Danny Trejo

Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie)

Halloween is very loud. It’s about the only thing director Zombie keeps consistent throughout. It gets loud. It starts kind of quiet–comparatively–then gets loud. Jump scares always have some noise. But once the jump scares are every two seconds, there’s just loud noise. Giant spree killer Tyler Mane destroys a house in the third act, with his bare hands. Because it’s loud to destroy a house. A different filmmaker with different goals might try to have the destruction of his childhood home, where he became a tween spree killer, mean something. Especially since Mane’s current target is long lost baby sister Scout Taylor-Compton (now a teenager). He’s destroying her house too.

But not Zombie. He’s just being loud. The only reason they’re at the house is because Zombie wanted to avoid similarities to the original Halloween. It’s a very strange remake, because you always get the feeling Zombie would rather be doing anything else. Zombie’s not enthusiastic about anything. The noise, sure, and the violence–sort of, it’s violent and bloody as all hell, but not really creatively. Cynically. Zombie condescends to his own film, which is interesting. You can’t really dwell on it too long because loud noises interrupt reflection.

The film spends almost the first hour outside remake expectations. Zombie’s doing his own origin story for Michael Myers (played by Daeg Faerch as a kid). It’s the late seventies. They’re kind of white trash. Mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper with a heart of gold. Sister Hanna Hall is a jerk. William Forsythe is Mom’s abusive, drunken, live-in boyfriend who’s immobilized from injury. Zombie’s really bad at the writing of the family. He can’t take it seriously.

Moon Zombie’s almost all right as the mom. She takes it seriously in a way no one else does. Not the stunt cameos, not Forsythe, who’s kind of funny but also clearly very cynical in his performance. Zombie does all these things in Halloween’s first section but he doesn’t do any of them right. It’s not exactly potential, but the most similar thing to potential the film’s ever going to have. Because once it gets to the “present”–the early-to-mid nineties–Halloween’s got zilch. Eventually you hope–remembering the plot of the original–it’ll end after this next riff on a scene from the original but it never does. Zombie keeps it going for ages, just to mess with expectations of the target audience. And also for those viewers who just want to believe sometime it’ll finally end.

And then it gets so loud.

Until the last third or so, the film relies entirely on John Carpenter’s original Halloween score. Maybe a little louder, set to all sorts of scenes it doesn’t fit, over and over. It’s omnipresent. The finale is just Tyler Bates being loud. Because it’s all about being loud in Halloween.

It’s not about Halloween at all though. Loudness, sure. Halloween, not so much. Even though there’s a kid dressed up as a skeleton boy or something, Halloween doesn’t play in during the present day stuff. Not even as Taylor-Compton being too old for it or whatever. Zombie doesn’t care about Halloween. How appropriate for the movie, Halloween.

He likes his cameos, but he doesn’t care about them. Ken Foree has the best one. Though Sid Haig’s isn’t terrible either. Zombie’s got no more enthusiasm for the successful ones than the bad ones. Sometimes they work, most times they don’t. Udo Kier’s is the most superfluous and Danny Trejo’s the most disappointing. Trejo’s turns out to be Zombie at his most painfully obvious and trying. It’s one of the first exhausting elements in the film.

By the time Taylor-Compton comes in, the movie’s only got a few moments of narrative drive left. Zombie burns it all up with the transition from past to present. It gets so long in such a short amount of time. Maybe because Malcolm McDowell can’t even pretend to try. Of course he goes away for most of the film, which doesn’t turn out to improve anything because Taylor-Compton is so unlikable. Zombie doesn’t care about any of the characters so it’s hard to care much for them either. Big problem given Taylor-Compton is the “lead.”

Technically, the film’s competent. Zombie’s not a good director and he composes poorly for the Panavision, but he’s not incompetent. Phil Parmet’s photography is fine. It’s not any good or ever interesting, but it’s not any good. Glenn Garland’s editing is effective. It’s cheap, but it’s effective. Anton Tremblay’s production design is phenomenal. As crappy as the film gets, it always looks amazing. Even when Zombie’s not showing it in an amazing light.

Occasionally it seems like Zombie wants to spoof Halloween, but instead tries to let his contempt inform the film instead. He never succeeds, because it’s bad, but there are missed opportunities. They all have caveats, but they’re around.

The closest thing to good performances are from Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif. Neither have any good material per se, but they at least try with what they’ve got. It’s more than most anyone else is doing. Even the bad actors seem to know not to try too hard with a lousy script.

Dee Wallace goes all out though.

