Mel Gibson

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. Today, "Signs" brings aliens and M. Night Shyamalan to the Daily Horror Movie.

There is always something terrifyingly memorable about your first experience with scary movies. No matter the realism of the monsters, no matter the intensity of the suspense, you vividly remember the first time a motion picture frightened you out of your wits. I was nine years old when I saw “Signs,” arguably the last of M. Night Shyamalan’s good movies. Up until that point, the scariest moments in movies to me were the flying monkeys from “Wizard of Oz” and the giant worm scene from “Star Wars.”

I had never even considered that a director could use fear and tension to guide his audience anxiously through a movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even grasp the concept of “tension” at age nine, but I remember getting unfamiliarly nervous while watching this movie as a kid. Mysterious scene after mysterious scene laid the foundation for what was to be a tense ride for nine year-old Sam.

And then there was the moment. “There’s a monster outside my window - can I have a glass of water?” an eerily calm Abigail Breslin asks her father, played by Mel Gibson.  He walks her to her bedroom and stops dead in his tracks, because outside the window, on the opposite rooftop, he sees the silhouette of a dark figure, standing upright, staring straight at him and his unsettlingly unafraid daughter.

That moment changed my life. I screamed, very audibly, and covered my eyes and plugged my ears - a position I would assume for probably 95% of the rest of the movie. I felt betrayed - movies had always entertained me, but this movie had the audacity to scare me and make me uncomfortable in the confines on my own living room! On my very own TV! I, to this day, have trust issues with scary movies because of “Signs.”

Now, at the more desensitized age of 19, after having revisited “Signs” free of the anxiety of the unknown, I see a different movie. I see a brilliantly orchestrated psychological exploration of Mel Gibson’s character, a disgruntled priest whose faith was challenged when his wife died years before in a car accident (a scene which we’re eventually shown in flashbacks). I see puzzle pieces strewn across the floor at the beginning of the movie (“glass of water”) and then satisfyingly assembled at the end.

“Signs” will be remembered as one of Shyamalan’s good movies because it deals with very real fears and demons that people have by projecting it against the backdrop of far-fetched and terrifying situations. He masterfully builds suspense the whole movie by hiding the movie’s purported antagonists. You see mysterious lights in the sky, you see a scaly leg disappear into the corn fields, you hear the strange trilling language they communicated with, you see a dark figure cross a street on low-quality video, but you are hard-pressed to get a good glance at them, which creates an anxious fear that stays with the audience throughout the movie. That slow-building fear, coupled with a fast-paced and gripping last 30 minutes makes for a genuinely scary movie, or at least the nine year-old in me thinks so.

Maybe it’s because it was my first experience with fear in a movie or maybe it’s because the movie is genuinely scary, but because of “Signs,” I check rooftops for aliens, I get chills whenever I hear any sort of trilling noise, and I sure as hell don’t even think about going close to a cornfield at night. It’s the first impressions that stay with you, and, as an introduction to scary movies, “Signs” managed to wreak havoc on my psyche for a significant chapter of my life.  

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

“Machete Kills” may be the only film in history to open with a trailer for its sequel, the potentially upcoming “Machete Kills Again … In Space.” What seems like a one-off joke, a nod to the “Machete” franchise’s humble beginnings as a fake trailer in “Grindhouse,” slowly becomes the focus of “Machete Kills.” The result is a film far more interested in a potential sequel than telling its own story, mixing in unwelcome serialization among enthusiastic pulp and moments of sublime
bloodletting.

Danny Trejo returns as the heroic Machete, an un-killable whirlwind of spinning blades and spurting blood. After a failed drug bust in Arizona, Machete finds himself at the mercy of the local cops. Thankfully, the President (Charlie Sheen) comes to his aid, recruiting Machete to head south of the border to kill a terroristic drug-lord-turned-mercenary. The resulting adventure takes Machete across Mexico and into the lair of a ruthless weapons manufacturer, Voz (Mel Gibson).

What made the first “Machete” so much fun was the sense of elated shock that someone actually gave Robert Rodriguez money to turn a fake trailer into a real movie. Here, the shock has worn off, and Rodriguez settles for a film that’s equal parts rehash and expansion. “Machete Kills” doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in its lead character, using Machete as a vehicle to introduce a wacky ensemble of killers, hookers and revolutionaries.

There are some moments of casting brilliance to be found in Rodrguez’s impressive cast ensemble. Cuba Gooding Jr.,
Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga and the eternally underrated Walton Goggins all play the same character in one of the film’s most reliable sources of laughter and bafflement. The film’s MVP is Gibson, who has a blast as Rodriguez’s take on a Bond villain, complete with a ridiculous lair and endless numbers of henchmen. Gibson tears into the role with infectious enthusiasm, getting many of the best lines and bravely shouldering the film’s most preposterous material with the ease of a
seasoned professional.

When “Machete Kills” doesn’t get lost in its grand ambitions, it’s quite fun. The plot moves quickly, gleefully stretching the boundaries of science with a host of impractical weapons and implausible murders. Newcomer Kyle Ward’s screenplay is surprisingly witty, and Ward provides the actors with plenty of well-phrased one-liners. Unfortunately, it can’t keep “Machete Kills” from indulging in its own worst impulses, often to disastrous effect.

