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Michelle Rodriguez

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Mulholland Hive.

While early reviews of Skyline — the L.A. alien invasion happening today — seem to suggest it’s a catastrophic event alright, Marine Sergeant Aaron Eckhart looks to take back the City of Angels from the extraterrestrial hordes next March in the new trailer for Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles, also with Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo and Michael Pena. Looks like decent eye candy, I suppose, even if they lifted the basic conceit of this trailer from the Gears of Wars commercial. Lemme guess, Michelle Rodriguez will be playing Vasquez-lite again, yes?

Cuts like a Knife.

So…Robert Rodriguez’s Machete. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one, partly because by two weeks later, the movie has already passed its sell-by date. But regardless, a film like this is basically critic-proof anyway: After all, we’re talking about a purposefully cheap-looking, 90-minute Mexploitation flick based on one of the joke trailers from Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse — Does anyone really expect a good film here?

So having said that, I doubt that it will surprise anyone that Machete is more bad-bad than fun-bad, even going in with low expectations (and after libations.) I didn’t have a terrible time watching it, and I guess the movie basically succeeds at what it promised to be — an “ironic,” splatter-filled homage to and/or parody of terrible films of the ’70s. But the whole enterprise still felt really uninspired. In the end, Machete hits its marks, but it definitely doesn’t improve on the 90 seconds we saw of this flick in Grindhouse. (Hopefully we can expect more from Edgar Wright’s Don’t, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, or Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S., once they all get their inevitable day in the sun.)

While Danny Trejo plays the titular badass — a former Federale-turned-illegal-immigrant for whom “day labor” means cleaving through bad guys — with an admirable Lee Marvinish deadpan, a lot of the joking around in Machete involves stunt casting. This includes Steven Seagal as the Big Bad Mexican drug lord (has Seagal ever been in a good movie? Well, Under Siege, maybe), Robert De Niro as a sleazy race-baiting Senator (more on him in a sec), Jeff Fahey as the Karl Rove of Arizona, Lindsay Lohan as a druggy burnout, and the Nash Bridges team of Don Johnson and Cheech Marin as a racist cop and man of the cloth respectively. (Rounding out the cast: Jessica Alba is ludicrous as a INS detective on Machete’s trail, and Michelle Rodriguez once again does her Michelle Rodriguez thing as underground guerrilla leader “She” — inexplicably pronounced “Shee” insteady of “Shay.” Way to step on your own joke there.)

Well, ok, stunt casting is fun. In fact, one of the things I appreciated most about Rodriguez’s half of GrindhousePlanet Terror — was both Fahey and Michael Biehn kicking around the movie. That being said, “Ha, it’s Robert DeNiro slumming it!” would probably work better as a joke if DeNiro wasn’t constantly, you know, slumming it these days. When he showed up in Meet the Parents ten years ago, it seemed pretty funny. Now, a la late-career Brando, Pacino, or Nicholson, it just seems kinda sad. (And like David Arquette outacting Harvey Keitel in The Grey Zone, Fahey probably gives a better performance than DeNiro does here. Trejo does for sure.)

Similarly, the meta-joke driving Machete — “Look, Robert Rodriguez made an intentionally bad film!” — suffers from the unfortunate fact that, ironically (From Dusk Til Dawn, Planet Terror) or not, Robert Rodriguez pretty much always makes B-movies. Even El Mariachi, the film that first put him on the map in 1992, is rather unmemorable, in my humble opinion. (I mean that literally — I can only remember the last 15 seconds of that flick — the pit bull and motorcycle and whatnot — which is still more than I can say for both Desperado and Once Upon a Time In Mexico.) For me, the one time Rodriguez struck gold was with Sin City, and that was mainly due to the wise, direct pilfering of Frank Miller’s “storyboards” — i.e., the original graphic novels.

All of which is to say, it’s hard to figure out in the end if Machete is a deft send-up of a bad movie or just a plain bad movie. (I had the same problem, to a lesser extent, with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police.) Like Kurt Vonnegut said in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I guess Rodriguez may just be pretending to be a hackish director of forgettable, derivative B-movies, but at this point he’s fooled me. (Maybe he should keep them trailer-length.)

Speaking of that original trailer, I’d recommend just watching that for your Machete experience, along with perhaps Machete’s Cinco de Mayo message to Arizona. Given both the virulence and the abject nonsense driving a lot of anti-immigrant hysteria these days, as well as the unfettered cravenness of the right-wing freakshows who most often push it, there was obviously room for some choice satire in this film. But, a few lines here or there aside, Machete is much more interested in playing with Z-grade movie tropes — breasts, blood splatter, and 70’s sound effects, say — than delving into any real political content about the borderlands. Eh, so be it — It’s Machete. It may be a missed opportunity, but it never pretended to be Traffic anyway.

