Category Archives: M

Machete

Machete (2010): United States – directed Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

Rated R by the MPAA – contains nudity, drug use, language, racism, sexual content, extreme violence, gore

Machete is precisely what Grindhouse should have been back in 2007: an homage to a simpler time, when movies had fewer production values, more blood, insane action, outrageous plots, and more nudity.  The movie starts with a bang and a slash and continues strongly to an even more ridiculous climactic battle, and all of it is tied together with a strong, silent performance from Danny Trejo.

Trejo plays Machete, a Federale who got caught up in the wrong drug war.  Three years ago the evil drug lord Torrez (Steven Segal) brutally murdered his wife.  Machete survived and eventually found his way north of the border.  Here he works as a day laborer until the day a sharply dressed man named Booth (Jeff Fahey) watches him dispatch another immigrant in a fight without even raising a fist.

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Mondo Cane

Mondo Cane (1962): Italy – directed by Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi

Not rated by the MPAA – contains real-life violence, “scientific” sexual content, animal violence, and some disturbing material

Mondo Cane was, I believe, the first of the mondo documentaries.  They were generally produced like the travelogues of the earlier years of cinema, but focused on shocking locations and peoples and cultures.  Some of the films were much reviled upon release, and probably with good reason.  Mondo Cane is, when viewed with mature eyes, actually a fascinating and enlightening film.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal of shocking behavior and customs exhibited in the film.  Rather, the footage is almost always engaging and the technique with which it is presented is remarkably effective.  The narrative, which attempts to make grand comments on life around the globe, is best viewed from a skeptical perspective: very few of the scenes are as truthful as the narrative would imply.

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Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999): United States – directed by Errol Morris

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some disturbing subject matter and mature content

Errol Morris is one of the most revered documentarians of all time, and he proves why in Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. In the past Morris has taken a mundane story (Vernon, Florida [review here] for instance) and made it fascinating.  Or covered injustices or odd characters in films like The Thin Blue Line and Gates of HeavenMr. Death is slightly different, as he takes a polarizing character and presents him from a number of viewpoints.

The way Morris can sway audiences’ sympathy through the simple revelation of information is incredible.  If one is familiar with the story of Fred Leuchter, perhaps he or she might not be as affected by the film, but in Morris’ hands a newcomer will be twisted apart, torn to the core as the good guys and bad guys become fuzzier and more convoluted.

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Micmacs

Micmacs (2009): France – directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violent content, some language, and some sexual content and partial nudity

Jean-Pierre Jeunet hasn’t done a great deal since his masterpiece Amélie [review here] in 2001.  There was A Very Long Engagement in 2004, but that was a bit of a departure in tone; more serious and romantic than whimsical and fantastic.  Now, with Micmacs, Jeunet is back to his old form, proving once again that his attention to detail and visual aesthetic have virtually no peers in cinema today.

Before the opening credits a man dies courtesy of a landmine.  He’s a Frenchman, surveying some ground that has been littered with deadly ordinance.  His family takes the news rather badly, but these somber scenes are filled with Jeunet’s touch of the absurd and the morbidly skewed, reminiscent of Amélie’s suicidal goldfish.

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Martyrs

Martyrs (2008): France/Canada – directed by Pascal Laugier

Not rated by the MPAA – contains extremely disturbing material, violence, gore, and grotesque nudity

Martyrs opens with a young girl running, covered in blood.  She’s trying to get away from something, it becomes apparent.  Cut to a little while later, and she’s in a home for sick children.  She can’t talk about anything that has happened, or at least not to the doctors.  But she has a friend and the two of them have become quite close, even though she has not revealed all of the details, such as who or what continues to torment her daily.

Martyrs is the continuation of a line of new French horror films.  They tend to be very dark, very bleak, and quite bloody.  High Tension was the first high-profile film to burst on the scene.  Inside [review here] is more recent and more prone to drawing comparisons to Martyrs.  But Inside is tight and simple, while Martyrs meanders for a while before becoming overwhelmed with a complex plot and then devolving into a Guinea Pig [review here] clone.  There may be a few minor spoilers ahead, in case you are interested in seeing Martyrs fresh-faced and fancy free.

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Marty

Marty (1955): United States – directed by Delbert Mann

Not rated by the MPAA – contains derogatory terms for women, including “tomatoes,” “hatchets,” and “dogs”

Marty is often labeled among the least deserving Best Picture winners, and rightly so.  Ernest Borgnine’s acting is sufficient but somewhat overstated; Marlon Brando’s explosive method acting, seen earlier in the decade in films like On the Waterfront, rendered Borgnine’s attempts archaic and forced.  The melodramatic story moves slowly and ploddingly, making the belabored themes all the more difficult to swallow.

