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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 36
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Bloody Machete goes back to the grindhouse
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer Machete
Opening
September 3


Three years after drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) kills his wife and child and then leaves him for dead, former Mexican Federale Machete (Danny Trejo) finds himself across the border in Texas trying to find work as a day laborer. But after Booth (Jeff Fahey) contracts him to kill incumbent anti-immigration State Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) only to double-cross him, the one-time law enforcement officer wants vengeance, and the bloodstained trail leads back to the criminal who originally made him an outlaw.

Im not really sure what there is to say about Robert Rodriguezs (El Mariachi, Sin City, Spy Kids) latest B-movie creation Machete, other than to point out this is a schlock genre enterprise based on a fake trailer crafted for his and Quentin Tarantinos 2007 double-bill Grindhouse. If you were one of the people in the audience who cheered the sight of Danny Trejo soaring through the sky on a motorcycle equipped with a machine gun, then this is the movie for you. If you were not, or even if just the sound of something like that makes your eyes roll and starts to turn your stomach, then it is not. Simple as that. No more detail required.

If only that were true. Sadly, as this is review, I am supposed to come up with something interesting or witty or even vaguely sarcastic to say about it. The problem is that nothing is coming to mind. Yes, Rodriguez (working with co-director Ethan Maniquis) has a blast rummaging around in his genre playpen. Sure, there are moments of extreme bloodletting and gore that are as truly extraordinary as anything the filmmaker as ever unleashed. And, of course, it is borderline awesome to watch 67-year-old Trejo continue to be a total badass, rip peoples throats out, and bed every 20-something (like Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and, yes, Lindsay Lohan) that comes his way.

All of this is very cool, but Im not entirely sure its entertaining. At 105 minutes, its way too long, and Rodriguez is unable to maintain momentum, even though the films violently absurdist tone never wavers. It also doesnt quite know where to go or how to end, though it needs to use as many scenes from that fake trailer as possible, and save the majority of them for the absurdly silly climax. But by then the thrill is sadly gone, and no amount of intestinal fluid or cranial trauma can change that fact.

Not that all of this cant be fun. I enjoyed a great deal of the picture, especially during the wild and wooly first half when Machete is busting out of a hospital using a poor guys innards as a rope or when Michelle Rodriguez is using a raw egg as some sort of mystical medical device. I absolutely adored all of De Niros fake senatorial commercials which, considering the vitriol being unleashed during the currently raging political debates, arent nearly as far-fetched as wed like them to be. Finally, any movie that can make me laugh and want to puke almost in the very same instant cant be all bad, and if seen in a packed theatre with an audience receptive to that sort of thing, its almost impossible not to sit back and enjoy oneself.

Still, as nice as those statements are, at a certain point the whole thing devolves into nothing more than a mildly amusing, sometimes disgusting, an often too sadistic for its own good cacophony of noise. I grew tired of the film, no longer as captivated by the wily off-center whirligig as I was during the first couple of acts. By the time it was finished, I just didnt care anymore, and while I cant get worked up enough to throw anything close to a fit, that doesnt mean Im willing to give the film a pass, either. The bottom line is that Machete was borderline entertainment to begin with, and in the end the only work visa or green card I see this one getting is for early access into the DVD bargain bin at your local Best Buy.


The Last Exorcism doesn't close the deal
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

The Last Exorcism Now Playing
Box office numbers turned into a horse race last week, with early reports claiming The Last Exorcism actually topped the deftly cast heist flick Takers. As the final numbers were tallied, Takers did edge out a win, but just barely.

Why is this a surprise? Takers is a slick, genre-specific movie with a multi-ethnic cast built to pull the dream demographic of 18- to 24-year-old males. You have hot black guys, hot white guys, and a handsome Latino for good measure. On top of all that, there's an old guy (I still remember swooning over Matt Dillon in his tighty-whities as he popped Kristy McNichol's cherry in Little Darlings circa 1980) to bring in, well, other old guys.

The Last Exorcism, on the other hand, is a low-budget horror film with a genre-busting gimmick and a nameless cast. Seems like Takers should have been a slam dunk. That didn't happen.

The Last Exorcism is almost a good movie. The setup isn't revolutionary (a girl may or may not be possessed by a demon, and she may or may not have a couple of other secrets, too), but it keeps you guessing the entire time. Unfortunately, the early going feels a bit stretched and the last 15 minutes feels a bit rushed. This is a pacing problem and should have been fixed in the editing room. The bottom line is there isn't enough story to support an hour-and-40-minute film.

The acting is decent, with Ashley Bell shifting from wide-eyed ingénue to bug-eyed possessed girl with enthusiasm. Veteran actor Patrick Fabian works the hell out of his disillusioned preacher character and keeps on working even when his character does stupid things. Tony Bentley pulls off the best acting trick as the local clergyman with a small secret.

That brings us to the biggest problem with The Last Exorcism: The hand-held camera as character gimmick. Technically, this is a cinematic device (think of the game-changer The Blair Witch Project), but in the hands of director Daniel Stamm the device becomes gimmicky.