The upshot here: Machete is (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure) eminently missable. But if you’re at all inclined to board this train, the two trailers cover 95% of the good stuff, so save yourself an hour and a half and just watch those. Having gone for the full ride myself, I left the theater with only one thought in my head: I’d just f**ked with the wrong Mexican.

Los Suns and La Machete.

‘I think it’s fantastic,’ Nash said…’I think the law is very misguided. I think it’s, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo and in protest of Arizona’s straight-up ignorant new ethnic profiling law, the Phoenix Suns will don their “Los Suns” jerseys tonight. “Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is on board, and the team even tried to get their ‘Los Spurs’ jerseys, though it was too late to do so. When asked for approval to wear the jerseys, the NBA “was all for it,” said Suns general manager Steve Kerr.

This is Machete, with a special Cinco de Mayo message…TO ARIZONA.” If the Arizona GOP won’t heed the carrot of the Suns’ inclusive orange unis, perhaps they’ll fear the sharpened stick of a ticked-off Danny Trejo, in the new holiday trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s full-length version of Machete, also with Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert DeNiro, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Steven Seagall. I know I was just badmouthing this project in my review of The Losers, but I have to concede, it still makes for a pretty fun trailer. (Extra points for DeNiro channeling his inner JD Hayworth therein.)

World of Warcats.

Hotter than reality by far? Well, maybe…I’d say more just (a) totally super serial. A decade in the making, James Cameron’s Avatar, for all intent and purposes, basically turned out quite a bit like Peter Jackson’s King Kong. (I was going to say The Phantom Menace, but I think that’s too harsh.) The movie looks absolutely amazing, and…uh…well…did I mention it looks amazing? So if you’re the type of person who can enjoy a ravishing visual feast on its own terms (and I am sometimes — for example, Speed Racer), then I think you’ll probably flat-out love it, and it’s definitely worth seeing in 3D.

But — and there’s a big but — if you’re someone who can’t get by on a feast of technological wonders alone, and for whatever reason I was that guy last night, then Avatar leaves something to be desired. It’s got cat class and it’s got cat style alright, but for all the visual inventiveness on display — bioluminescent forests, hammerhead rhinos, insectile gunships, and the like — Avatar is also a gorgeous three-hour cliche: The action may take place in three dimensions, but the story, alas, barely has one. As a result, Avatar has a bit of that too-much-frittering-around-the-edges feel of the Star Wars prequels. Yes, the six-legged equines and mercenary sidearms seem remarkably well-designed…but good god man, what about the plot?

About that plot, we’ve seen or heard the basic contours of this story a dozen times over, albeit not with blue felinoids: Warrior goes undercover, falls in love, goes native, and turns on his former and erstwhile masters. It’s Lawrence of Arabia, Little Big Man, The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, and Dune, just to name a few variations of this theme. (If you’re a WoW player with avatars of your own, Avatar also goes like this: Guy levels a night-elf and/or draenei in Zangarmarsh, really loves his flying mount, and eventually gets caught up in a lot of guild drama.) Now, I don’t begrudge Cameron for retelling a hoary tale here. This story may be as old as the hills, sure, but, it’s all in the execution. But execution-wise, Avatar doesn’t really cut it in a lot of ways. It’s just too broad and ham-handed most of the time. And there are too many absurd plot points (say, all the formerly Na’vi-eating animals turning into the eagles at Mordor in the third act) and reversals (say, all the Na’vi being so awed into submission — after being screwed over and run out of their World Tree — by an apparently easy-to-tame dragon. The Kwisatz haderach never had it so good.)

To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened here. I mean, the dialogue in Titanic is admittedly clunky as all hell, but damned if I don’t feel right there on the boat every time the iceberg comes around. Terminator 2 also has a lot of “hasta la vista, baby” and “why do you cry?” drek to wade through, but it definitely works in the end. And I’d say Cameron’s three best films — Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss — all benefit from quality writing, memorably punchy dialogue, and well-rounded, believable characters. But somewhere here, it feels like Cameron got lost in his sea of pixels. The result is visually impressive to be sure. But — at least for me — it’s not particularly engaging on any emotional level.

