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Machete Kills poster

Rodriguez’s most recent contribution to the Mexploitation subgenre, Machete Kills is exactly the movie one would expect it to be: a shallow, self-congratulatorily hip, and hyperviolent celebration of Mexican ethnic pride and muscle-flexing Reconquista. Danny Trejo reprises the role of the righteous butcher who in this sequel accepts a presidential offer of American citizenship in exchange for stopping a cataclysmic missile strike on Washington. Machete Kills is sufficiently fast-paced to ward off snores, but the cartoonish tone and the flippant approach to the violence keep it from generating any emotional interest or genuine suspense. One hopes for the sake of the future of film that this big-budget B-movie brand of Tarantinoid, winking, self-aware exploitation fetishism has almost run its course.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Machete Kills is:

13. State-skeptical. “Justice and law aren’t always the same thing.”

12. Anti-military. Corrupt soldiers sell government-issue arms to a drug cartel.

11. Anti-family. A whore recounts how her father raped her. (see also no. 2)

10. Drug-ambivalent. Machete “don’t smoke”, but lights a bazooka like a bong. The drug cartels are his enemies.

9. Pro-miscegenation. Can anyone blame Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) for being unable to resist Machete’s haggard, wrinkly, and humorless Aztec charms?

8. Anti-gun. Machete prefers blades. A campaign commercial associates Second Amendment advocacy with pork spending on military hardware. The principal villain, Voz (Mel Gibson), is a firearms manufacturer.

7. Globalist and war-ambivalent. “This isn’t about Mexico no more. It’s about the world.” Voz reveals he has installed puppet troublemakers in North Korea and Russia so as to pump government interest in his military wares. While there is truth in the notion that international bogeys are frequently manufactured as pretexts for war, Machete Kills endorses the neocon worldview to the extent that it accepts that Russia and North Korea are legitimately threatening to American national security. “Fuck world peace,” says Miss San Antonio.

6. Feminist. “Don’t call me sweetheart,” bristles Sartana (Jessica Alba) before gunning down a male chauvinist pig. Machete Kills milks the tired non-novelty of women acting tough and shooting their mouths and machine-guns, which here include weapons mounted on the bosom and crotch. Interestingly, the long tradition of sexual violence directed exclusively at the male genitalia finally seems to be coming home to haunt the feminists in the form of the sickening “pussy punch”. Only girls are allowed to play this dirty hand, however. (see also no. 2)

5. Anti-Christian. Voz looks forward to a day when “kingdom comes”. White supremacist Sheriff Doakes uses expressions like “Amen” and “Hallelujah”. Assassin the Chameleon (a shapeshifter portrayed at different points in the film by Walter Goggins, Cuba Gooding, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas) drives a truck called the “Holy Roller”, with kitschy religious knickknacks on the dashboard. “Preach it, Sister,” says villainess Miss San Antonio.

4. Anti-white. Whites – surprise, surprise! – are the bad guys. Those who, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, concern themselves with America’s sovereignty and security, are represented in Machete Kills by the likes of the dopey Minutemen-like “Freedom Force” and Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler), who calls Mexicans things like “taco” and “beaner”. Voz plans to abscond into outer space with a load of Mexicans to serve him as slave labor. Blonde beauty and secret agent Miss San Antonio lives up to her hair color and turns out to be a traitoress. The decision to cast Mel Gibson, with his off-screen baggage of accusations of anti-Semitism and bigotry, as supervillain Voz reinforces the anti-white/anti-racist theme.

3. Pro-amnesty. Machete is Mexico, observes President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen), who by offering citizenship to Machete is in effect endorsing the wholesale naturalization of everybody south of the border. “Even Jesus couldn’t get through that damn wall.” Sadly, many of the ignorant dupes who see this movie will probably be led to believe that there actually is a wall protecting the U.S. from turd world invasion.

2. Anti-human. The title says it all, with enough red splattering to paint a barn. In addition, Miss San Antonio in her pageant speech endorses “a woman’s right to choose.”

