Tag Archives: danny trejo

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, a fascinating hybrid between go-for-broke, tweaked out drug cinema, bloody, violent crime revenge thriller and moody, jazz soaked neo-noir, with a central performance from a committed Val Kilmer that goes waist deep in all three. I would say that it was ahead of its time and for that reason didn’t quite fully find its audience, but upon years of reflection I think it’s just such a specific piece that one has to be tuned in just right, and invest enough attention to appreciate it, the first time anyways. Kilmer is washed out meth head snitch Danny Parker, playing both sides of the narcotics game in hazy LA. Or is he trumpet player Tom Van Allen, haunted by past tragedy? The first half of the film sees him awash in an endless cycle of drug fuelled debauchery, stuck in a tireless set of hijinks with his tweaked out ‘friends’ (Adam Goldberg, Peter Saarsgard and more), and habitually snitching out dealers to two very corrupt cops (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, both royally sleazy). The second half shows us why, what dark passage of events led him to the lifestyle and the cursed trajectory he finds himself on in the final act. Kilmer is a restless fallen angel in the role, a man with secrets that the film respects by taking its time unfolding and not revealing too much too soon (avoid any trailers). His Danny even begs the audience to stick around, promising us there’s more to his story than rampant substance abuse. The cast is thick with talent, including Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, Shirley Knight, Luis Guzman, Meat Loaf, Deborah Kara Unger and a crazed, memorable Glenn Plummer. The scene stealer award has to go to thespian Vincent D’Onofrio though as one of the antagonists, a terrifying drug baron called Pooh Bear because he railed so much blow they had to cut off his nose and replace it with a disturbing prosthetic. His favourite pastimes include reenacting the Kennedy assassination with pigeons and an air rifle, smoking crack to yodel music CD’s and setting a rabid badger called ‘Captain Striving’ loose on the genitals of disloyal employees. The film finds a demented dark humour in him and many other characters, but the other side of that coin is the emotional turbulence and tragic resonance to Kilmer’s arc, two conflicting energies that seem to somehow coexist beautifully. The score by Thomas Newton is noirish and sad, with strains that sound almost like heavenly choirs too, giving the city of angels a half lit, otherworldly quality. The title is important; the Salton Sea represents three key elements to the film. The incident that spurs Kilmer down the rabbit hole takes place right near the picturesque titular place, but it also represents both the sea of excess and scum that Danny basks in, and the ocean of anguish, regret and sadness that engulfs Tom. A brilliant piece.

-Nate Hill

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Robert Rodriguez’s Machete

Danny Trejo has been acting for so many years that he’s now a totem of the collective action crime genre, and it was only a matter of time before he got a lead role. Thanks to pulp wizard Robert Rodriguez, that lead role came along in the form of Machete, a fake trailer preceding Rodriguez’s contribution to his Grindhouse mashup with pal Quentin Tarantino that was so popular it was only a matter of time before the feature length outing arrived. Well it arrived, and despite being a bit over saturated and too homogenized for its genre inspiration (where was the nudity??), it’s actually a barrel of fun. Rodriguez seems to have attracted Hollywood stars like a magnet since day one, and this one is positively peppered with high profile talent in the kind of roles you’d think they’d never be caught dead in. Trejo is all scowls and moody machismo as Machete, an ex Federalè turned brutal mercenary who seeks vengeance against the ruthless cartel boss responsible for the murder of his family, played of all people by Steven Seagal in the funniest work he’s ever done. There’s also a rigged election subplot stateside in which corrupt, evil senator Robert Deniro schemes all kinds of nasty shit. His lieutenant is played by Jeff Fahey, who was the villain in the fake trailer and expands his sinister presence here. He’s a natural born scene stealer and his businessman/hitman Booth is an especially violent creation, but I suppose if I had Lindsay Lohan for a daughter (she makes a cameo, parodying her own hard partying image) I’d be a tad grumpy too. There’s also Jessica Alba’s Sartana, a sexy female agent who plays both sides and lets the romantic sparks simmer between her and Trejo, until the film pussies out before we get a deserved sex scene. Michelle Rodriguez is a lot of fun as Luz, a revolutionary badass who disguises her operation in a taco truck. The cast is unreal and includes Shea Wigham as Fahey’s exasperated lead assassin, Tom Savini as the world’s most elaborate contract killer, Don Johnson as a racist scumbag southern fried Sheriff and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a catholic priest who isn’t afraid to use a couple holy shotguns to do do the lord’s dirty work. Robert Rodriguez really jumped onboard the grindhouse train after his joint venture with Tarantino, while QT abandoned ship. This flicks is a lot of fun and allows esteemed actors to play in the sandbox with reckless abandon, and most importantly, Danny Trejo to bask in the spotlight after toiling so hard in the supporting ranks for decades. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too tame in the sex department to count as grindhouse fare (all these hot actresses and not a single nipple flourish or bush brandish), but I suppose when Big Hollywood green-lights a gritty fake trailer, you have to somewhat tow the line, even if you are one of Hollywood’s greatest genre magicians. The sight of Trejo ripping out a dude’s intestines and using them to repel down the face of a building is definitely in the spirit of the sort of films that inspired this though. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Gun

