then I get one I’m really excited about. Once such PR email asked if I’d be interested in a review copy of Machete Kills. Hell yes, of course I was! Life got a bit in the way so this review is going up later than I intended, but I really wanted to add my voice to the choirs praising Robert Rodriguez’s latest film.

I didn’t remember much about the first film and thought about going back and re-watching that one again, but a quick read of my own review helped fill in the blanks. This time around, everyone’s favorite former Federale Machete gets sent on a mission by the president (Charlie Sheen) to find out what bad guy Demian Bichir is up to. As it turns out, he’s about to launch a rocket and has hooked a dead man’s switch up to his own heart. Things don’t go so well for him, but his heart goes on Celine Dion-style.

Eventually we find out that Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) is the real bad guy who also has space-based plans. Guys, there’s a lot going on in this movie. Machete runs afoul of a face-changing killer called The Chameleon played by Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonia Banderas. Actors like Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Spy Kids star Alexa Vega and Tom Savini return for the fun alongside Rodriguez newcomers Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara and even Vanessa Hudgens.

This film was an over-the-top smorgasbord of awesomeness that oozes with Rodriguez’s style and charm. Every time I watch one of his movies, I can feel how much he enjoys making these things. I can relate to his desire to make a variety of different kinds of art and envy the way he’s figured out how to bring those visions to fruition. He also has the uncanny ability to bring in a variety of famous actors who in this case don’t distract from the story because the whole thing is already ramped up to 11 to begin with.

I haven’t had a chance to go through the deleted and extended scenes at all but the Making Machete Kills featurette on the Blu-ray was pretty great. If you’re not familiar with how Rodriguez makes movies, this will give you a really good idea. If you are familiar, it’s a fun addition to what you already know with this specific cast.

Every time I finish one of Rodriguez’s movies I feel creatively charged and have a renewed respect for and love of movies. This guy is really doing it the way he wants to and I respect that. Plus, he makes super fun movies of which Machete Kills is a great example.

We Want Action: Predators (2010)

I don’t read a lot of movie reviews because I have a pretty good idea of what I do and don’t like. The only real reviews I pay attention to are the ones done on the Totally Rad Show podcast because I usually sync up with at least one of those dudes. When they reviewed Predators when it came off, I don’t think they were very happy with the movie. I remember Jeff Cannata being disappointed and noting that the setting used in the film wasn’t really used as well as it could have been. I also had some friends who saw it and weren’t all that enthusiastic, but I was still hopeful. Not hopeful enough to actually go see the movie in theaters, but hopeful enough to move it to the top of my Netflix Queue when it came out on DVD. I finally got around to watching the movie and I’ve got to say, I kind of loved it.

I think it helped that I haven’t watched another Predator movie in a while. I love the first one and even the second one, but was woefully disappointed by the two Alien Vs. Predator movies like many fellow fans. So, while I could appreciate a lot of the notes that this movie picked up from the previous ones (giant Gatling gun, woman surviving, traps, etc.) I wasn’t constantly distracted with thoughts of “they lifted that whole thing from FILL IN THE BLANK PREDATOR MOVIE.”

However, I did agree with Cannata’s assessment for at least the first 30 minutes of the movie, basically until the horned hound-pig things showed up. See, the basis of the film is that some Predators, instead of heading to a species’ home planet to hunt, will grab some prey and bring it back to a jungle world and hunt them there, like a game preserve. Our heroes who are actually all villains in the real world (predators themselves as one character points out) got abducted and then parachuted onto the planet. This time around they banded together to try and figure what the heck was going on. It takes almost exactly a half hour for them to guess what we already know, but that time is spent getting to know the characters to some extent and also hitting a few classic notes that I found really appealing like when they accidentally spring a dead soldier’s traps. I liked that scene because it basically tells the audience, “Hey, that’s not how this one is going to end.” After that there’s a lot of fights with Predators and even between Predators and a few twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting but without getting too bogged down including the appearance of Laurence Fishburne as a character who had been surviving on the planet for many seasons and who had lost his damn mind.

I liked the movie overall even though it’s clearly not perfect. The jungle could have been a lot more alien, maybe not Avatar-levels of weirdness, but maybe a few more indigenous dangers. I also was unclear on a few of the alien relationships like the non-Predator thing that chased Topher Grace, which was apparently based on the original design for the Predators (nice touch, by the way). One of the characters thought they were in cages or something. I also wasn’t clear on why the one Predator was tied up. I’m sure some of this information was given but I missed it because I was working.

Aside from a few small quibbles though, I thought the movie was a ton of fun and delivered everything I wanted: several Predators hunting humans with different destructive skill sets and same rad stand-offs between them. I really dug the casting. Adrien Brody surprised me as the hero even if his gruff voice got a little annoying after a while (this from a guy who didn’t even notice how ridiculous Christian Bale’s Batman voice was), but he does a good job of being cunning and caring just enough about his fellow castaways. I love Danny Trejo so it was fun to see him. Fishburne did a good job in his scenes. I liked Topher Grace a lot, mostly because I’m a big That 70s Show fan and the character he plays in this might as well have been a time traveling version of that Eric Forman (well, until the end). I didn’t really recognize the rest of the cast, but I thought they all played their roles well.

And now, a potentially spoilery list of moments in the movie that I loved. When the girl almost shoots herself in the head instead of letting a monster eat her. The intensity of the dead soldier’s trap. The sword fight between the Yakuza dude and the Predator. The reveal that Grace’s character is actually a serial killer, which makes all kinds of sense because why would the Predators snatch a doctor? Brody’s character using fire to camouflage himself when fighting the Predator at the end. That same Predator’s mask and face were both awesome. The projectile Predator blade. A Predator vs. Predator fight. Two beheadings BOTH PREDATORS. And, finally, the not really an ending ending that leaves things open for a sequel.

The movie was so fun I kept getting lost in it when I should have been working. I especially liked that writer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal seemed to have a lot of respect for the Predator mythos, but didn’t seem married to it. They worked in a new way for them to hunt and through Fishburne’s character tried explaining how that all works, though I’d have to watch again to really catch it. The characters themselves might not have been the most fleshed out in the world, but they don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to either (who would have expected the prisoner with a knife, the Yakuza with a handgun and the doctor with no weapons would live that long?). Combine all that with my favorite movie aliens, lots of action and A SWORD FIGHT WITH A PREDATOR and I’m a happy camper.

Here’s my pitch for a sequel if anyone is interested. We pick back up with Brody’s character who has done his best to salvage the weapons that Fishburne’s character had found. While he arms himself with weapons from all ages (guns don’t really seem to work well, though explosives do) we get a look at who each of the weapons belonged to and how they fared against the Predators. Really, I just want to see Samurais, Ninjas, Vikings and maybe some weird other aliens fighting Predators on the big screen. And yes, I would actually go see the sequel in the theaters if these guys got tasked to make another one, though I’m not sure how likely that will be because guys like me didn’t see it in theaters the first time around. A vicious circle indeed.