Halloween is long, loud, unpleasant, and underwhelming. If Zombie can’t convince himself his ideas are good and explore them, how can he convince an audience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Phil Parmet; edited by Glenn Garland; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Anton Tremblay; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Malcolm McDowell (Samuel), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda), Brad Dourif (Lee), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Nick Mennell (Bob), Danny Trejo (Ismael), Sid Haig (Chester), Dee Wallace (Cynthia), Pat Skipper (Mason), Hanna Hall (Judith), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), William Forsythe (Ronnie) and Daeg Faerch & Tyler Mane (Michael).


xXx (2002, Rob Cohen)

Maybe if there were anything good about xXx–there are a handful of things not bad about it–but if there were anything good, the sky’s the limited compared to the mess director Cohen finishes with. As is, xXx is an overlong, boring, James Bond-knockoff. It starts with a James Bond stand-in getting killed in the first scene during a Rammstein concert; it’s so extreme, a guy in a tux being too lame for a metal concert. But it turns out director Cohen has never wanted anything more than to direct a crappy James Bond movie, one with a rocket boat in it.

So eventually it’s Vin Diesel vs. rocket boat, which isn’t a particularly good sequence. Cohen and editors Chris Lebenzon, Joel Negron, and Paul Rubell have no feel for the subject matter. With Randel Edelman’s drawn-out score, they’re really trying to cut together this seventies James Bond movie. Only Rich Wilkes’s hideously crappy script is all about this punk rock extreme sports bro getting forced into foreign service by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson’s bad. He’s got a scar, which only exists for Diesel to mock, and it still doesn’t get Jackson any sympathy. He’s just bad.

As for Diesel, he’s not good, but he’s trying. He’s clearly passionate about doing this extreme James Bond knock-off where he makes bad one-liners and objectifies women. If xXx were a spoof, it might work, but Cohen’s an earnest director. He really thinks giving Diesel a dorking, also objectifying Q-like sidekick in Michael Roof is good. Cohen really thinks his actors are giving good performances under his expert guidance. They’re not and his direction of the actors is abysmal–Asia Argento is clearly more capable than the material Cohen (and Wilkes and Diesel) give her.

Oh, maybe if Marton Csokas weren’t painfully weak as the villain, it’d be a little better too.

Still, the stunt work is impressive and until the lousy CGI takes over, there’s a really impressive avalanche sequence. If xXx had another brain cell–just another one–there’d have been great opportunity to juxtapose Diesel’s workman solution to an eye-roll inducing sequence in a Bond picture. Except Cohen maybe is just doing a resume for a Bond movie? It’d at least be an excuse. Otherwise it’s just gross negligence.

But, like I said, Argento seems like she could’ve done better and Diesel gets some sympathy for being in this tragically unhip hip, “extreme” movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; written by Rich Wilkes; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Chris Lebenzo, Joel Negron, and Paul Rubell; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Xander Cage), Asia Argento (Yelena), Marton Csokas (Yorgi), Samuel L. Jackson (Gibbons), Michael Roof (Shavers), Richy Müller (Milan Sova), Werner Daehn (Kirill), Petr Jákl (Kolya), Danny Trejo (El Jefe), and Eve (J.J.).


Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie), the director’s cut

Halloween is a very bad film. It’s an ambitious film but it fails with everything it’s trying to do. Director Zombie wants to do a revisionist look at the original film (and franchise to some extent). He wants to make it real. He wants to write long monologues for Malcolm McDowell’s psychiatrist, long, ridiculous monologues. They make McDowell seem like a joke. Except the script doesn’t function if he’s a joke. Zombie wants to make fun of the original Halloween. Halloween, the remake, is the idea of remake as overcompensation.

Of course, Halloween isn’t just a remake–though it is, for the majority of its runtime, a terrible updating of the original film. Zombie (intentionally) doesn’t give years, but it seems to take place in the mid-nineties, which makes it a reference to the release of the original film. There’s so much symbolism, both visually and in the narrative, it actually gets uncomfortable. I’m not sure if Zombie could make the film more desperately obvious.

Zombie front loads a back story for Michael Myers (played as an adult by Tyler Mane–who actually gives an okay performance given the nonsense going on–and Daeg Faerch in the opening). Personifying Faerch, while teasing his “true” nature, might–in the second part of the film–lead to some audience curiosity about Mane’s actions (instead of focusing on his intended victims’ fright), but it doesn’t do anything. Zombie does a crappy TV movie version of an abusive home life, generic bullies, evil older sisters, drunk stepdads (a hilarious William Forsythe). And even though cinematographer Phil Parmet appears able to handle the lighting, Zombie doesn’t have a style for it. He does a bland Panavision, nothing else. The handful of okay shots in the movie are just because Mane’s really tall and he’s breaking down walls because–to be realistic, of course–the monster has to be an actual monster.