Despite its obvious flaws, Marty is not a bad film.  There are a number of sweet moments, most of them revolving around Marty’s character.  Marty (Borgnine) is a good-natured, chivalrous gentleman, the last unmarried child of Mrs. Pilleti (Esther MInciotti).  He is 34, works as a butcher, and is rather large and ugly.  He’d be the first to admit it; even his father was ugly.  He has trouble with the girls.  His friends keep using him to keep the “squirrels” they pick up happy.  They use him to score with their own tomatoes, the ones they continually attempt to pick up at the Stardust Ballroom.

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Moon

Moon (2009): United Kingdom – directed by Duncan Jones

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, brief sexual material, brief nudity, and some blood

At first glance it might appear that Moon is attempting to cross-breed 2001: A Space Odyssey with any number of the space marine movies and video games that have surfaced since the late 1960’s.  It soon becomes apparent that Moon is attempting to break new ground, or at least forge a path of its own.

The setup is fairly simple; the earth now relies on a single source of clean fuel: Helium-3, which is harvested from moon rocks on the dark side of the moon.  They have been soaking up solar energy for millennia and it is now cost-effective to harvest it and send the fuel back to Earth.  There is an isolated outpost established, with an operating crew of one.  A three year contract binds him to the desolate landscape before he can return home to his family.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) misses his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and his young daughter.  But he is excited knowing only two weeks remain on his long-term contract.  Soon he will be back home on earth with his family and a normal life.

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Memento

Memento (2000): United States – directed by Christopher Nolan

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violence, drug content, language, and mature themes

Memento is a tragedy, a cautionary and ironic picture of humanity bookended by murder.  It is also a thrilling and entertaining mystery clouded by a single man’s imperfect memory.

Some might complain that Memento’s narrative technique is gimmicky, glossing over and gussying up a shallow story.  I would have to disagree ardently with this complaint.  Telling a story backward is not unique in cinema, but, just as Pulp Fiction organizes various cliches and stereotypes into an original package, Memento uses its structure in an exemplary manner, underlining some of the intricate themes it presents.

As an exciting and engaging thriller, Memento succeeds admirably.  The story, while straightforward and coherent when adequate attention is given to the movie, plays out like a crime drama/revenge thriller involving a variety of drug deals and nefarious personalities, all revolving around one man’s “condition.”

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MPD – Psycho (Multiple Personality Detective)

MPD – Psycho (Multiple Personality Detective) (2000): Japan – directed by Takeshi Miike

Not rated by the MPAA – contains plenty of bizarre content, gore, sexual content, etc.

Note: some of the content is rather disturbing, as the review will reveal.  Proceed with caution, as some of the pictures might be too gruesome for some readers.  Seriously, some of the photos are rather strange and gross

Takeshi Miike’s miniseries MPD – Psycho (Multiple Personality Detective), based on the manga, has a little less blood, gore, violence, and perverted sex than the majority of his films.  This could be because it aired on television as a miniseries, but even though the content has been toned down his sensational sense of absurdity and complexity remains.  It makes no sense.  It contains a wonderful, perfect, lack of sense.  It’s like the “The X Files” met “Twin Peaks,” had a ménage à trois with Eraserhead [review here] and gave birth to Riget (The Kingdom), a Danish miniseries by Lars Von Trier (who brought the world Antichrist [review here]).

MPD looks to be filmed on digital and doesn’t look all that great most of the time.  But it was cheaper and easier to incorporate digital special effects such as fake rain that doesn’t get anyone wet.  It’s rather amusing, actually, watching “drops” fall while nothing happens though the pitter-patter continues.

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The Music Man

The Music Man (1962): United States – directed by Morton DaCosta

Not rated by the MPAA – contains flirting and singing and shysterizing

I realize that The Music Man is often considered a classic musical, and perhaps it should be, on the stage.  On the screen, however, when the story and songs become part of a movie, the equation changes slightly.  Other factors become involved with its success and The Music Man manages to fail at many of these elements.

The story is familiar to anyone who has seen “Marge vs. the Monorail”.  An opening sequence, bizarrely shot on a set shaken to resemble a moving train, introduces a group of traveling salesman.  They spend much of their time complaining about one Harold Hill (Robert Preston), a shuckster so profound that he could sell a drowning man a brick and join him in a melody as he sinks.  Their problem with Hill is that he ruins towns for the rest of the honest, honorable salesmen.  He casts doubt and shame upon their entire profession.

Hill, himself on the trainful of salesman (is there a more depressing or disturbing place to be?), is forced to exit at the next stop, a small town by the name of River City, Iowa.  Discovering an old acquaintance, Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), he commences his mission of selling the town a boys’ brass band, uniforms and all.  The only catch is that he doesn’t know how to play a note of music.

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