Machete Don’t Review

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Philosophical question here.  If someone deliberately tries to make a bad movie and succeeds gloriously, have they done something good?

To understand the background for the recently released Machete Kills, you have to start a couple films ago in 2007’s Grindhouse.  The directors of the film put trailers for fake movies in between each of Grindhouse’s segments, one of which for an over-the-top parody of 70’s exploitation films starring the film industry’s biggest “That One Guy”, Danny Trejo.  I imagine director Robert Rodriguez had planned to leave it at that, but the trailer turned out to be surprisingly popular, so of course they turned it into a movie.

And a wonderful movie it was.  Freed from the standard filmmaking constraints of “making sense” and “not being totally stupid”, 2010’s Machete was a celebration of wild badassery and rampant sex, forming a modern take on the blaxploitation craze while straddling the line of parody the whole way through.  Sporting more fake blood than that weird uncle of yours on Halloween and less plot sense than the ending to Mass Effect 3, Machete was such a beautifully dumb action movie that nevertheless has some real substance behind it.

So how exactly do you follow that up?  How do you make a sequel based on a joke that’s already been told?  Well, apparently, you make Machete Kills.

The obvious thing to do when creating a sequel to something where the main selling point is just how excessive everything is would be to just push the envelope even further.  Take the dials that are already at eleven, and twist them up to 15 or so.  Get the party loud enough to where you start blowing out your neighbor’s windows.  Machete Kills, on the other hand, tones things down considerably.  It’s like the neighbor comes over and politely asks you to turn your music down, and you actually listen.  Who even does that?!

But yeah, the sequel is much less extreme than the original was.  The violence is less inventive and more restrained, the sexual content is mostly gone, and many of the traditional ‘exploitation’ elements have just been forgotten.  And honestly, that last one is probably the biggest factor dragging this movie down.  While it never stops being so self-awarely redonkulous, Machete Kills does not seem to poke as much fun at its subject matter as its predecessor did.  And when you’re not being tongue-in-cheek about many of the moments presented, it just kind of creates a bit of dissonance, like you’re expecting the viewer to take some of the craziest pieces seriously.

One of the biggest draws of the first Machete was getting name actors in the most bizarre roles, and in some senses, the casting of Machete Kills may be even better in that regard.  Obviously, Danny “I can’t believe he’s finally getting a starring role” Trejo returns as the title character, with Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba also reprising their roles from the last film.  They’re joined by Charlie Sheen making a four-course meal out of the scenery as President Rathcock, Mel Gibson hamming it up as one of the primary villains, and Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas all showing up and having nothing to do with anything really.  But honestly, the stunt casting really works out well in this movie.  Gibson in particular seemed to be having a huge amount of fun in his role, more so than in any other movie I’ve seen him in.

All in all, Machete Kills seems to lack the spirit the original had.  They’re both stupid frenzied movies, to be sure, but the sequel doesn’t quite feel as personal as the previous one did.  The first Machete had a surprising amount of substance for what it was.  It was a movie with things to say, and while it said them by essentially screaming obscenities into a bullhorn, its content all worked well together, fitting the pieces into a very solid whole.  Machete Kills, on the other hand, seems much more disjointed and indecisive.  Events seem to happen randomly, the tone and themes vary wildly and drop easily, and there are a lot of characters and plot points that never seem to connect with the main plot.  That’s not to say there’s nothing of value here; there are a couple of smart things the movie does, particularly one where the ending connects with what seemed to be a throwaway gag in the beginning in such a major way.  But for the most part, it feels a lot like they were just throwing ideas out there and not paying attention to what actually worked together, rather than building a cohesive whole.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie.  It’s not.  It’s alright, if you’re into action fare and don’t mind a healthy dose of deliberate stupidity.  Problem is, it’s just not as good as the first one, and since the movie seems to operate with the assumption that you’ve already watched that movie, well, why would you not just go for that instead?

Denver Comic Con: Tale of The Line

Denver Comic Con should have been a slice of fandom heaven in the center of Colorado.  Only in their second year, they’ve already amassed a strong array of star power and quality panels.  With their lack of experience, one might wonder how they were able to pull it off.  Well, this past weekend, I found the answer.  In order to arrange this con, the organizers have turned to the darkness, dealing in powers beyond their control.  It involves contracts.  But not the kind of contracts we mortals are experienced in, no.  These contracts are of the sort entered into with outerworldly demons and signed in blood.  These contracts are of the sort that can only be paid with human lives.  These contracts are of the sort that unleash true horrors upon this world.

In order to hold this convention, the Denver Comic Con organizers summoned from the depths the Great Beast known only as The Line.  And The Line hungers.

