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Venice Day One: Black Swan Early Reviews, Machete

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 1, 2010 at 1:25AM

As a Venice newbie, I got off the speed train from Rome, exited the station to a canal and grabbed a 40-minute ferry to the island the Lido. It's an adjustment. Basically a subway is a ferry here, a taxi is a motor boat or gondola, and houses have water in their basements with a garage for their boat (below). Trucks are boats too; Venice is under constant construction, like New Orleans. The Lido is a lovely resort (a bit like Fire Island or Catalina); I figured out that I needed to rent a bike to get around (I get a silly kick out of passing slow riders on the left). The casino location of the film festival (this is the 67th) is a maze of corridors, high-ceilinged halls, wide stairways and long lines for multiple screenings.
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Thompson on Hollywood

As a Venice newbie, I got off the speed train from Rome, exited the station to a canal and grabbed a 40-minute ferry to the island the Lido. It's an adjustment. Basically a subway is a ferry here, a taxi is a motor boat or gondola, and houses have water in their basements with a garage for their boat (below). Trucks are boats too; Venice is under constant construction, like New Orleans. The Lido is a lovely resort (a bit like Fire Island or Catalina); I figured out that I needed to rent a bike to get around (I get a silly kick out of passing slow riders on the left). The casino location of the film festival (this is the 67th) is a maze of corridors, high-ceilinged halls, wide stairways and long lines for multiple screenings.

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

Badge in hand, I took the ferry to the famous Piazza San Marco on Venice proper for an evening Danieli Hotel rooftop cocktail party (sponsored by Variety) with a marvelous sampling of exotic hors d'oeuvres from multiple hovering chefs. After checking out the gigantic piazza, with bands playing at rival outdoor ristoranti, I returned to the Lido and made the long walk back to my canary yellow hotel (below), because I couldn't figure out where the bus stops were in the dark. (IndieWIRE has a Venice guide.).

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan screened for advance press back in the states and for those here at 9 AM Wednesday. Early reviews are up (here's Todd McCarthy, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and In Contention). I am covering the opening event tonight, so I'll file my review later. Instead this morning I went to see what I expected to be a guilty pleasure--I schlep to Venice to see Robert Rodriguez's Machete? The defiantly B-movie has already been well-reviewed stateside.

Machete turns out to be the return to form that Rodriguez fans have been waiting for. It's profane, political, hilarious, sexy, packed with masterfully choreographed action and hugely entertaining. It's a straight line from Desperado (when Danny Trejo's title character was born) through Sin City and Planet Terror to Machete, and comparisons to the likes of 60s Luis Bunuel at his most anti-establishment and Sergio Leone (Chigon's score is riddled with Morricone) and Sam Peckinpah westerns are not out of line--Rodriguez has admitted his debt to John Woo's balletic action choreography. And Bunuel would appreciate Rodriguez putting Lindsay Lohan (as a drugged-out internet exhibitionist, natch) into a nun's habit complete with machine gun. Politically, Rodriguez's sympathies are with down-trodden Mexicans and against pro-American border-traffic opposition--as well as the current corrupt and lawless drug-controlled Mexican system. But he doesn't get heavy-handed. We're in familiar genre territory. This is a Mexican-American western, starring a lone-gun-and-machete-slinger hero (laconic well-muscled supporting player Trejo).

Rodriguez also shares with his kindrid amigo Quentin Tarantino (head of the Venice jury) a relish for tongue-in-cheek humor and casting. What other movie makes perfect use of Robert De Niro (a corrupt right-wing anti-immigration senator), Don Johnson (his wetback-killing vigilante cohort), Jeff Fahey (his greedy lieutenant, backer and murderer-for-hire), Steven Seagal (a beefed-up drug lord and swordsman), Cheech Marin (Machete's priest brother), makeup-artist Tom Savini (as a bad-ass assassin) not to mention the gun-packing babes of the piece, who both bed our rugged hero: earthy Michelle Rodriguez (who runs an underground network helping Mexicans cross the border) and Jessica Alba (a careerist immigration cop who eventually sees the light).

While the movie has one foot in its western roots, and Machete says things like "Machete don't text"--he crushes a videophone at one point--he also embraces modern technology when it pays to "improvise," punching a threatening text to nemesis Fahey: "You just fucked with the wrong Mexican." Rodriguez telegraphs each potential weapon or prop in advance; audiences chuckle with pleasure as they anticipate how that kitchen corkscrew or set of butter-cutting hospital knives--or 60 feet of intenstine-- will be inventively utilized. My only caveat--Rodriguez meanders and takes a tad too long to finish things up.

Nonetheless, Machete will be a huge word-of-mouth hit, not only with the burgeoning Latino audience, but with everyone who likes to have a swell time at the movies. Women will like this movie too: the splattering violence is strictly cartoon, and Alba and Rodriguez are gorgeous, strong and fearless. [Spoiler alert] The sight of Rodriguez with a leather bra and eye patch, bare midriff and guns is not soon forgotten. Yes, we will likely see the promised sequels Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again.


This article is related to: Directors, Festivals, Genres, Studios, Reviews, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino, Drama, Action, Western, Fox Searchlight


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.