I’ll give Avatar this — the problem is not the CGI-rendering. As a feat of technology, the Na’vi characters here are, like almost all of Pandora, the next order of Gollum. They all look and act as photo-realistic as ten-foot-tall blue cats ever could. (In fact, they seem more lifelike than Sam Worthington, who turns in a mostly forgettable performance here — As his respective military and scientific handlers, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, both looking extraordinarily well-preserved, resonate more.) And when the Na’vi are traipsing about their bioluminescent world like it’s an alien nature docutmentary, Avatar is as good as it gets.

But, while they may be more Siamese than Sioux, the Na’vi are also somewhat condescending and even vaguely embarrassing noble savage stereotypes, particularly Zoe Saldana’s character and her intended betrothed. (I didn’t catch the name, and thought of him basically as cat-Billy-Zane.) This would probably rankle more if most everyone else in the story wasn’t a caricature too. Giovanni Ribisi (overplaying it) is the weaselly corporate lackey. (He’s Burke, a.k.a. Paul Reiser from Aliens.) Michelle Rodriguez (in her wheelhouse) is the tough-as-nails military gal with the heart of gold. (She’s Vasquez, a.k.a. Jenette Goldstein, also from Aliens.) And so on — Not one character does or says anything surprising over the course of three hours, and so Avatar, for all its visual grandeur, just plays out like an eye-catching, extraordinarily expensive, and maddeningly familiar Saturday morning (super-)serial.

Not to lose the Hometree in the forest, Avatar looks, really, really good. Beautiful, even. And, amid the shock-and-awe references and Zen-tastic Earth mother philosophy, there are glimpses of some interesting ideas interspersed throughout the cornball stuff. I get the feeling there might be some meta-commentary going on here about actors and “avatar” technology — Sam Worthington the actor is stepping into a ten-foot-tall cat suit just as much as his character Jake Sully is — although I could be over-thinking it. And a late moment involving Sully (in human form) and one of the Na’vi — the Pieta scene in the trailer (which, by the way, Stephen Lang fell conveniently close to… and what happened to the nerdy sidekick guy who should’ve been in there at the time?) — plays out like the Urtext image of much of Cameron’s output over the years. (From Ellen Ripley to Sarah Connor, Cameron does love his warrior-goddess mothering types.)

Nonetheless, while probably worth catching for the 3-D ride experience, Avatar fell well below my expectations of the King of the World’s vaunted return. More than most — some might say all — of his contemporaries, James Cameron has always had the knack for giving his technological marvels a human pulse: The Terminator, The Abyss, and Titanic are first and foremost love stories; In the midst of all the kick-ass, T2 and Aliens are also movies about (adopted) parents and children. But that gift for keeping humanity front and center in his sci-fi failed him this time — For all its visual splendor, Avatar sadly falls into an uncanny valley of the heart. Simply put, it just feels a bit hollow.

Single White Human, Looking for Group.

They don’t care what’s in your character bank: Paraplegic veteran Sam Worthington rolls Draenei and goes native in the brand-spankin’ new second trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar, also with Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez. (Well, actually this trailer has been floating around in bootleg form for a few days now, but I figured this movie more than most needs to be judged and/or appreciated in hi-def.)

Anyway, so far, so good. Ribisi and Rodriguez seem a lot like Paul Reiser (Burke) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens respectively. And while a lot of the “Dances with Thundersmurfs” hectoring out there can be chalked up to the usual aggro-fanboy haterade, Avatar‘s whole central plot-line does seem pretty doggone similar to Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Dune, or any other flick/book you can name where a good outsider throws in with the “noble savage” locals to beat back the massively superior technological firepower of the would-be colonialists. (“This is our land!!” It is? No, it’s their land, buddy. Ease up with your bad self.)

Still, it’s gonna make for some amazing eye candy, that’s for sure. And as long as the Na’vi don’t squeal like Ewoks or Gungans as they fight, I should be able to dig it.

Hotter than Reality By Far?

While much of the geekglobe, including yours truly, are still happily grooving along this week to Felicia Day’s elite-level earworm, “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” the King of the World has upped the stakes by releasing the teaser trailer for his much-anticipated film of the same name. (Several stills have popped online too, including first looks at Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang (late of Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi. Notably missing: Zoe Saldana.) The Avatar trailer drops at 10am EST.

Update: Apple/Quicktime is failing at the moment, but French MSN has come to the rescue. So, wait, it’s World of Warcraft Draenei replacing Dune‘s Fremen on the forest moon of Endor in 3D? Agh, screw it — you had me at James Cameron.

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