But front loading Mane’s backstory distracts from Halloween’s biggest problem. “Lead” Scout Taylor-Compton is terrible. Zombie writes the teen girls terribly. Intentionally. He wants to get rid of the artifice, he wants to get rid of the sympathy. Because without sympathy, the audience has to get it from the terrible fates of the characters. It’s a slasher movie, right? But it doesn’t work. Zombie’s approaches to the slasher set pieces are all terrible. He even tries to distract from them with ludicrous plotting to keep those viewers familiar with the original (you know, the target audience) guessing where the story is going.

And then Zombie wants it all to be about the death and beauty of the American family. Sincerely. He even gets Dee Wallace to play Taylor-Compton’s mom. Halloween is a movie made for people who get E.T. references. It would’ve been better with more, because at least with bad cameos and lame jokes, Zombie is appearing interested.

Brad Dourif’s okay as the sheriff. He’s not in it enough. Sheri Moon Zombie is almost good as Faerch’s mom. Danny Trejo gets casted for the visual recognition but does a fine job. Danielle Harris probably gives the film’s best performance. Well, except the little kids. Both Skyler Gisondo and Jenny Gregg Stewart are fantastic.

Malcolm McDowell is bad. Zombie doesn’t know how to direct him and he’s got the film’s worst role, which is saying a lot, but McDowell is still bad.

On the other hand, even though I can’t stand the movie, I really want to see it pan and scan. I want to see Rob Zombie’s Halloween cropped to 4:3. Maybe he’s directing for 4:3. I doubt it, because the script would still be terrible and the acting awful and Tyler Bates’s music lame (though not as lame as the soundtrack selections–from Zombie). But maybe.

Wait, I almost forgot–even though her acting is unbelievably bad and anyone would have been better–Taylor-Compton is good at pretending to be scared.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Phil Parmet; edited by Glenn Garland; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Anton Tremblay; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Malcolm McDowell (Samuel), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda), Brad Dourif (Lee), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Nick Mennell (Bob), Danny Trejo (Ismael), Sid Haig (Chester), Dee Wallace (Cynthia), Pat Skipper (Mason), Hanna Hall (Judith), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), William Forsythe (Ronnie) and Daeg Faerch & Tyler Mane (Michael).


A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

From the title A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas sounds like a TV special, not a 3D movie extravaganza and director Strauss-Schulson feels the need to prove it every four minutes or so. Harold & Kumar often has pointless (if occasionally amazing) 3D set-pieces but they eventually stop.

They stop after writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg find their footing. There’s a big concept to Harold & Kumar this time and it shows why one of these movies should never, ever have a big concept.

But Hurwitz and Schlossberg, during all that problematic plotting, still come up with some hilarious jokes. For the first fifteen minutes, though, many of those jokes fall flat.

The returning love interests make the movie drag. Danneel Harris is incompetent (because she has nothing to do) but Paula Garcés just isn’t funny. She’s got Danny Trejo as her dad, which is hilarious, and she brings nothing to it.

Staying with the acting, Amir Blumenfeld and Tom Lennon are lacking as the new sidekicks. Blumenfeld’s just flat but Lennon misses a bunch of jokes. He brings no edge to it.

Elsewhere in the supporting cast, Elias Koteas is great (but he’s in the wrong movie) and Neil Patrick Harris is, unfortunately, showing his exhaustion.

John Cho and Kal Penn are still both great and they sell the movie’s buddy franchise comedy message.

Oddly, Harold & Kumar not really a Christmas movie, even though it advertises itself as such.

But who cares? It’s hilarious enough of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson; written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Eric Kissack; music by William Ross; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Greg Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Cho (Harold), Kal Penn (Kumar), Tom Lennon (Todd), Danny Trejo (Mr. Perez), Amir Blumenfeld (Adrian), Paula Garcés (Maria), Elias Koteas (Mary’s dad), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), David Krumholtz (Goldstein) and Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris.


Predators (2010, Nimród Antal)

How’s this one for a double standard? When director Robert Rodriguez made Desperado, he demanded a Mexican actress (Salma Hayek) play a Mexican character (against studio wishes). When producer Robert Rodriguez made Predators, he cast a Brazilian actress (Alice Braga) as an Israeli character… Braga’s fantastic in Predators, but really… why isn’t anyone crying foul?

Predators is a semi-remake, semi-sequel. It’s a sequel to the events in the original, but basically remakes it in structure. I’m sure the filmmakers would call it homage, but I’m not sure, for example, John Debney’s score contains one note not from Alan Silvestri’s score for the original. It doesn’t matter because it’s fast paced and rather well-directed. A lot of it is really poorly plotted–screenwriters Litvak and Finch are apparently completely incapable of coming up with a surprising turn of events. I guess Rodriguez, as producer, didn’t care enough to hire a soap writer to get some twists and turns in it.