“Machete Kills” is unsatisfying by design, scuttling its own narrative halfway through to set up a third film. This is also where it tests the audience’s suspension of disbelief. While it’s easy to accept Machete dodging multiple walls of bullets in the context of the film, once Rodriguez starts introducing superpowers, resurrections and “Moonraker” riffs into the proceedings, the film gets a bit silly. The film also puts an undue amount of faith in the effectiveness of CGI blood, apparently choosing to entirely forego practical effects in favor of their less-convincing cousin.

“Machete Kills” still knows what the audience is looking for in a “Machete” film, and when it can keep its head out of the stars, it delivers. Though the film narratively sidelines its lead character, it manages to deliver hilariously improbable demises, a shamelessly convoluted plot and an inconsistent but entertaining installment in the “Machete” franchise.

From his very first film, UT alumnus Robert Rodriguez has had an eye for franchises. “El Mariachi,” his 1992 debut, spawned two sequels, and 2001’s “Spy Kids” allowed the director to aim films at a younger audience for the first time. The “Machete” films come from a fake trailer that was featured in front of “Grindhouse,” and has improbably inspired two films. “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez’s blood-soaked sequel, had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest last month.

 

The Daily Texan sat down to speak with Rodriguez after the film’s premiere.

 

The Daily Texan: What about Machete that makes you want to keep telling stories about the character?

Robert Rodriguez: I love the character. He’s so unique. When we made the first fake trailer, we did it just to kind of get it out of our system. The audience really responded to it. They’d never seen anything like it, never seen a Mexican action hero — a Mexploitation movie is what I called it.

I thought, “Wow, that’s so weird that no one had ever thought to do that. Let’s go ahead and make it.” People are really excited about it. It’s so different, in a world where everything’s remade and regurgitated, here’s an original idea that no one has done that’s pretty obvious, that someone should do.

So I did it and people really liked it. We thought, let’s make another one, because we don’t have very many Latin action heroes. It would be cool to do, to go really James Bond big with it and have a lot of fun with it. So that’s kind of why I did it. That’s one of my original characters, along with “Spy Kids” and the “El Mariachi” series. I was kind of looking forward to having another franchise.

 

DT: How did you convince Mel Gibson to play his first villain?

RR: Had he never played a villain before? I know he had played darker characters before, and he’s great at it. He’s just a terrific actor. I went to him, [and] I said, “I’m doing a sequel to ‘Machete.’” He said, “I haven’t seen ‘Machete,’ but a friend of mine, like the smartest guy I know, he loves ‘Machete.’ It was always really strange to me, but he thinks it’s a great movie.” He was curious about it. I chased him down, and my enthusiasm for it helped a lot. He finally saw it and thought it was a hoot. I said, “Man, it’ll be painless. Three days. Come in, and we’re just gonna have a lot of fun.” I saw a bunch of names for other actors, and his popped out so much. James Bond villain! Wouldn’t he be the ultimate James Bond villain? Mel’s just so good. And that’s why I went for him.

 

DT: How far do you see the franchise going, if you had unlimited money and unlimited Danny Trejo?

RR: Oh man, that would be like James Bond. What’s Bond on now? 25, 26? I could go that far.

 

DT: Other films in this vein are very tongue-in-cheek, but I feel like this strikes a really precise tone. How do you navigate that, and where do you draw the line at what’s too silly?

RR: If you look at the movies that they’re based on, these movies of the ‘70s, they weren’t trying to be goofy. A lot of them were trying to be straight up, and sometimes even put in social messages. But their employers were saying, “To get butts in the seats, you gotta have violence, you gotta have sex,” and made them put all this stuff in. It was a weird juxtaposition of social consciousness with flash and awe. 

I really wanted to keep all the actors playing it straight. Sofia Vergara is avenging her daughter, and she just happens to be using these crazy apparatuses the director gave her, but she’s playing it straight. Charlie Sheen isn’t playing the “Hot Shots” version of the President. He’s playing the President. Mel Gibson plays it straight. Machete is as straight and grounded as can be. He’s just no bullshit, so that helps you be able to kind of fly anywhere, storywise, because the characters feel real. I think if everyone was winking at the camera, it would just feel very dishonest and false, and you wouldn’t care as much.

 

DT: My favorite character in the film was El Camaleon, an assassin that can change his identity. Can you tell me where that came from, in terms of concept and casting?

RR: I did a pretty detailed outline of the story, about 40 pages. And I brought in a writer named Kyle Ward, a Texan guy. He loved it. He expanded the script to fill out, and he had an idea for a character. He had this idea of the Camaleon, and I thought, that’s a fantastic idea. I can go crazy with casting for that. I’ve been looking for a role for Lady Gaga. Walt Goggins, I pictured him as the first one. When I knew he’d have to speak Spanish, I thought that getting Antonio and Danny in a scene together would be just great. They started together in “Desperado” and went through “Spy Kids” and all that. This will be the third franchise they’ve done together. So I got really excited about it. 

 

DT: What’s the ratio of practical effects to CGI effects in the movie?

RR: There’s a bunch of CGI in there, but it’s more invisible kind of effects. They’re not like, real showy. We didn’t shoot anything on greenscreen, like adding digital walls as they’re driving towards a wall. All of the gunshots and blasts, all the blood hits, are CG. There’s a lot of effects that you don’t really think of as effects, but they add up.

 

DT: And how far along are you on “Machete Kills Again in Space?” 

RR: Are you suggesting I’m making it already? 

 

DT: The end of “Machete Kills” seemed pretty confident. 

RR: I wanted to cover my bases. I really wanted to see that movie get made. If the audience didn’t ask for a third movie, at least I would have gotten it out of my system a little bit.