Machete (UK - BD RA/B)
If Chris has learned one thing from this Blu-ray Disc it's that Machete don't text
Those of you familiar with any release of Grindhouse or Planet Terror should remember the awesome Machete trailer that preceded those features. In it, Mexican ex-Federale 'Machete' (Danny Trejo) is hired to assassinate a high-profile target but is betrayed and left for dead. However, he survives to extract bloody vengeance on his tormentors with the aid of a priest (Cheech Marin) and a whole lot of knives and guns. Oh, he also has a three-way with his enemy's wife and daughter. All of this was crammed into a trailer lasting barely two and a half minutes that was all kinds of awesome. Now Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis have taken the concept and expanded it into a feature-length movie, but is it actually any good, or yet another case of less is more?
To answer the above question, it’s actually a bit of both. There’s no denying that Danny Trejo makes for an awesome protagonist in this sort of movie, as he’s a real-life hard man, not some actor playing a role. There are a ton of cool set-pieces, from the ridiculously over-the-top opening with its multiple decapitations, to the inventive use of a henchman’s entrails, and motorcycle-mounted minigun action. There are tons of intentionally cheesy bits, including some laugh-out-loud ‘sex’ scenes where porno music plays as Machete macks on various hotties, and there are some great supporting turns from the kind of actors that you love on an unconscious level, like Cheech Marin, Tom Savini and Jeff Fahey. The aforementioned hotties come in the form of Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan (playing a character who doesn't appear far removed from her real-life persona), with cameo appearances from the Avalan twins as a pair of sexy nurses who continue their shtick from Planet Terror. There’s also a very memorable sight gag in which an attractive young lady retrieves a mobile phone from a very intimate hiding place. Machete shoots and carves his way through a ton of disposable villains on his way to the big boss, making for the sort of over-the-top excess that fans of the trailer were no doubt expecting. In short, it’s dumb, disposable filmmaking, but it's a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, in spite of all of the mindless action and crass humour, Machete’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t go far enough. Sure there’s a lot of violence, but it’s actually noticeably curtailed in a number of scenes. This was probably intentional, but if you’re going to pay homage to low-budget exploitation features then there’s not a lot of point in pulling your punches. Of course it stops short of real exploitation because of the use of 'name' actors, especially the ladies, who presumably didn't want to be seen doing soft-core porno. With the exception of one scene lifted directly from the trailer—hilariously so, because it’s clearly not the same location or actors—every time Machete gets it on with a girl we fade to black before the real action starts. However, accepting these failings there’s enough action to keep the average punter entertained, and the comedic moments that punctuate the violence are genuinely amusing (in fact they’re almost laugh-out-loud funny at times). If nothing else the feature is worth watching for Robert De Niro’s Max Cady-esque and (hopefully) intentionally terrible turn as a bigoted senator. If that’s not enough you have a wonderfully self-aware performance from the mumbling Steven Seagal, who plays a portly, samurai sword-wielding drug lord with a knowing look in his eye. There’s even a bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure, with a plot inspired by the recent ratification of some fairly stringent anti-immigration laws in certain parts of Texas, although I'm undecided as to whether that helps or hinders the piece as a whole. Still, when you watch a film like Machete you do so for one reason above all others—to see Danny Trejo kick some arse. That’s one area in which you won’t be disappointed.
Like the Grindhouse pictures that inspired it, Machete's 1.85:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer starts off looking like it's been through the ringer, with all manner of nicks and scratches covering the image. While this adds to the film's rough charm the creators obviously through that the effect didn’t need to carry on beyond the opening act, as the faux damage gives way to a crisp, clean image that looks extremely nice indeed. From what I've been able to discern the feature was shot predominantly on digital cameras with a bit of standard film thrown in for good measure, and it definitely has that digital look to it for a most of the runtime. Everything is nicely detailed, which is a bit of a double-edged sword when the star is a battle-scarred Danny Trejo, whose face has more peaks and troughs than a person suffering from bipolar disorder. The palette is intentionally oversaturated and populated by predominantly warm hues, while contrast also runs intentionally hot and blacks are inky. There are no film artefacts to speak of (accepting the deliberate ones found in first five minutes or so), and digital anomalies aren’t apparent either. On the whole this is a pretty great looking Blu-ray.
Machete’s soundtrack is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The opening scenes set the tone for what is to come, offering up plenty of directionality as bullets ricochet all around the sound-stage, with some fairly meaty bass to accompany their impact. The surrounds aren’t quite as well utilised elsewhere for ambient effects, but every time the action ramps up they spring back into life. During these scenes there are times when the dynamic range is such that the volume will often spike to uncomfortably loud levels, but a manual reduction in volume renders subsequent scenes too quiet. It a minor criticism and it doesn’t happen very often, but I thought it worth mentioning all the same. Dialogue is generally intelligible (unless Steven Seagal is speaking), although it does occasionally get lost amidst the action in the busier scenes. The score isn't particularly memorable for any one piece, but rather the overall tone, which is all whah-whah guitar and maracas for that 'authentic' Mexican grindhouse flavour. Although not quite up there with the video or the very best soundtracks the format has to offer, Machete still sounds pretty damn good on Blu-ray.
Sony has assembled a modest collection of supplemental material for Machete’s Blu-ray release. After checking out the specs of the US release from Fox it looks like UK consumers miss out on a couple of trailers for the film itself, but otherwise things are the same.
Audience Reaction Track: If you’ve ever heard similar tracks on other Rodriguez discs (like Sin City) you’ll know what to expect here. You can listen to the film with the sound of an audience laughing and cheering along to the action, but if you’re anything like me you’ll only find it interesting for about five minutes.
Deleted Scenes (11:39 HD): Eleven deleted scenes are included on the disc, totalling a little under twelve minutes. The scenes are interesting if only because they reveal an entire deleted sub-plot involving Jessica Alba's twin sister (also played by Alba) that would have added a nice twist to the story.
There are also a selection of trailers comprising of the customary 'Blu-ray is High-Definition', The Green Hornet (man that was a bad film), Faster, Priest, El Mariachi, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
movieIQ: The usual interactive features are offered here, such as cast lists and profiles.
BD-Live: The usual link to Sony’s online portal is once again present, and yet again it fails to offer anything of any relevance to the film on the disc.
I watched the film slightly buzzed after a few glasses of wine and that's definitely the best way to enjoy Machete. Don’t try to analyse it, just sit back and let the ridiculously over-the-top experience wash over you until the arrival of the planned sequels, Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again (no, seriously). This Blu-ray release offers the perfect way to experience the film outside of a grindhouse cinema (do we even have those over here?), although the fantastic visuals and great audio are left propping up the somewhat unimpressive selection of bonus material. Even so it’s a recommended purchase for fans of Rodriguez’s similarly-themed works and Danny Trejo enthusiasts alike, although it's certainly no going to be everyone's cup of tea.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 28th March 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Catalan, Audio Description Track 5.1 English
Subtitles: Arabic, Danish, English, English HoH, Finnish, French, Hindi, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Audience Reaction Track, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, movieIQ, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan
Length: 105 minutes
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