A cinematic device is employed to tell a story, develop tension, create composition, and/or to somehow further the filmmaker's vision. A gimmick is used to create cheap thrills designed to cash in on other folks' real creativity. In this case, I suspect the filmmakers used it to save money.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't work. Transition and establishing shots become narrative problems. The story arc is limited and watching can be physically dizzying. The camera as character may work in a short film or even a shorter feature film, but it's tough to sustain for an hour and 40 minutes.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Last Exorcism is the last 15 minutes. This should be the money shot with the possessed girl doing all sorts of disgusting stuff that we know will keep us up at night but that we just love watching anyhow. The movie teases along for almost an hour and a half and then lets you down. It's like having sex for a long time without an orgasm. I say skip The Last Exorcism and see the first Exorcist. That movie will scare you.




Scissor Sisters, Dierks Bentley, Arcade Fire top September concerts
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

It's back to school for some and back to the ticket counter for the rest of us who follow great live shows. The month of September has an abundance of anticipated performances, and here are eight that emerge from the pack.

Bumbershoot Music
and Arts Festival
September 4-6
Seattle Center

Mary J. Blige is the biggest reason to attend Bumbershoot, now celebrating its 40th year anniversary as Seattle's premiere arts festival. While the overall lineup is below par compared to 2008 and 2009's rosters - when Franz Ferdinand, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, and Katy Perry thrilled mainstage audiences - you'll still be treated to great performances this time by Neko Case, Angelique Kidjo, and local outfit The Moondoggies.

Smashing Pumpkins
September 10
The Showbox SoDo

If only a handful of rock bands mattered in the early '90s, Smashing Pumpkins - along with Nirvana and R.E.M. - would be among them. Billy Corgan is not a genius, but he is a compelling songwriter and vocalist, as both a solo artist and collaborative member of this Grammy-winning quartet. Can the group restore its one-time dominance in a new decade? Probably not, but that doesn't erase the fact that they're one of the most influential alternative acts ever.

The National
September 11
Marymoor Park

One of indie music's most hyped bands is The National, whose 2007 album The Boxer landed on multiple year-end critics' lists but struggled in its bid for mainstream attention. High Violet, the Brooklyn act's follow-up release, again has only managed to excite the media and maybe a diehard KEXP listener here and there. Regardless of success level, The National will prove their worth at Marymoor Park.

Scissor Sisters
September 15
The Showbox SoDo

If you ask me - and I'm glad you did - Scissor Sisters own one of 2010's strongest releases with Night Work, a grittier and more developed effort than the group's previous two albums combined. Lead singer and former Seattle resident Jake Shears penned most of the CD's material from his late-night exploits in Berlin - he nails the ambiance of the city's dingy, promiscuous dive bars on "Sex and Violence" and "Invisible Light."

Dierks Bentley
September 18
Puyallup Fair

No one should be surprised that Dierks Bentley nabbed an Album of the Year nomination by the Country Music Association (CMA). His venture to authentic bluegrass, Up on the Ridge, is among the best-reviewed CDs of the entire year and is well on its way to a Grammy nod later in 2010. Fans get the opportunity to hear these songs live when Bentley plucks at the Puyallup Fair in mid-September, as part of a charity event that benefits Seattle Children's Hospital - yee-haw to that!

Adam Lambert
September 21
Puyallup Fair

The eyeliner-dabbed reality series star-turned-recording artist had no problem filling The Showbox SoDo to capacity in July, but can he draw his loyal faithful to the land of battered corndogs and funnel cakes? Probably, and Lambert will give them a concert that's nothing short of glam, glitter, and gushy pop. Here's hoping he omits his wonky version of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."

The xx
September 25
Paramount Theatre

The frontrunner for the 2010 Mercury Music Prize, a prestigious award handed out by a British panel of artists and media, is the self-titled debut by South London's ambitious newbies, The xx. From the opening chords of "Intro," you just know this album is going to be a cut above the rest. The band sold out its previous concert in Seattle at The Showbox SoDo - hence the bigger venue. Don't miss The xx, they're on a bullet train to rock stardom.

Arcade Fire
September 29
Key Arena

Though not as brilliant as Neon Bible (SGN's Album of the Year, 2007) or even 2004's Funeral, this year's release by Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, is another example of their superiority in the alternative music scene. On a sad note, the days of seeing them live in intimate theaters are gone - for now - as they've upgraded to sports arenas, which stands to diminish the experience just a bit.


Five acts to catch at Bumbershoot
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Asian Pacific Islander Pageant returns to Seattle
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Cho-Dependent a hilarious night of comedy and music
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Drag superstar Varla Jean Merman spends an evening in Seattle
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A Dyke About Town: John Hiatt rocks Zoo Tunes
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Bizet's Carmen gives tired opera another chance
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Rufus Wainwright gives emotional, complex performance
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Tripping the light fantastic: An interview with Burn the Floor's Gary Wright
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Fantasy Swan crashes into reality
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Bloody Machete goes back to the grindhouse
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The Last Exorcism doesn't close the deal
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Scissor Sisters, Dierks Bentley, Arcade Fire top September concerts
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Moondoggies look forward to playing Bumbershoot
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Northwest News
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Letters
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Scissor Sisters interview with Seattle Gay News next week
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