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Life gets in the way of blogging.

Or is it the other way around? Maybe it’s more of a chicken-and-egg situation where asking the question matters more than finding the answer. At any rate, life has become a mad, mad rush lately, consisting mostly of long work hours during the week (translation: I stare at a computer all day and can’t do it for onemoresecond when I get home) and blowing this popsicle stand on the weekend (concerts, out-of-town trips, whatever else I can think of to get away). That leaves much less time for blogging than I anticipated. Which leads to guilt. Does anyone else feel that, the guilt associated with living life instead of writing blog posts? It’s crazy and irrational and Betty White would call me a loser for saying that, but it’s the truth. I blame technology for this. It forces us to attach guilt to everything: Netflix guilt, Facebook guilt, blog guilt.

But for all that moaning what I’m really trying to say is that I know the posts have been very scarce and I hope come November the workload will lift a little and I can get back to posting several times a week. In the meantime, I promise that I am still here, I am still alive and I am still watching movies. It just takes me about three weeks longer to write about them now.

My thought on today

My thought on today

Review: “All That Jazz” (1979)

Sometimes Broadway director/choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) doesn’t know where the bullshit ends and the truth begins. Actually, that’s his life every day. But he doesn’t have the right to be disheartened considering he’s designed his life to look stunning on the outside. He ignores the cracks showing underneath the thick stage makeup; he’ll have time to deal with those later. Everything but work is “later” for Joe. He’s designed himself to death.

It would be tempting to apply that last statement to “All That Jazz,” famed musical theater choreographer Bob Fosse’s audacious and largely autobiographical film about his bottomless ambition. “All That Jazz,” like any good Broadway musical, favors splash over subtlety. (Even those — present company included — who know little of Fosse’s work in theater get the impression this is the kind of choreographer/director/dancer/human being he was.) Points are not punctuated with periods but with exclamation points. But somehow, given Fosse’s larger-than-life reputation and his C.V., the song-and-dance approach not only makes sense, it works — and on more than one level. Each piece is masterfully choreographed, technically impressive and designed to communicate truths about Gideon’s talents as well as his unraveling psyche. One sequence in particular, with its smoky atmospherics, slinky, overtly sexual choreography and spooky lighting, shines a beaming spotlight on the film’s undercurrent of morbidity. Fosse is a narcissist, no question about it, but that means he’s acutely self-aware. And he’s not the least bit afraid to confront the possibility his genius will be his undoing.

A story like Fosse’s demands a lead actor with a certain amount of charisma and chutzpah, someone flamboyant who can tint the bravado with vulnerability. This description doesn’t exactly scream “Roy Scheider,” an actor who, in the ’70s, possessed an Al Pacino-like reserve.  It turns out that this introspection served him well for the part of Joe Gideon because a more outgoing actor could have pushed the choreographer into the realm of caricature. Scheider performs his heart out, yet keeps certain parts of Joe remote. On some level, Scheider’s Joe, for all his megalomania, is unknowable. He doesn’t let anyone — not his ex-wife (Leland Palmer) or his current fling, dancer Kate (Ann Reinking), not his daughter (Erzsébet Földi) — past the illusion. Only the audience gets to see the real toll maniacal ambition has taken. And Joe is the kind of man who’s working even when he isn’t. He spends every spare moment perfecting his latest Broadway show or editing (and re-editing to the nth degree) his over-budgeted Hollywood film on an upcoming comedian. He feels nothing because of the drugs he uses to keep going: Dexedrine, Alka-Seltzer, Visine, sex. Joe is on the verge of a cataclysmic meltdown. Kate senses this and begs him to slow down. A quick “it’s showtime, folks” to his bathroom mirror every morning used to be enough to keep him going. But it, like most drugs, stops working.

The morning scenes in the mirror are presented in increasingly rapid cuts: speed and Visine and “it’s showtime, folks” over and over. As Joe begins to wear down, the sequences speed up, mirroring the choreographer’s desperate stab at looking spotlight-ready. There’s a mania here — visible in Scheider’s eyes– that’s frightening, even macabre. Because Joe is on his own private death march. Every time he tunes out reality (with the drops, the speed, the sex) he’s pushing his life closer to its expiration date. Not even massive heart attack stops him. In these scenes, when Joe confronts his own mortality, Fosse employs Jessica Lange — bathed in glowing white light, dressed in flowing, angelic robes — as an atypical Angel of Death. Joe talks to her, even flirts with her, but he doesn’t see her presence as significant. Later, she becomes a figure in Joe’s last performance (choregraphed from his hospital bed on life support), a decadently long, hallucinatory and extravagant number that incorporates not only the five stages of grief but also a TV talk show guest spot and a graphic close-up of coronary artery bypass surgery. This is Fosse’s Pièce de résistance, a showstopper designed to dazzle. It also forces an end to the illusion. Only in death is Joe Gideon honest about anything. And that is unspeakably tragic.

