Rick Schwartz

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Machete Kills Review


Weak

Robert Rodriguez returns to Grindhouse territory with this B-movie spoof sequel that mixes hilariously knowing jokes with painfully stiff storytelling. Fans of the genre will love it, but those expecting a sense of narrative momentum will find themselves bored when the plot stalls about halfway in. And the rampant misogynistic smirking should be too much for anyone.

After the events of the 2010 original (which itself was based on a mock-trailer from 2007's Grindhouse double bill), the former Mexican agent Machete (Trejo) has been secretly working with US Immigration. After a bust goes badly wrong, he is assigned by the US President (Sheen, performing under his birth-name Carlos Estevez) to capture psychotic drug kingpin Mendez (Bichir) in Mexico. Working with his beauty-queen contact (Heard), he heads into the danger zone pursued by the master-of-disguise Camaleon and immediately running afoul of a vindictive brothel madame (Vergara). Along the way he discovers that the real villain is a defence contractor (Gibson) back in America, so he asks his former partner-in-crime (Michelle Rodriguez) for some help.

Every scene overflows with hyper-violent action and near-naked babes with guns. And the fast-paced mayhem is frequently played out as wacky slapstick, with movie in-jokes and a general sense of chaos. Aside from the amusingly straight-faced Trejo, the actors play everything for laughs. Gibson chomps mercilessly on the scenery during his overlong scenes, while Sheen plays with his own personal history while winking knowingly to the camera. There's also a continuous parade of A-list cameos, including Gaga, Gooding and Banderas hamming up their silly scenes for all they're worth.

Continue reading: Machete Kills Review

Machete Review


Good
Essentially part three of the Grindhouse series, this old-style thriller sprang from Rodriguez's fake trailer. In some ways it should have stayed that short, because while it's riotously entertaining, there's nothing much to it.

Machete (Trejo) is a disgraced Mexican Federale who's hiding amongst the illegal immigrants on the Texas-Mexico border. Here he stumbles into a conspiracy involving a trigger-happy senator (DeNiro) and a wild-eyed vigilante (Johnson) who are cleaning up the border one bullet at a time. But he also runs up against a sexy immigration officer (Alba), a ruthless businessman (Fahey) and a trail of criminality leading to his nemesis Torrez (Seagal). As things get nasty, he gets help from his priest brother (Marin) and a feisty taco-truck lady (Rodriguez).

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The Good Shepherd Review


Excellent
Starting in the hot mess of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, reaching back to the 1930s and then hopscotching back and forth between those dates whenever the mood strikes it, the pleasingly complex espionage epic The Good Shepherd tries to tell the story of the birth, rise, and (in a sense) death of the Central Intelligence Agency through the fictional composite character Edward Wilson (Matt Damon). It's a monumental piece of history to bite off, but Eric Roth's ambitious, multilayered script certainly makes a good attempt at digesting it for us.

While the CIA's roots in the WWII-era OSS (Office of Strategic Services) are well established, very few films have rooted the American spy service as firmly as this one does in its starched, prim and proper WASP world. Wilson, played by Damon as a tight-lipped, practically invisible cipher, comes from one of that world's better families, and so is a shoo-in for Yale's secret Skull & Bones society once he does a little snooping for the FBI on his pro-Nazi poetry professor (Michael Gambon). Smart and stoic, Wilson shoots up the OSS ranks and soon is masterminding the CIA's global subterfuge against the Soviets.

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The Battle of Shaker Heights Review


OK
We're two movies into Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Project Greenlight, and I'm ready to call the experiment a success. At what, I'm still not sure. The behind-the-scenes antics captured each week for the multi-part HBO series provide an unprecedented insight into a movie's arduous journey from script to screen. Week to week, it provides excellent reality television.

But the end results - from Stolen Summer to this year's The Battle of Shaker Heights - haven't proven strong enough to separate themselves from the series. They struggle to stand on their own two independent feet.

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