Tag Archives: vanessa hudgens

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills

If Robert Rodriguez’s Machete cracked a few beers in the grindhouse exploitation cooler, his follow up Machete Kills taps the entire keg and lets it flow for a sequel that although isn’t as focused or on point as the first, blows it out of the water in terms of cameos, star power and sheer bottom feeding genre madness, it’s a hell of a fun time. Danny Trejo did the journeyman tough guy thing in a long stint throughout the 80’s and 90’s, by the time Rodriguez found him for a smaller role in Desperado he was already long overdue for a starring vehicle as far as I’m concerned, which Robert handed to him and then expanded with this balls out sequel that although is still indisputably Danny’s show, is also peppered with a staggering amount of star power and recognizable faces. That’s the thing about Rodriguez, he’s such a talented, hands on enthusiast of a filmmaker that he attracts actors from all walks of industry life to work with him, and his projects come alive. Trejo’s ex federalé super badass Machete is recruited by the president of the United States himself this time, played by Charlie Sheen in exactly the type of portrayal you’d expect. Mel Gibson’s big bad gun runner Luther Voz is stirring up trouble and it’s up to our antihero to stop him, as well as a whole pack of villains, weirdos, corrupt officials and femme fatales. This one sees a lot more characters running about including Sofia Vargera’s Desdemona, a matriarchal shryke of a contract killer whose daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) also figures into the plot while Machete recruits a lethal government agent (Amber Heard) who doubles as beauty queen Miss San Antonio. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba also return but are sort of swallowed up in the emerging newer elements. The great character actor William Sadler turns up briefly as a Texas Sheriff with a big gun, as do Rodriguez regulars Julio Mechoso, the Avellan twins, Tom Savini, Demian Bichir and Alexa Vega. Perhaps the best element in either Machete film is an elusive, inspired contract killer called The Chameleon who changes their appearance frequently. Not many films can say they hired Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins and Lady Gaga to all play the same role, but Rodriguez pulls it off and gives each actor something fun to do. I enjoyed this Machete more in the sense that it didn’t try to be socially conscious or inject a political message like the first, this is straight up action pulp the way it should be, and hopefully we will get to see Machete blast off into space soon as the reliably ridiculous meta fake trailer outlines here.

-Nate Hill

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Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Nicolas Cage has been on a seemingly never-ending rampage of starring roles in some… odd flicks post mid 2000’s, and it can seem like kind of a quagmire to navigate through them without landing yourself a turd (one day I’ll do a comprehensive flow chart so everyone knows which ones to avoid). There are some pretty great films scattered throughout though, and Scott Walkers’s The Frozen Ground is one I’ve always enjoyed and wish it got a little more hype. Cage ditches the crazy and seems down to earth here in a stone cold, somber tale based on the hunt and capture of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, here played by John Cusack in his nastiest, most skin crawling role. Cage is Robert Halcombe, a real life state trooper who bonded with a teenage sex worker (Vanessa Hudgens) who once escaped Hansen’s clutches and tries to track the guy down, as well as prove that he’s the monster killing girls out there on the tundra. What ensues is a gritty, episodic police procedural that earns the 1970’s cop thriller vibe it’s going for, showcases stunning and eerie Alaskan photography and tells a powerful, suspenseful and at times repellant story. Cage is earnest and relatable,

Cusack is despicable without getting campy or going over the top, an everyday monster whose laid back facade make the darkness just below even scarier when we’re forced to be privy to his crimes, filmed with raw frankness. Most impressive though is Vanessa Hudgens, who I didn’t pay much attention to until this, but gives a visceral portrait of fear and determination, believable every step of the way. There’s a galaxy of supporting work from Dean Norris, Brad William Henke, Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Matt Gerald, Radha Mitchell and 50 Cent as a pimp with a mullet (lol). It works as a moody thriller, a docudrama and mutual character study of Cage and Hudgen’s roles, as well as being scary in the right places.

-Nate Hill

Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch

I’m already giggling picturing the cries of protest that will rise up when I post this review, but the hell with it, I really like Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I never deliberately play the contrarian, I just seem to often gravitate towards films that have been maligned by the masses, and I can’t really help it. Now, in this film’s case, a few of the many and varied negative criticisms are somewhat warranted, yet blown out of proportion when you really take a good look at the story. The film is pure style, and although Zachary might have let his imagination run a little wild and clutter the whole affair with fanboy fantasies and video game visuals, there is a clear and discernible story beneath if one cares to look. Now, the only way that story is entirely comprehended is by watching the extended director’s cut, which includes an absolutely crucial, pivotal scene that’s should have never, ever ended up on the editing room floor for the theatrical version. Seriously, they we’re straight up asking for hostility and confusion by not keeping it in every cut of the film, it’s just common sense. Speaking of story, here we go: the film opens in breathless style and classic patented Snyder slo mo, with young Baby Doll (Emily Browning) trying to save her little sister from their tyrannically abusive stepfather. Outsmarted and shipped off to an austere mental institution, her journey is a sad, surreal and somewhat befuddling one, but there’s a method to the madness that might not be clear with only one viewing of the film. The asylum she is sent to is plagued by a sinister orderly (Oscar Isaac) who is abusing the girls in his care, and as a result, Baby Doll channels such horrors into a grandiose set of fantasy worlds, the base of which rests on a burlesque style brothel where she and others work for volatile pimp Blue (also Isaac). Joined by Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), she blocks out the reality of what is happening and replaces the details of an elaborate, systematic escape attempt with impossibly epic, highly stylized adventures, each of a different theme or set in a vaguely familiar period of history. Battling medieval dragons, giant samurai golems with mini-guns, WWI zombie hordes in a gaunt, bombed out European landscape, it’s all a detailed rush of sound and fury that hits you like a ton of bricks, and although is far too much for the film to handle and still get its point across, it’s completely dazzling stuff, especially on Blu ray. Guided by a mysterious Wise Man (a kickass, rootin tootin Scott Glenn) who shows up in a different get up each time and mentored by brothel Madam of sorts Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), each setting holds the key to move along a certain cog in their plan, correlating back down the line of delusions straight to the asylum, if a little tenuously. Now it all hinges on the arrival of the High Roller (Jon Hamm), a rich playboy who has come to the brothel to see Baby Doll dance, and probably more. Here’s where they fucked up royally: The scene I mentioned earlier is a monologue from him that is pretty much one of the most important parts of the film, capping off both realities beautifully, and without it, not only is Hamm relegated to basically a walk on extra, the entire final punch of the climax is rendered lost and neutered, not too mention quite uncomfortable in a sense. Whoever was in charge of that particular piece of the editing should be tarred, feathered and run off the studio lot by teamsters. With the scene left in on the extended version, however, the story is given both point and purpose, feeling like a complete vision with a little weight to go along with it’s Hindenburg sized bag of visual tricks. Not Snyder’s best for sure, but it’s in no way close to the turkey some people will have you believe it is. Whiners. Style over substance? Yes, I’ll definitely concede there’s an imbalance, but don’t try and tell me the whole thing is bereft of substance at all, because that is a lazily researched argument. The soundtrack is a treasure chest, I might add, with beautiful covers of Sweet Dreams and Sing Me To Sleep sung by Browning herself. 

-Nate Hill