Gun is one of the countless disposable B grade flicks that 50 Cent insists on starring in, for some reason. I mean, the guy got rich, he didn’t die trying, he’s set up for a few lifetimes and he just won’t quit showing up in direct to DVD genre stuff, it’s amusingly weird and I’d love to one day ask him why. Maybe he just really enjoys acting, in which case I say go for it, but maybe with an agent who’s a bit choosier at the script roulette table. This one also stars Val Kilmer, a similarly afflicted actor who’s recently been slumming it, but the two aren’t half bad here as a powerful gun runner (fiddy) and his old prison buddy (Vally) who’s looking for a job. What the big guy doesn’t know is that Kilmer is has actually been tagged by the Feds as an informant, which turns the situation into a powder keg of betrayal and secrets that could get lit any minute. The real scene stealer here is James Remar as a dogged vice detective who has been consumed by the task of taking them both down, he puts actual grit and feeling into the role and seems to be a guest star from a way better film. Others include beauty queen Annalynne McCord as a dangerous rival arms dealer, a quick cameo from Danny Trejo playing his usual brand of aggressive thug, and strangely enough John Larroquette as well, who I swear I haven’t seen in anything since Richie Rich back in the 90’s. You could do worse for this kind of fare, but it’s nothing special.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Seven Mummies

Seven Mummies is so bad it plays like something that From Dusk Till Dawn shat out along the highway. There’s not even one mummy in the thing, let alone seven, instead it’s a dull, shoddily acted piece of bargain bin garbage and the plastic used to make DVD copies would have been put to better use elsewhere. It concerns a bus full of convicts who escape somewhere in the remote southwest, and head for the Mexican border. On the way they stumble across Aztec treasure that has some vague curse, and soon an even vaguer evil is after them all, but none of it makes much sense. Danny Trejo is in it as a mysterious old weirdo called Apache (never mind that he’s so obviously, visibly Mexican), who sits on a dilapidated desert porch and ominously laughs to himself while staring out at the horizon for at least a whole scene. Seriously. No actual lines at all, just laughing and staring, it’s so odd. The one saving grace is veteran villain actor Billy Drago as the evil ghost of an old west outlaw who shows up to cackle and terrorize everyone in a classically hammy bit of theatricality, it’s always great to see him. Other than that there’s really no signs of life to this one, from crappy low rent CGI monsters to lazy filmmaking all round. You’re better off pulling up a chair next to Trejo on that dusty porch and joining him as he chuckles at the tumbleweed dumpster fire of a film he agreed to d just for a few bucks. Amazingly though, it’s still better than that Tom Cruise Mummy flick from last year. Ugh.

-Nate Hill

The STUNTWOMAN: An Interview with Cheryl Wheeler by Kent Hill

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It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.

Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion

Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films as Back to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.

I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.

