MUSE: Fall Movie Review

With a star-studded cast like that, who wouldn’t be in for some gore?/PHOTO VIA Grizzly Bomb

Here are some fall movie reviews from MUSE for the cinema buffs:

1. Machete Kills

By Max Cohen, Staff Writer

“If I don’t shoot you in the face I’d be violating a contractual obligation,” explains face-swapping assassin La Chameleon to her target. But maybe it’s actually Robert Rodriguez, the director of “Machete Kills”, speaking to his audience. Rather than relying on covert excitement and tension, Rodriguez shows up to the theater with tanks, helicopters and heat-seeking missiles. That is the kind of movie you’re getting yourself into.

The second of Rodriguez’s hyper-violent exploitation parodies, Danny Trejo stars as the eponymous ex-federale who must save the world from a madman with a surgically attached missile (just go with it).

This sequel trades the original’s gleeful gore and satirical solemnity for contrived action and formulaic jokes. However, “Machete Kills” has some terrific one-liners and one of the funniest 3D jokes I’ve ever heard. Regardless, the movie is far too fast-paced for any meaningful characterization to emerge and the plot is strung along half-heartedly.

But you aren’t seeing “Machete Kills” for the emotional depth. You’re watching in the hopes that you get to see the most ridiculous things you’ve ever seen in a movie. Don’t worry: “Machete” delivers, handsomely. If you enjoy people getting mutilated by propellers – multiple times – then you’re going to have fun. That said, there are far too many times when the gore is monotonous; explosion-filled gunfights are quaint compared to guns that turn people inside out.

But everything else aside, the main draw of the movie is Mel Gibson. Let me repeat: Mel Gibson is in this movie and he is as gleefully deranged and psychotic and you’d expect from a man who starred in The Beaver.  His clairvoyant super-genius was endearingly hilarious and his over-the-top scenes were the movie’s best.

Most of the cameo appearances are built the same way as Gibson’s: Some big-name actor shows up to spit out one-liners and inanely move the plot along. This was especially true for the movie’s supposed number-two star, Sofia Vergara, whose character is just a raunchy parody of “Modern Family’”s Gloria. She spends her meager screen time shouting lines in unintelligible Spanglish and making repeated and contrived boob jokes. No shocks there.

But the actors and gratuitous violence can’t stop me from being slightly disappointed. The film wasn’t very funny and while the gore was satisfying, the originality of the level of carnage was disappointing. Watch it when it comes out on Netflix instead.

2. A.C.O.D.

By Hannah Landers, Staff Writer

There’s a lot about divorce that can be traumatic, which first time director Stu Zicherman sets out to explore in “A.C.O.D.,” which stands for “Adult Children of Divorce.” Unfortunately, Zicherman tries to cover just about all of those traumas and, despite a stellar cast, the film sags with too many competing story-lines and a waver between genres that leaves much of the comedy falling flat and most of the drama shallow and clichéd.

One assumes that “A.C.O.D.” is supposed to be about middle-aged restaurateur Carter (Adam Scott) dealing with the gradual dissolution of his parent’s divorce as they begin to reconnect, but it’s hard to discern. The movie opens with Carter’s quest to get his vitriolic, long-divorced parents, Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) to be civil for his younger brother’s (Clark Duke) wedding. Yet that’s seemingly abandoned when Carter realizes he unknowingly participated in a published, best-selling study on the effects of divorce on children while talking to a woman he thought was his therapist, Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch). But as his parents begin to reconnect, Carter struggles to keep them apart as the story shifts again. This dizzying back-and-forth is not just confusing but exhausting and offers no pay-off in the absurd, sitcom ending.

“A.C.O.D.” struggles with an identity crisis genre-wise as well as plot-wise, starting out enjoyably as a wacky, offbeat comedy before steering into a sickly sweet, preachy family drama about two-thirds of the way through. This is punctuated by moments like Hugh’s latest wife Sondra telling Carter that he might have liked her, but he “didn’t get to know her.” Gag.

Fortunately, the prolific cast keeps this mess from entering complete disaster territory. Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins are both hilariously twisted and nightmarishly pugnacious, launching into a terrifying screaming match in the film’s opening scene with such tenacity that it makes the viewer feel truly sorry for the young Carter pictured trying to enjoy his ninth birthday against the shrill volume. Jane Lynch is similarly delightful as the eccentric Dr. Judith, playing a bluntly honest weirdo as only she knows how to do. “The homeless are getting so aggressive these days,” remarks the hostess in Carter’s restaurant when Dr. Judith pounds on the window and waves a cheerful hello.

Zicherman, who co-wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay, had a lot of great ideas. Muddled all together in one film, however, and the viewer is left just as helpless and confused as a child of divorce – adult or otherwise.

3. Captain Phillips

By Joe Incollingo, Staff Writer

If all movies from now on were built solely on Tom Hanks and xenophobia, worse things would have happened. Captain Phillips – in theory a story so enthralling of a spirit so strong that every audience need only wait for the tears to flow and the cheers to roar – has to work.

Forgive the movie, then, the slow start. Rich Phillips (Hanks), folksy and underwhelming, a quiet and harmless denizen of quiet and harmless Vermont, goes to work. On the other side of the planet, on the sticky, sunny sands of Somalia, the pirates head to sea. This is an important contrast, mind you, albeit a little too blatant, but the movie does its best to stick with it. Each scene is lousy with polarized color, peppered in to call back blue mountains and yellow dunes. Phillips’s crew wears blue polos; the pirates don yellow rags. The captain’s blue beard quivers; a pirate snarls with yellow teeth.

To the credit of director Paul Greengrass and his Green Zone-cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, this is done without seeming too gimmicky. It adds a needed dreaminess to Greengrass’s trademark realism, a style that works in an odd way. Shaking a hand-held camera on a boat is, after all, a terrible idea. However, Greengrass discovers a masterful marriage of suspense and disorientation in the process. For lack of better words, the movie induces seasickness, making it that much tenser towards the expected resolution.

All this makes the characters dragging Captain Phillips that much more disappointing. It’s not so much Phillips himself; though one of the blandest heroes in recent memory, he’s done plenty justice by Hanks. The performance is understated and perfectly boring while Hanks traps just enough fear in his eyes to keep his captors awake before crumbling into the final act’s desperation. Nobody wants this man to die, which makes the tissue paper bad guys so easy to look past. Given the “us versus them” nature of the story before an American audience, the limp attempts to humanize the pirates seem unfortunately futile in the first place. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi delivers the only morsel of pathos: Phillips asks if he can’t just be a fisherman, to which he somberly replies “Maybe in America.” That’s it, though. Miss it, and he sticks in your head as another grinning monster threatening an honest American.

This is the biggest letdown of Phillips, as if writer Billy Ray had no faith in the humans behind his villains. There needs to be drive outside of some mysterious “Boss” pulling strings. If it’s the desolation of desert life Abdi refers to that Americans can’t comprehend, then show it. Show us desolation. Show us humans in need. Show us why violence is the only option. To stop just past Tom Hanks washing feet and taking beatings gives only a biased half of what Ray (and Greengrass) claim is a whole sculpture. Despite what you’ve read, some stories need more than that.

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