I have stared down the gullet of this beast.  And I have emerged unbroken, but not entirely unscathed.  Others were not so lucky.  The Line feasts not on mortal flesh but on one’s very soul.  I watched as grown men were reduced to quivering messes.  I watched as strong human beings fell beneath the weight of The Line.  I survived, but it was only through luck and the gains of those fallen long before me.  I can take no pride in it, for I was able to do nothing to stop The Line from devouring others’ souls as it attempted to mine.

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When Writers Get it Wrong: Interpretation and Authorial Intent

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Every form of art, every bit of media, every story told, it all relies on the reader’s interpretation. That’s just how these things work. Everyone has their own personal lens through which they view these things. Stories do have different depths, of course. Something like George Orwell’s Animal Farm is meant to be analyzed at a far deeper level than the average Jason Statham face-kicking action movie. They both still require interpretation to get their point across to the viewer. Every artist has to leave it up to the viewer to interpret why it’s OK for Jason Statham to kick all those faces off, why his face-kicking cause is a noble one, and why kicking everyone’s face is going to help him achieve his goals. Thing is, it’s impossible to tell how one random person is going to read things. Everyone has their own unique set of experiences, preferences, morals, etc., and that colors they way they absorb this sort of stuff. Everyone’s going to read a story just a little bit differently. All the artist can do is put their content up there and hope the viewer is going to read it the way they expect.

Stories are what the reader reads, not what the writer writes. That’s just the way they work. The writer can use all the pretty prose and flowery phrases available to them when writing the perfect content to get across their point, but no matter how well crafted they are, words on paper are still just words on paper until the reader absorbs them. And readers don’t always read things the way the author intends. Those pesky consumers are always applying their own perspectives to what the artist lays out. It’s a beautiful thing, though. That’s what makes morals hit home, makes art more than just ink on a page or lights on a screen, makes stories apply to you personally. But what happens if the writer intends one thing, and you see another? Or what if the filmmaker intends something simple, while you find something deep and grandiose?

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Everything You Like is Fine

It seems that every couple of years, I’ll decide try and socialize a bit on the internet.  I know you wouldn’t think it, but it gets really distracting when every conversation partner you have in meatspace is getting constantly distracted by how good you look, so the faceless, anonymous form of dialoguing the internet offers is actually quite nice in comparison.  So I’ll do what hundreds of thousands of good internet denizens do and find me a nice forum.  Everything will be all good and fun and dandy at first, and I’ll be enjoying myself, but I’ll inevitably leave the forum within a year or so.  There’s just one sort of mentality that I always seem to run into, that I’ve honestly just grown tired of.

I seem to be a little unusual among the type of people who post on forums, in that I like most of the games I play.  I love the good games, of course, but I’m also usually able to find some sort of enjoyment in the bad ones, too.  Doesn’t mean I won’t rant and rave about them, of course, but usually I find them to be worth my while.  Same with most other media I actually bother to talk about.  Now, I’m far from an optimist.  I do see the glass as half full, but it’s half full of sewage.  However, with the various forms of entertainment I partake of, I seem to enjoy more things than do most people who take the time to write about them.

Well, apparently, that’s wrong.  It seems that there’s certain categories of every media you’re not supposed to like.  Talk about things that are too popular, too mainstream, too unique, too simple, too incomprehensible, too casual, etc., and there will always be some person there that pops up with “That thing sucks!  What’s wrong with you for playing/viewing/reading that?!”  And you know, the thing may suck.  But the problem here is that a) dude is applying a value to you personally for experiencing it and b) this sort of statement always seems to be toxic to discussion.  And that’s really all the fun of bringing it up in the first place, but once one person’s gotten judged for it, no one else is willing to speak up about it.  This isn’t a mentality that seems particularly common, but it’s out there enough that it’s popped up in every forum I’ve been a part of, and I absolutely hate it.  Not being able to talk about what I experience just ruins my point in joining forums in the first place.

So, good thing I have a blog, eh?  No one can stop me talking about things here.

The thing is, there’s really no wrong way to enjoy something.  With most entertainment materials, there’s not even wrong things to enjoy.  It’s art, everyone’s looking for different things out of it, and if the things you find lead you to love the material, there’s no way you can be wrong.  If you like something, it’s good, no matter what the general consensus says.  There’s no way to be wrong, whether you like something or not.  Well, except for my beauty.  That’s a universal constant, and if you don’t enjoy it, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

It always seems to get in vogue to hate something.  The mainstream loves a singer or author, and the counterculture rises up against it.  Neither are wrong, or right.  It’s art, whether you like it or not, and art applies itself individually.  It’s ok to like whatever you like, no matter what anyone says about it.  Justin Bieber, Twilight, Slut Soirees 23, if you enjoy something, that’s just what it means to you, and don’t let anyone else take that away.