The film’s rather well-cast, which helps a lot. Adrien Brody’s muscle man turn is solid; he should probably play a similar role in a real movie. I already mentioned Braga. Walton Goggins is great but wasted. Oleg Taktarov impressed. The other two names–Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne–are problematic. Fishburne does a good job in an undercooked role. Grace is just playing the same characters he’s played before, though I suppose (for the most part) less annoyingly.

Did I already mention Antal does a great job?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nimród Antal; written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Gyula Pados; edited by Dan Zimmerman; music by John Debney; production designers, Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute; produced by Robert Rodriguez, John Davis and Elizabeth Avellán; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adrien Brody (Royce), Laurence Fishburne (Noland), Topher Grace (Edwin), Alice Braga (Isabelle), Louis Ozawa Changchien (Hanzo), Walton Goggins (Stans), Oleg Taktarov (Nikolai), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (Mombasa) and Danny Trejo (Cuchillo).


Con Air (1997, Simon West), the extended edition

I loathed Con Air back when I first saw it. I’ve only seen it that one time, opening night thirteen years ago. And many of my complaints at the time still hold true–Nicolas Cage is awful, John Cusack is awful (worse, his jokes fall flat), Simon West is a terrible director (but thirteen years later he’s not as bad as the mainstream directors who’ve followed) and the music is bad. All those complaints do hold true. The writing’s really bad in parts too, mostly as how it relates to Cage and his wife. Monica Potter plays the wife.

But it’s a whole lot of fun to watch John Malkovich go crazy as a poorly written bad guy. Malkovich is so good chewing up the scenery here, I realized him never getting to play Lex Luthor is one of the great Hollywood tragedies. I don’t know if he had fun here, but it sure seems like it.

The supporting cast is mostly impeccable–I haven’t seen one of these Bruckheimer super-cast movies in a while–except Colm Meaney. Meaney is awful.

But Ving Rhames, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin and M.C. Gainey? They’re all amazing. Or Steve Buscemi, charged with making a Dahmer-like serial killer likable? Buscemi practically makes the movie on his own.

One of the other big failures is the CG and the composite shots. And the hair. Cage’s extensions look ridiculous and Cusack looks like he refused to cut his hair so they greased it back.

It’s diverting Hollywood junk food.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Simon West; written by Scott Rosenberg; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Chris Lebenzon, Steve Mirkovich and Glen Scantlebury; music by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Cameron Poe), John Cusack (U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin), John Malkovich (Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom), Ving Rhames (Nathan ‘Diamond Dog’ Jones), Nick Chinlund (William ‘Billy Bedlam’ Bedford), Steve Buscemi (Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene), Colm Meaney (DEA Agent Duncan Malloy), Rachel Ticotin (Guard Sally Bishop), Dave Chappelle (Joe ‘Pinball’ Parker), Mykelti Williamson (Mike ‘Baby-O’ O’Dell), Danny Trejo (Johnny ‘Johnny-23’ Baca), M.C. Gainey (Swamp Thing), Steve Eastin (Guard Falzon), Renoly Santiago (Ramon ‘Sally-Can’t Dance’ Martinez) and Monica Potter (Tricia Poe).


Desperado (1995, Robert Rodriguez)

Between Joaquim de Almeida and Carlos Gómez, it certainly appears Robert Rodriguez likes good actors. He even gets a great performance from Cheech Marin, but I suppose Marin didn’t need much direction.

So with those three good performances and two good actors–de Almeida even does well with Rodriguez’s atrocious dialogue, something not even Steve Buscemi can do–it makes one wonder what Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are doing in Desperado.

Banderas’s casting I can understand, he was a star on the rise at the time, but Rodriguez discovered Hayek and has been subjecting the world to her terrible acting ever since. Banderas is awful, comically strutting along like a supermodel acting butch, but Hayek is much, much worse. Banderas has three honest moments. Hayek doesn’t even blink honestly.

Hayek doesn’t show up until almost halfway in, so the first half is a lot better than the rest, even if Quentin Tarantino shows up for a terrible cameo. I was a big El Mariachi fan back before Desperado came out, but after seeing this one in the theater, I don’t think I’ve seen either.

Maybe if the only problem was the writing, it’d be more palatable, but Rodriguez is a rather mediocre action director here. The shoot-outs bore–Banderas isn’t some unstoppable killing machine, his opponents are just slow, stupid and overweight. His successes are always based on luck.

The last half takes forever, about thirty events a minute. If you like lame melodrama, it must be lovely.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Robert Rodriguez; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; music by Los Lobos; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Rodriguez and Bill Borden; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steve Buscemi (Buscemi), Carlos Gómez (Right Hand), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-Up Guy) and Danny Trejo (Navajas).


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