Grade: A

“Machete” trashy, hammy, overacted fun

Just because Machete don't text doesn't mean he's not good with his hands.

Robert Rodriguez likes making movies with equal parts explosive violence and hot babes and one-liners, which means he is doomed to spend his career being compared to Quentin Tarantino. Not such a bad fate, eh? There are worse people to be compared to, and to the untrained eye the comparison even seems kind of valid. But here’s the key difference: Tarantino likes to write insight in his worst characters. Rodriguez just wants them to have comically bad (like Nicholas-Cage-in-“Captain-Corelli’s-Mandolin” bad) accents. 

Is there a problem with that? Not for anyone willing to sit down, 86 the Tarantino snobbery, shut up and enjoy the ride. Rodriguez believes in the beauty of B movies, with their atrocious  (but so funny!) dialogue and their ill-written parts and their liters of blood and hacked-off body parts. He doesn’t take “Machete” seriously, and neither do the actors — which is why this fleshed-out film trailer is pure trashy fun, no brain engagement required. And the merriment begins with the opening credits, when Rodriguez — that cheeky bugger — includes the line “Introducing Don Johnson.” The casting is wild. Robert De Niro? Jeff Fahey, who seemed doomed to live his days as That Guy from Those Straight-to-VHS ’80s Movies? Mr. Miami Vice and Steven Seagal and Cheech in the same film? If there’s a Cinematic Cheesiness Scale, “Machete” has to be on the buxom end of it. And Lindsay Lohan crops up for good measure, a sure cause for some hoots because she’s playing a caricature of herself but looks too dumb (or drunk) to notice.

From this sea of tomfoolery emerges — “charges like a ticked-off Brava bull” might be a better phrase — Danny Trejo as Machete. On paper, this character actor, with that craggy face and lined skin that speaks to years of hard living and hard time, sounds like an odd choice for a revolutionary. Could a 66-year-old ex-con make a viable action hero? Claro que si, bruto! Watch him level goons with his thousand-yard stare and win a street fight without ever putting down his burrito. That sneer and hardness of character come in mighty handy in “Machete”; in fact, they are exactly what the original faux trailer promised and then some. As is customary with such a hero, there’s a dark past connected to some supremely shady criminals. Druglord Torrez (Seagal with an outrageously overdone Spanish accent), whom we recognize as terribly powerful because he calls everyone “puñeta” with a smirk, lops a few limbs of Machete’s family tree. Like all stories involving heroes, this is the unspeakable tragedy that makes the man. Years later Machete, an ex-federale, struggles to find enough money to scrape by. He gets the chance when Texas businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) offers him $150,000 to kill Sen. McLaughlin (De Niro), a complete waste of oxygen posing as a political candidate taking an unbelievably hard line against illegal immigrants. The job isn’t this simple, naturally, and Machete gets tangled up with slinky U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) and Luz/Shé (Michelle Rodriguez, looking refreshingly not drunk), the hardbody leader of an Underground Railroad-type operation to help Mexicans cross the border.

Down and down this rabbithole of a plot goes, eventually winding around to include a truly sadistic Border Patrol vigilante named Von (Johnson), who’ll shoot a pregnant immigrant without a second’s hesitation, and Machete’s brother Padre (Cheech Marin), a priest who always keeps a blunt, a flask and a semi-automatic weapon handy. (Time, you’ll discover, has not slowed Cheech’s comic timing: “I absolve you of all your sins. Now get the fuck out!”) It’s like a “Nash Bridges” reunion more nudity, some porn music and a kickass showdown involving tricked-out, hydraulics-happy cars, murderous rage and someone shouting a line that will put “remember the Alamo” six feet under: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!” There are high highs and low lows — Lohan has the acting skills of a dead person; Fahey is like a less adept Eric Roberts — with Rodriguez’s shortcomings, like character development, on obvious display. He’s great at trailers and feature-length ham. With Trejo making like a true-blue action hero and De Niro doing his best Foghorn Leghorn impression, who cares? 

Grade: B+

My thought on today

My thought on today