Friday, January 20, 2012

Grindhouse, Hobo with a Shotgun, and Machete

It’s strange to think about, but as I write this, “Grindhouse” is now five years old. It came out in 2007. That blows my mind.

If you don’t remember “Grindhouse,” well, that’s not surprising. The premise was kind of great. Robert Rodriguez makes a movie. Quentin Tarantino makes a movie. The two movies are released together, along with a handful of fake movie trailers and fake commercials.

Two movies for the price of one? From two writer/directors whose work I’m a big fan of?

I thought it would be a hit. Maybe not a huge one, but Rodriguez is a smart dude who keeps his costs down, and I thought at the very least it would make its money back.

Yeah. Not so much.

The movie crashed and burned its first weekend at the theater. People didn’t seem to know what it was. Theaters broke the one movie into two movies, and tried to get people to go by saying they could see either one, or both, for the cost of a theater ticket.

Not a terrible idea, but it didn’t work either.

So the two flicks were revised, and expanded, and released on DVD as two separate movies, and “Grindhouse” sort of vanished.

But the thing is, it was easily my favorite movie theater experience of 2007. A friend of mine and I went, and sat in a mostly empty theater, and after it was over, if we hadn’t had to work the next day, we would have sat through it again.

Here’s where things get really interesting.

The first fake trailer featured in film was “Machete.” It looked fun, impossibly fun, even though it was clearly not a real movie. When the trailer ended, my buddy and I both remarked that we’d totally watch the flick, if it existed.

Rodriguez also held a “Make Your Own Grindhouse Trailer” contest, and the winner actually ran with the Grindhouse movies up in Canada. The winner? “Hobo with a Shotgun.”

And you know what? Both of those movies actually exist now.

What’s odd is, they both might have done better, dollar for dollar, than “Grindhouse” did.

“Hobo with a Shotgun” was the one that intrigued me the most. Sussing out why is tricky. Probably because the trailer looked cheap, and mostly featured a hobo shooting a bunch of people in the face. It sounds fun (if you’re amused by that kind of thing…), but if someone handed me a pile of money and told me to turn the trailer into a movie, I would have no idea where to even start.

(It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that people turn trailers into movies a lot more often than you’d think. “Cannibal, The Musical” started as one. And it’s not uncommon for people to get a star on board their script, cobble together a trailer featuring OTHER movies the star was in, and try to get it made that way. Happens a lot with foreign financing-type projects. I digress.)

What really blew my mind is that the team making “Hobo” managed to get Rutger Hauer to star in it.

Granted, Hauer’s star fell some time ago, and while he has a certain cult cache, it mostly revolves around people who forgot that “Blade Runner” came out 30 years ago.

What happens in the movie? Well, a hobo comes to town, and discovers that the city is rotten to the core. The cops are dirty. There’s some guy basically running the place, using the power of fear. And… I don’t even remember, really. Some other bad stuff.

So they push the hobo, and push him and push him, until he pushes back. Then he agrees to star in a bum-fighting video, so he can make fifty bucks, and buy a lawn mower, and start a business.

Only, while he’s there, some guys try to rob the store. So he buys a shotgun instead. Yup. That’s about the size of it.

In the end, the hobo spends about fifteen minutes toting around the shotgun, mostly in montage form.

Of course, you can’t sell a movie called, “Hobo Who Sometimes Has a Shotgun,” can you?

Does the movie work? Well, it was clearly designed to mimic the grade-z Troma flicks of the 1980s, like “The Toxic Avenger” and “Class of Nuke ‘Em High.” The originals weren’t great, exactly, but again, if you enjoy that kind of thing, there wasn’t much else out there like it.

Does the movie suffer by comparison? I’d say yes, as “Hobo” only rarely manages to vault the bar of “completely insane,” whereas the best Troma flicks jump that bar over and over and over again.

So, as a lost Troma flick, “Hobo” is perhaps a B or B-. Yes, a B-grade Z-grade movie. As a regular old movie? Probably a C.

But, hey. I’m almost certain they managed to turn a profit, which might be more than “Grindhouse” ever did.

On the flip side of the coin is “Machete,” which came out as a pretty straightforward movie, mostly forgetting about its “Grindhouse” roots by the time it hit theaters. And that time, Rodriguez got the formula right. Whereas the original “Grindhouse” came in at a cost of 70 million dollars (so I’ve read), “Machete” came in at a cost of 10 million, and easily made it back, and then some.

In this case, the flick covers the adventures of a man who started life on the right side of the law down in Mexico. But, when things went badly for him, he escaped to the United States as an illegal immigrant. Then things get crazy.

If anything, the film’s biggest flaw is that it can’t escape its origins. There is, for example, a sequence in the original trailer where the title character spends some very special time alone with two women near a waterfall. In the motion picture, he meets two entirely DIFFERENT women, and they get into a pool… and then the footage cuts to the waterfall stuff that was previously shot.

Funny? Kinda. But for people who never got around to seeing “Grindhouse,” the sequence probably made little to no sense at all.

And really, that’s the flaw in “Machete.” It wasn’t built from an idea into a screenplay, and then assembled in the best possible manner. It has to follow the trailer, and while the trailer had a handful of cool shots and fun ideas, trying to get them all to fit into the final movie, just because they were in the trailer in the first place, makes the movie awkward in spots.

Also awkward? Jessica Alba, who really shouldn’t ever be allowed to “act” ever again. I say this seriously. I understand that she’s nice to look at, but, you know what? There’s this place called The Internet, and it has pictures of her, and in those pictures she’s not delivering lines. And when I say delivering, I mean, saying them in a manner in which humans do not actually speak.

Sorry, Jessica. I’m sure that hurt your feelings.

The thing is, “Machete” is still super-fun. It’s not as fun as “Grindhouse” (I miss the fake trailers, honestly, and the movie is so overstuffed with plot that it goes on maybe 15 minutes longer than it needs to), and it doesn’t quite live up that that wonderful first trailer (though I don’t know if any movie CAN, frankly… that’s the joke, after all) but just like Daddy Grindhouse, the flick offers up more fun on a minute-by-minute basis than is has any real right to.

As a regular movie, it maybe merits a B. But as an experience, it hops up to a B+ and hangs out there pretty well.

Back when Rodriguez and Tarantino were pushing the project, they made a lot of noise about doing additional variations on the theme. Perhaps a chop-socky pair of “Grindhouse” flicks. Maybe some sci-fi. The sky was the limit.

Except, of course, the whole endeavor crashed and burned.

The thing of it is, I think Rodriguez fixed the problem with the first movie – the budget. At ten million bucks, “Machete” made its money back, and then some. So maybe there’s still hope for this series. Keep costs down, keep the movies fun…

And maybe I can get one or two more “Grindhouse” double features out of it.

Let’s make this happen, people.

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