DVD Tuesday: ‘Machete’ and ‘Dinner For Schmuks’

by W. Andrew Powell

Danny Trejo stars as Machete

Danny Trejo stars as Machete

Happy New Year, movie fans. Ringing in the new year are a hand full of new movies which debut on DVD and Blu-ray this week. This week’s big releases include: Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse extravaganza, Machete, starring Danny Trejo; Steve Carell and Paul Rudd star in the comedy, Dinner For Schmucks; and a look at Jay Roach’s horror film, The Last Exorcism.

Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan
Director: Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Rated: 7.5/10

If you’ve seen Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, Machete will probably be familiar. Back in 2007 when Grindhouse was released, to give the double-feature some style, Rodriguez and Tarantino created fake trailers for the kind of films that you would expect to see at your average b-movie cinema of yesteryear. The idea came from the days when Rodriguez was making Desperado though, and from the start the writer and director always had Danny Trejo in mind to play this contentious action hero.

Wooing the ladies, killing the bad guys, and never looking back, Machete is a tough Mexican ex-Federale who got burned by a druglord named Torrez, played by Steven Seagal. We catch up with Machete on the streets of Texas where he works as a day labourer until one man picks him up to kill a corrupt, loud-mouthed politician.

Michael Booth, played by Lost’s Jeff Fahey, hands Machete $150,000 to kill Senator McLaughlin, played by Robert De Niro, but Machete doesn’t realize that Booth works for McLaughlin, and is just trying to make a name for the senator and plans to set him up. Of course the senator’s aide also doesn’t realize that the old Mexican he just hired is actually the famed ex-Federale known as Machete.

When the trap is sprung and Machete goes to take the shot, one of Booth’s men appears, shoots Machete, and then shoots the senator in the leg. Machete has to run for his life, which is when he meets up with a number of very interesting characters as he works to get even, and find out who is behind it all.

Co-written by Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodriguez, Machete is a modern day b-movie with lots of blood and explosive action, but it also has a big message about America’s immigration laws. While the message gets a little heavy at times, Machete is a fun ride thanks to the countless string of cameos by the likes of Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, Jessica Alba as Sartana, De Niro, Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother Padre, not to mention Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, and Tom Savini.

Unlike The Expendables, which wasted its co-stars, Machete knows how to use its stars with hilarious tongue-in-cheek asides and jokes. The film is not for everyone of course. Machete is a hilarious action-comedy built on the heroe’s conquests with every pretty woman he meets, and the unique ways he finds to off the bad guys; it safe to say if you didn’t love the trailer, you’re going to hate the film.

That said, Machete is a little disappointing. The film is simply far, far too long — at 1 hour and 45 minutes, Machete feels like it needs to hammer you over the head with the immigration message, and the action starts and stops to make time for that. Machete was definitely made for the big screen, thanks to the action, the laughs, and the great leading ladies, but Rodriguez and Maniquis have made a film that will likely become a cult classic, even if it could have been a slicker action movie.

Praise is ultimately due to Trejo most of all for this film, as he proves admirably that he can play the classic hero–which proves more directors should be sending bigger parts his way.

Dinner For Schmucks
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak, Zach Galifianakis
Director: Jay Roach

As anyone who has taken public transit in any city in the world will tell you, the world is full of schmucks, and in director Jay Roach’s latest comedy, we get a look at every variety, in all their idiosyncratic ways.

Paul Rudd is Tim, an average business executive who wants to get ahead at any cost in the hopes of a brighter future with his girlfriend Julie, played by Stephanie Szostak. When he starts trying to impress his boss, played by Bruce Greenwood, he ends up being invited to a very special dinner with some very unique people.

The goal is to bring the biggest loser to the dinner party, and Tim might just have the perfect guy: Barry, the extravagant idiot who builds dreamscape dioramas for the dead rodents he collects around the city.

Now Tim just has to make sure Barry can “win” against a collection of the odd and the nearly insane. Tim just has to ask himself who is the bigger schmuck if he’s exploiting a friendly idiot to get ahead in his career.

Based on a French film that critics have called much more daring and original, Dinner For Schmucks has reviewers fairly divided. Some are calling it funny and energetic, while others think it’s deeply flawed and simply not that funny.

The general agreement among critics, however, is that Roach brings the same energy seen in his films Austin Powers, and Meet the Fockers, which makes for a funny, madcap story.

“This may not be the highest achievement of the director’s art — to exceed minimal expectations — but it’s an honorable one, and Roach makes the grade,” wrote Richard Corliss for Time Magazine.

While Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote, “In adapting Francis Veber’s 1998 French farce Le Dîner des cons (The Dinner Game), Roach and his writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have completely defanged it.”

The Last Exorcism
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright
Director: Daniel Stamm

Director Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism follows Reverend Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian, as he plans the final exorcism of his career while bringing along a documentary crew to film the event.

Although the reverend thinks the exorcism will be another useless visitation to a crazed religious fanatic, he plans to confess how he has ripped off the faithful over the years. Little does he know though that he’s about to face true evil in the face of the young Nell, played by Ashley Bell.

Earning respectable praise from a number of critics, The Last Exorcism looks like it might have more than a little in common with the recent reality-inspired film Paranormal Activity, but the majority of critics say it’s just not as scary.

Jesse Singal of the Boston Globe wrote, “It’s like director Daniel Stamm and his crew realized they were treading awfully close to making a film with real depth and edge that horror audiences might hate, and they just couldn’t pull the trigger”

Backing that idea up, John Anderson of Variety pointed out, “The Last Exorcism makes first-rate use of religious doubt and religious extremism to concoct a novel horror-thriller clever enough to seduce unbelievers while satisfying the bloodlust of its congregation/fanbase.”

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