Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Easy A vs. Machete!

Okay, I haven’t dragged my sorry butt to the movies in a couple weeks. And the last time I did, I made my poor wife write the review. But I have something special for you this week: dueling DVD reviews, where I attempt to connect two newish, disparate DVD releases in the same review. Can it be done? Read on to find out…

First up, Easy A. It’s a movie that wants to be a John Hughes movie so bad that it has its main character, Olive—a high school girl who discovers she can be popular just by pretending to be a slut—lament to the audience via a fourth wall-busting web cam, that she wishes her life were like a teen movie. In case all in the audience are twelve and have no context, director Will Gluck includes film clips from Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Say Anything. Then goes on to include various teen-movie references throughout his script.

Olive wants a musical sequence for no apparent reason, just like when Ferris danced on a parade float. The guy Olive likes recreates the Say Anything moment when John Cusack serenaded Ione Skye with a boom box in the rain. But Easy A doesn’t simply live to revere Hughes and the 80s; it feels very much like a movie made in 2010. When the rumor mill over Olive’s apparent slutty exploits churns to life, news spreads like digital smart bombs around school via text and tweet.

Emma Stone plays Olive as a precocious 30-year-old in a 17-year-old’s bod. She speed talks with a charm obviously inherited from her charming, funny parents (the effervescent Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) with such self-assured intelligence and humanity that the only people at her school who dare keep up are her English teacher (Thomas Haden Church, teaching the Scarlet Letter with élan) and the dude Olive’s liked since junior high. 

Olive plays up her new status as school slut, and brazenly stitches a red A onto her tops. She pretends to sleep with certain guys to help them achieve popular status at school (the harassed gay kid, the overweight outcast, the nerd) for which they give her gift cards. At first she likes the attention and thinks the joke is on everybody else. But her conceit gets out of control, especially when random guys expect the gift card treatment—but for real.

The movie’s weakness is that I had a hard believing: a) such a great disarming, cute girl had gone unnoticed until she became a notorious (if ersatz) slut and b) The preternaturally intelligent and knowing Olive doesn’t see the demise she eventually causes sooner. Regardless, take Easy A how it wants you to—as a giddy ride through the neo, post-Hughesian high school of 2010.

Which brings us to Machete. But wait. What’s the segue here? What’s the connection?

Lindsey Lohan. Five or six years ago she could have played Olive with the same obvious intelligence and nascent sexuality. Olive is similar to Cady, Lohan’s star-making role in Mean Girls, a movie which covered similar high school ground. Mean Girls was to Lohan as Easy A is to Stone. And as long as Stone keeps showing up for work with the same enthusiasm she shows not only throughout Easy A but in the reel of outtakes where she bubbles like an actress damn happy to be headlining a minor Hollywood feature, she’ll do great. Unlike poor Lohan, who anyone with a predilection for entertainment headlines knows, has bottomed out to such a degree that she may not rebound.

The evidence of Lohan’s fall is displayed in her small, superfluous role in Robert Rodriguez’ Machete. Co-directed by Ethan Maniquis, Machete is a comic-book giddy, violent love letter to 70’s crime exploitation (or grindhouse) movies like TNT Jackson, Foxy Brown, and Shaft. Lohan is mostly naked throughout her few scenes, until the end where she joins a climactic shootout dressed as a nun. Ha. She still recites her lines with game enthusiasm. But her presence in the movie is for titillation only. But then titillation is what Machete is all about.

Had the movie actually been made in the 70s, it would have played at a triple bill at a drive-in theater. It’s a stuffed enchilada of crazed machete and gun play grafted onto a pro-immigration message (or is that anti anti-immigration?). Danny Trejo, looking like ten miles of rough Georgia asphalt, plays Machete, an ex Mexican Federale who is still trying to get over the murder of his wife and child at the hands of a ruthless Mexican drug lord, Torrez (Steven Seagal!).

Robert DeNiro (with a slimy Southern accent) plays shady Texas border town politician, Senator John McLaughlin, who wants to build that Mexican border wall high and strong. When he’s not making speeches, he’s out at night cruising the Mexican/American border using illegals as target practice.

Machete’s been framed for the attempted assassination of the Senator by the Senator’s own right hand man, who is also a cohort of Torrez. Got that? Now everybody’s wants a piece of Machete:  the police, the drug lords, the Senator, Jessica Alba’s lovely, tough ICE agent Sartana Rivera, and Michelle Rodriguez’ Luz, the leader of an underground group fighting for the rights of immigrants, illegal and otherwise.

Like all Robert Rodriguez flicks, Machete is over-busy and over reaching, but it mainly works. And, if you can stomach the severed limbs, decapitations, innards used for rappelling, gratuitous nudity, silly dialogue, gun toting priests, and the reemergence of Steven Seagal, then you are the right audience for Machete.

Both Easy A and Machete are derivative of earlier movies, other genres. But the movies stand as welcome entertainment, refreshing in their cheeky homage to dozens of other movies while still managing some originality.

Watch the Easy A trailer:

Watch the Machete trailer:


Liz's Mom said...

Cheeky reviews of 2 cheeky movies.

Fun to read your witty, always entertaining,always well written paragraphs.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks for reading, Liz's mom! They are very cheeky movies. That seems to be the only kind Hollywood makes these days. We have to go to the UK to get our gravitas (The King's Speech, what what).

wildpokerman said...

I am totally seeing Machete thanks to you and a recommendation at work. Your post could have just said two words, Robert Rodriguez but over reaching and gratuitous sealed the deal for me!

Dell Smith said...

Glad I could be of service. Thanks for reading.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Nice transition from Easy A to Machete. Not easy to do. :)