1. Razist. “You fucked with the wrong Mexican.”

Those attracted by top-billed Danny Trejo, who plays a priest named Father Connely [sic], will be disappointed to learn that the haggard actor dies in the opening scene of this oddball Christian horror film. Likewise, Eric Roberts, the other celebrity name in the cast, has only a smallish role as the sinister Father Tollman. Whether or not The Cloth offers any other inducements will be a matter mainly of the individual viewer’s interest in religion, exorcism, and copious low-grade CGI.

Following the deaths of his parents and his disillusionment at the acquittal of a murderous drunk driver, young Jason (Kyler Willett) would be content to spend his life in hedonistic abandon, clubbing, drinking, and bagging chicks; but Father Diekman (Lassiter Holmes) has other plans for the lad. Diekman belongs to a secret order of special ops clergy, The Cloth, that wages Hellboyish war on the unholy through exorcism and spiritualized gunplay. Jason, though reluctant to join at first, becomes a convert when confronted with demons firsthand. Soon, with the salutary example of sexy but modest Laurel (Perla Rodriguez) and gunsmith Helix (Cameron White) to guide him, Jason is utilizing a silly array of Christian weaponry like holy water grenades, armor forged from materials in the Ark of the Covenant, and corny CGI firepower to dispatch the Devil’s minions.

Kyler Willett is handsome and likable enough as smart aleck hero Jason, but Lassiter Holmes, true to his name, tends rather too much toward lassitude as the boring Father Diekman, an uninspiring mentor to say the least. Rodriguez gets a lot of mileage from coyly brushing the hair from her eyes, and White lends just the right mix of class and kitsch with his English accent and tacky Christian t-shirts that say things like, “Exorcise regularly.” The dialogue does sometimes leave these actors in the lurch, however, and never rises above the mildly amusing level of, “That’s holy water – bitch.”

More damaging than any shortcomings of casting, however, are the filmmakers’ insistence on bringing to the screen effects-reliant phantasmagorias that are simply beyond the means of such a limited budget. The action sequences, too, are sometimes overly abrupt and insufficiently covered. The Cloth, consequently, is about as scary as the cover of the Louvin Brothers’ album Satan Is Real. Those interested in studying or actualizing the cavernous blackness of the Catholic imagination would do better to turn to the philosophical horrors of William Peter Blatty, The Ninth Configuration and Exorcist III, which rely on depth of atmosphere and the weight of ideas rather than special effects to keep audiences alert and entertained.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cloth is:

11. Anti-state. As an unjust court decision demonstrates, justice is to be had not through secular law, but through the arms of a militant Church.

10. Anti-capitalistic. A priest taking diabolical bribes is unwilling to assist a poor parishioner whose contribution is understandably small. This venal villain is repaid handsomely when coins pour from his mouth in a torrent.

9. Pro-life. Jason’s father, Diekman relates, resisted the counsel to “terminate” Laurel’s life when she was possessed and instead chose to see the potential for good in her.

8. Anti-drug. Drinking and driving means accidents. Jason, a drinker at the beginning of the film, later fills his hip flask with holy water. The Devil’s possessed snort lines of cocaine.

7. Multiculturalist. Anglos and Hispanics work together more than once. “The very basis of our beliefs stems from the arrival of the Apostles from such places as Jerusalem, Africa, and even Asia.” (cf. no. 3)

6. Pro-gun. One gun owner standing in the way of the Cloth’s mission brandishes his weapon threateningly, but firearms are for the most part represented positively as indispensable implements of the Lord’s work.

5. Miscegenation-ambivalent. Jason and white-enough Hispanic cutie Laurel walk away hand-in-hand at the end, but interracial pairings of spicier stuff are strictly the province of the Devil.

4. Anti-slut/anti-gay. Good girl Laurel represents sexual modesty charmingly. Laurel, initially rejecting Jason’s advances, tells him, “My beliefs come before my own personal desires.” Fornicators are more than once destroyed by demonic power or disfigured. Cohabitation is also discouraged, as Jason’s devilish ex-girlfriend leaves an odor of sulfur in his apartment. The Devil’s hos, naturally, are promiscuous lesbos. The Cloth would also appear to frown on tattoos.

