Unlike the vast majority (all?) of my colleagues here at The Satellite Show, I don’t routinely see movies in the theatre. Mostly because I live in Downtown LA where the only first-run movie theatre is buried in the massive ocular-rape perpetrating LA Live complex.
It’s a pain in the face enough to be skullfucked by giant digital billboards, but when you add the cost of a cab or parking on top of the not-insubstantial ticket price well, that’s a lot of disincentives to make the trek.
It’s not that I don’t like movies. I love them. Between Netflix and premium cable I watch at least four movies a week, often many more. And when I lived in Culver City, within walking distance of two excellent theatres, I did see a lot more first run movies.
But Machete was something else. Somehow it did more to convince me to go to the theatre than any other movie since Avatar. Not even Inception (which I still haven’t seen, but want to) had enough pull. I even saw it opening weekend, at the Cineramadome no less. Machete was pure sex, violence, campy gore and so-bad-it’s-good comedy. It’s everything I want in a Saturday afternoon summer film.
I’m not actually going to reveal any significant plot points, but nevertheless I will be talking about some non-trailer parts of the film, so be warned.
Overall, it was pretty great.
Violence-wise, it was about what I expected: decapitations galore, limbs chopped off, lots of spurting blood. The scene where Machete eviscerates a gangster and then rappels to freedom on his entrails was a particular highlight. For the squeamish, know that the gore level is that of 70’s grindhouse: ridiculous and comical, not explicitly graphic.
The movie was also pretty damn funny. Danny Trejo’s deadpan is fantastic and it’s fun to see an actor who actually acts exactly like his internet-meme persona. Some of the Chicano humor devolved to Carlos Mencia-level baseness at a few points, but it mostly maintained itself at an appropriately self-conscious level.
Machete was a surprisingly successful political film as well, even if the all-hands-on-deck impromptu day laborer militia was pretty corny. Robert DeNiro’s caricature of an anti-immigration politician is still not as craven as real-life sleazeballs like Meg Whitman or John McCain and Don Johnson as the leader of a vigilante border patrol gang is only a half-step away from being frighteningly believable. The plot starts to break down in the final act, but it makes up for a lack of political logic with some spectacular violence and really really hot chicks.
Which reminds me, the movie was way more sexed-up than I expected. However, when the NPR critics mentioned a Jessica Alba nude scene I was expecting something more than an artfully absurd sideways shot of her working on her laptop in the shower (I want a waterproof laptop!) which, side boob aside, didn’t really qualify for a nude scene and wasn’t racier than anything in Sin City. A topless Lindsay Lohan was a surprise, not sure a pleasant one, but kudos to Robert Rodriguez for casting Lohan as a drug-addicted slut and to Lohan for not taking herself too seriously. Michelle Rodriguez rocks as well. I don’t fault the editors for producing a trailer showing an eye patch-wearing assault-rifle wielding Rodriguez exiting a taco truck in hip huggers and a bikini top, guns blazing. It no doubt put a lot of butts in the seats, even if it spoils a significant late film plot point late.
The most shocking hot naked chick moment is in the first sequence where Machete rescues a drug-addled kidnap victim who he slings over his shoulder and carries out of a drug den. She’s completely naked and only a few inches of parted thigh away from an NC-17 rating.
This prompted a stirring post-movie discussion between my friend and me: is it time to give the mainstream NC-17 rating another shot? I would gladly have a spirited argument with anyone who thinks Machete wouldn’t have benefited from more nudity and violence. It’s already a trashy bloodfest, why should it be restricted?
The MPAA tried to combat the the co-option of the “X” rating but pornographers when it introduced the “NC-17” rating, but distributors and advertisers didn’t change their standards and, thanks in large part to the most heavily marketed NC-17 film, Showgirls, earning its rating largely because of softcore sex, it retained its association with prurient sleaze. And to add insult to injury, it was now associated with a shitty movie like Showgirls.
(The Dreamers and Requiem for a Dream, are notable exceptions of NC-17 movies that were modestly successful by limited-release indie standards.)
There is a type of movie that exists beyond “R” and there needs to be a way to allow for them to be commercially viable. There was a serious discussion a while ago led by Roger Ebert to introduce the “A” rating for a non-pornographic movies intended for adults only. Canada does this successfully with an “18A” rating, meaning under-18 only with adult accompaniment (essentially the same as the MPAA “R”), while the Canadian “R” rating designates any movie intended only for those 18 and over while the “A” rating indicates a pornographic film.
Violence, gore, nudity and sex have legitimate entertainment and artistic values that go beyond the prurient and it’s wrong to have a system that puts de facto restrictions on artistic expression. Because of the economic repercussions of a fairly arbitrary MPAA system filmmakers are forced to compromise art for arbitrary reasons: instead of allowing a movie to succeed or fail on its merits, it is almost guaranteed financial failure because of its rating alone, so they’re forced to edit.
A major film maker like Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino taking the lead is going to be key to proving the viability of a “rating beyond R.” Give it a shot.