Labor Day Weekend Double Feature: MACHETE & THE LAST EXORCISM

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This Labor Day Weekend I decided to pay tribute to a bygone era in our nation’s theater going history – the drive-in double feature!  With two films currently playing that I wanted to see, I carefully selected which theaters had both, along with compatible times.

Unable to watch the films from my car, I was brought back to the same “Ultra” screen theater in which I had seen PIRANHA 3D  just a few weeks earlier. This was the locale of my first film choice,  the newly released MACHETE,  in all it’s 2D glory.

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I was a HUGE fan of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 GRINDHOUSE double feature. Two modern films were created to pay homage to the over-the-top, low budget, exploitation films of the late 70’s/early 80’s. I was too young to enjoy this experience first-hand and relied on the wonders of VHS & DVD to watch them at home. Seeing THE GRINDHOUSE in the theater, along with its complimentary faux trailers, ranks as one of the most satisfying  movie-going experiences of my life.

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PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez) and DEATH PROOF (Quentin Tarantino), while two very different pictures, were both equally effective at paying homage to this sub-genre. Deliberate “scratches” and missing reels added even further to the overall experience.

Unfortunately, not everyone understood nor appreciated this tribute. As I walked out of the theater, grinning from ear to ear, most of the audience seemed irked and disappointed. I also heard the word “stupid” uttered more than once along with the shaking of heads. Clearly, they had missed the entire point. I was disgusted even further when the film did poorly overall at the box office.  I don’t make a habit of being emotionally tied to a film’s financial successes nor failures, but I did have a visceral reaction to this one. So much so, I wanted to hop on the evening news and perform a “Live” editorial on how idiotic the American viewing public was.

You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that, despite the negative reception, one of  its phony trailers was to be filmed as a legitimate,  full-length feature.

I admit, I did have some doubts. For one thing, I was afraid that with the addition of main stream actors like Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, and Lindsey Lohan – the film would lose the very cheap, grindhouse quality that had made its false preview so appealing. I was happy to discover that these fears were unjustified.

lohan-macheteDon’t let the Nun’s Habit fool you: Ms Lohan is much truer to her own reputation than that of a Saint’s.

I arrived at a noon showing, with the theater about half-filled. The demographic of the audience was predominantly male, with a few women accompanying their mates. Just like the films from which it was born, MACHETE was presented along with the same endearing “scratches” and drive-in touches. Aside from a couple minor cast changes, it stayed VERY true its original trailer containing most of the same scenes and iconic lines. Non stop action and gore highlighted a storyline that actually added more depth than one would expect. This was via the film’s underlying, though not in the least bit subtle, message regarding the divisive issue of illegal immigration.

One of the big questions surrounding this film was whether or not Danny Trejo, previously only seen in supporting roles, could carry his own film. After seeing MACHETE, I believe the answer is YES,  provided of course that it is an action film such as this one. The rest of the cast also did quite well playing their respective parts and I was even impressed with the work of Jessica Alba, whom I was never a fan. Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the taco-vending turned revolutionary “She” (an obvious nod to the historical Che’), gave a great performance, often stealing the show from Trejo, himself.


michelle-rodriguez-machete1“SHE” is Michelle Rodriguez

After the film ended, I heard mixed reactions from the audience. Most of the guys (including myself) seemed to love it. The women, on the other hand, seemed less than impressed. I smiled as I listened to one gal rant about how ridiculous the film was to her partner, as he feigned agreement.Personally, I had no complaints other than the ferocious taste for Mexican food that I had developed during the course of watching this movie. I’m talking real, authentic Mexican food of course, and not that crap you buy at Taco Bell! After visiting the concession for a decidedly non-authentic order of nachos, I purchased my next movie ticket for THE LAST EXORCISM.

It did take a bit of adjustment going from the huge Ultra-screen to one half its size but, after awhile, I stopped noticing. This movie has been out for a couple weeks now and, while it did quite well financially during its opening weekend, attendance dramatically dropped soon after. This has been attributed to the negative “word of mouth” it received from viewers. The press wasn’t kidding;  I noticed soon after the movie started that I was sharing the entire theater with a lone, African American man sitting ten rows ahead.

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THE LAST EXORCISM uses the same “point of view” film techniques as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  Unlike the previous entries, however, this one is a bit easier on the eyes. Since the premise of the film deals with a professional documentary crew , it doesn’t have the same “unsteady” camera work that incites viewers to take their Dramamine.  In fact, the documentary crew is apparently so efficient, they even bring along their own soundtrack.  Somewhere during the film’s second act, I noticed the addition of a musical score.  This, along with the film’s climax, caused a  bit of confusion regarding its overall presentation.

I have to say this is not a bad movie on the whole. A charlatan preacher, who has made his living performing phony exorcisms on misguided believers, decides he’s had enough. After reading that a child had been killed during a similar ritual,  he recruits a documentary crew to join him as he makes one final “house call.”  Unsure what his future will bring, he decides to publicly expose the entire practice of “exorcism,” thereby preventing any more innocents from getting harmed. The actors are credible in their roles and, through most of the film, the viewer is never sure if the girl in question is really possessed or the victim of her troubled father’s abuse. I think if PARANORMAL ACTIVITY hadn’t come out within the last year, this picture would have had more of an impact. Instead it evokes viewer fatigue over this type of film making.

Most of the complaints dealt with the last ten minutes of the film. While most people stated it was over the top, I found it to be predictable and uninspiring.  All in all, this movie is worth a rent, especially if its DVD and Blu-Ray release contains an “alternative ending.”

In an effort to gain “audience reaction,” I caught up with the only other person I shared the theater with and asked what his thoughts were. As we entered the main lobby he winced and said, “That movie? That was some bullshit, there!” While I can’t completely agree with that assessment, I did understand where he was coming from.

Upon leaving the theater, I realized that the best modern “grindhouse” double feature would have been MACHETE and PIRANHA 3D. A year from now, when both films are added to my home movie collection, they will no doubt join each other for an afternoon of mindless fun.

With thoughts of MACHETE still in my head, I drove off  heading straight to the neighboring town of Chicago Heights.  Somewhere, in this predominantly Mexican neighborhood, there was a taco with my name on it.

Dave Fuentes~

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