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B Movie Glory: Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale is a gong show, and not in a good way. I’m not talking about the De Palma film of the same name, which is a gong show in a good way. This thing is a sad, no budget little tv flick from back in the day starring Colin Firth, who has seen better days than he has here. It’s a strange psycho sexual ‘mystery’ in which none of the plot points really make sense and each scenario gets a little more ridiculous than the last. Firth plays a fairly meek dude who’s recently married a mysterious girl (Lisa Zane) that he doesn’t know much about, and she turns out to be someone different entirely, leading him on a dull goose chase across the country to find out just who he tied the knot with. Zane is Billy Zane’s sister by the way, and speaking of him he’s on this too as Firth’s eccentric friend, which is a hoot because you get to hear him refer to his sister as a ‘diesel dyke.’ The central mystery involves several identities she takes up and more than a few multiple personalities brought by by unconventional therapy from a shady psychiatrist (the great Scott Wilson in a hammy extended cameo), but ultimately its hard to care about a story this loosely threaded, far fetched and just plain silly. Watch for some gem cameos though from the likes of Danny Trejo as a worldly tattoo artist, Catherine Coulson (the beloved Log Lady on Twin Peaks) as a nun who delivers some exposition and then peaces out and character actor Pat Skipper as a rowdy henchman who steals scenes like nobody’s business. Overall it’s a fairly useless piece of fluff though, painfully average and inconsequential.

-Nate Hill

Con Air

Con Air, man. Is there a better movie about inmates who take over an airplane and hold the guards hostage? It’s actually the only movie about that, but in all seriousness it’s one hell of a blast of summer action movie fireworks, and it holds up like a fucking diamond to this day. It’s ridiculous and it full well knows it, but producers Jerry Bruckheimer and notorious pyrotechnics enthusiast Don Simpson start at outlandish and only ascend from there, until there’s so many explosions, crashes, bangs, tough guy banter, graphic violence and commotion that it reaches a fever pitch and you kind of just surrender to the onslaught and get lost in hyperkinetic bliss for two glorious hours. One of the biggest assets the film has is the script by cunning linguist Scott Rosenberg (Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead), who gives every character at least a handful of one liners and keeps the dialogue fresh, cynical and never short on laughs. Nicolas Cage and his tangled, flowing mane of hair play Cameron Poe, a good ol’ Alabama boy just off of a jail stint for accidentally killing a redneck asshole (Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage) who verbally assaulted his beautiful wife (Monica Potter). Here’s the setup: he’s paroled and stuck on a giant aircraft thats sole purpose is to transport convicts around the country. Now the department of corrections being the geniuses that they are (John Cusack is the head genius in this case), they decide to populate this particular flight with literally the worst group of psychotic, ill adjusted, murdering dissidents that ‘Murcia has to offer, because staggering them over a few flights or peppering just a few monsters in with the regular convicts every third or fourth flight just makes too much sense, or, as we the audience must remember and revere, there would be no bombastically entertaining hook for a story like this. Of course the plane gets taken over, the inmates run a very big flying asylum and many people die in many different ways, while Cage sticks around to play hero, protect his cell mate friend (Mykelti Williamson) and take out as many of these bastards as he can, often with his bare hands. Talk about eclectic, layered casts; everyone is in this flick, starting with scary John Malkovich as Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, a career criminal who claims he’s killed more people than cancer. Yeah. Ving Rhames is a hulking lunatic called Diamond Dog, vicious Nick Chinlund scores points as mass murderer Billy Bedlam, Danny Trejo is a heinous piece of work called Johnny 23 on account of his numerous rape charges, and there’s all manner of creeps, scoundrels and scumbags including Dave Chappelle, M.C. Gainey, Juan Fernandez, Emilio Riviera, Doug Hutchison and more. Colm Meaney, Don S. Davis, Rachel Ticotin and Powers Boothe make impressions as well, but it’s Steve Buscemi who takes the cake as a Hannibal Lecter-esque nutjob named Garland Greene, who’s so dangerous that corrections officers will literally only touch him with ten foot poles. It’s an action movie that dares to get really down n’ dirty, and probably wouldn’t get made today, or at least not without a few tweaks to its very profane, deliberately messed up script. I wouldn’t have the thing any other way though, not only is it mean and nasty, it’s got all the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster, plus the Lerner Airfield sequence and the Vegas strip landing set piece are two of the most monumentally raucous action undertakings I’ve ever seen, not to mention the subsequent fire truck chase that destroys half the city and makes gruesome use of a pile driver. This film is as far over the top as the altitude that the plane flies at, and then some.

-Nate Hill