3. Racist! Clearly self-loathing black writer-director Justin Price casts himself as the demon Kasdeyah, Satan’s emissary on Earth. Minorities are disproportionately represented among the possessed (cf. no. 7).

2. Traditionalist/pro-family. Jason, though he has long resented and misunderstood his father, comes to follow in his footsteps both professionally and spiritually.

1. Christian and specifically Catholic. Latin mumbo jumbo works! Laurel, explaining away the occasional bad apple in the clergy, claims, “There’s no such thing as corruption in the Church, Jason. The only Church that has ever existed lies within.”

Counterpunch‘s opening credits play over slow-motion footage of a pugilist gracefully practicing his art alone in a ring, inviting immediate comparison with Raging Bull – which, however, does Counterpunch no favors, only throwing into starker contrast than necessary the dramatic inferiority of everything that follows.  The best boxing films are character studies, and Counterpunch at least gets that part right, focusing more on the personal life of aspiring fighter Emilio Manrique (Alvaro Orlando) than on his professional struggles.  The trouble is that Manrique too often comes across as a victim rather than a hero, and that the idea of an athlete with bipolar disorder overcoming his gang past, an alcoholic mother, a stabbed dog, and a grandmother’s heart disease simply falls short of good entertainment.

Alvaro Orlando is charming as an unusually shy fighter attached to his dog but awkward when it comes to women.  Counterpunch might have been a better, more satisfying film had the character not been a boxer at all, as the film’s treatment of the sport and the figures who operate around it offers little new to the genre apart from peppery, bickering Cubans and the boring novelty of an attractive female fight promoter. Camila Banus is never really convincing as someone who would live in this grimy world, but does have a chemistry with Orlando and might have been better utilized in a more fully developed romantic storyline.  Danny Trejo, contrarily, has the perfect type of hardened features for a study of the demimonde of broken lives that is boxing, but Trejo has little to do in his meager and undemanding supporting role as a friendly orderly in a mental institution.

Counterpunch‘s biggest mistake where the hard-hitting boxing melodrama is concerned may be its insistence on being blandly uplifting (including the obligatory climactic comeback knockout) where downbeat defeat would be more realistic and faithfully tragic.  ICA’s advice: see Fat City or Requiem for a Heavyweight instead.  2.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Counterpunch is:

7. Anti-slut.  Apart from the unfavorable depiction of Emilio’s mother (Yeniffer Behrens), there is a scene in which a woman having sex in a parked car becomes the target of gang members looking for group action.

6. Feminist.  “If I’m going to be a female boxing promoter, I gotta work twice as hard,” resourceful promoter Talia Portillo (Camila Banus) says, suggesting that the sexist professional deck is stacked against the distaff.

5. Anti-drug.  Emilio attempts suicide after drinking heavily and smoking a joint.  His alcoholic mother is a mess and suffers at the hand of her druggy boyfriend, who is eventually murdered in a dispute over a dime bag.

4. Christian.  “God’s last name is not ‘Damn’,” Emilio’s Grandma Daisy (Ivonne Coll) reverently reminds his Uncle Frank (Oscar Torre).  When Emilio questions God’s existence, Grandma Daisy placidly reassures him, saying, “God gave me you.”  Uncle Frank sends Emilio a Bible for comfort during his institutionalization.

3. Class-conscious.  Emilio says he comes from a part of Miami no one ever sees.  He lacks the promotional backing of established fighter Teddy (Jilon Ghai) and feels uncomfortable at a trendy dance party attended by beautiful, well-dressed people.

2. Diversity-skeptical.  Cuban street thugs (who call each other “Nigga”) react with hostility to encroachments onto their turf by “dirty Haitians”.  After Emilio’s gang, the Jack Boys, beat and rob a Caucasian, one member taunts him, “A’ight, Mr. White Man, pleasure doing business with you.”  “I hate the way people look down at pitbulls just because of the way they look,” Emilio reflects suggestively at one point.  Though never made explicit, there is a racial tension to his rivalry with white fighter Teddy.

1. Pro-family.  Emilio’s mother repeatedly lets him down, but his Uncle Frank and Grandma Daisy are dependable and a source of strength.

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