A roundtable chat with actor Danny Trejo, aka “Machete”

Danny Trejo is More than a few tough guy actors have been, to one degree or another, actual tough guys — soldiers, cops, even petty, and not so petty, criminals. Still, Danny Trejo earned those intimidating facial lines with perhaps the toughest real-life background of anyone to ever transition from a life of crime to a successful life in the fantasy factory of Hollywood.

Of course, it’s that authenticity that’s attracted casting directors since the start of Trejo’s career in the mid-80s. His early small roles eventually led to Trejo’s association with Robert Rodriquez, who coincidentally turned out to be his second cousin as well as the filmmaker who would finally give him his first starring role. Starting with “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn” through the “Spy Kids” trilogy, it was a long path that first led to the funniest fake trailer in “Grindhouse” and then the ultra-violent yet entirely tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation action-fest, “Machete,” now available on Blu-ray and DVD. In his mid-60s, Danny Trejo is now a movie star.

A Los Angeles native with an astonishing 201 roles to his credit, the actor grew up within a half-hour’s drive of the film studios in Burbank, but his tough neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley might as well have been in Tierra del Fuego. He was a heroin addict by age 12 and, way-too-shortly thereafter, an armed robber on a supersonic path to jail or the grave. Fortunately, as depicted in the biographical documentary “Champion” (available via streaming video on Netflix), jail got Trejo first. He eventually found his way to a 12 step program that allowed him to turn his life around to the poing where he could stop being a hard case and, with the benefit of a fortuitous encounter with the late ex-con author and “Reservoir Dogs” actor, Eddie Bunker, start playing them instead.

A voluble gentlemen, Trejo enjoys talking to the press and is not a difficult interview by any means. The roundtable nevertheless started with a slightly awkward moment of silence when a writer who had been patched in via telephone for some reason didn’t come up with the first question and was never heard from again.

Eventually I chimed in with a query, perhaps a bit serious for an opener. I mentioned “Champion” and how, in the film, Trejo discusses how criminals, both inside and outside of prison, are forced to present their natural fear as anger in order to survive in a brutal environment. I wondered if Trejo considered that world of false but convincing bravado to be his first acting class.

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“Resident Evil: Afterlife” reaps goodness at box office

It’s been a hard day and I’m going going to keep it short and sweet. And how sweet it is for the husband-and-wife team of star Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson. Aided by those premium ticket prices for 3D movies and — as pointed out by Nikki Finke — using footage actually shot in 3D, the film easily won the weekend as indicated earlier and sailed to a record gross for the action-horror franchise. Specifically, the estimate for the weekend was $27.7 million for Screen Gems/Sony according to Box Office Mojo. It’ll likely drop off in significantly next week, but the damage is already done.

Elsewhere, there wasn’t that much box office love going around on this traditionally weak weekend. “Takers” came in at #2 and showed some relative legs with $6.1 million, again for Screen Gems/Sony, which is having a decent month. Meanwhile, both of last week’s toppers suffered significant second week declines. “The American,” from Focus Features, really did seem to suffer from some poor word of mouth and netted only a bit under $5.9 million.

Last week’s silver medalist, “Machete,” with two sequels announced in its end credits, suffered the geek second week curse and dropped by over 63% netting only 4.2% million. On the other hand, after seeing the film myself this weekend I heard some highly informal Hollywood scuttlebutt indicating the budget was significantly lower than $20 million figure we’ve heard for the very funny, but awfully slack, straight-faced tongue-in-cheek homage. So, it’s still possible Danny Trejo as Machete may kill again, if so, I’m guessing Fox will keep him on a tight budget.

  

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So maybe “The American” f**ked with the correct Mexican

George Clooney is

Hey, we’ve got ourselves a modest surprise that diverges substantially from what I wrote back on Thursday night. Though the weekend is still ongoing, apparently, a lot of people didn’t get the memo that “The American” is a rather dry if eye-filling European-set arthouse style thriller, rather than the intelligent but plot-heavy action film a la the original “Day of the Jackal” they might have felt like seeing. That’s what the dreadful D- Cinemascore rating Nikki Finke is reporting would seem to indicate, in any case. Also, George Clooney‘s star power still counts for something. Even La Finke has stopped her bitter attacks on him.

Box Office Mojo reports that the “one last job” thriller about an assassin and gun-maker earned an estimated take of nearly $13 million. Finke has her estimated numbers a bit larger than that, and her guesses about the film’s total take including Labor Day and it’s early opening reflect that. (The estimate she has has the film making a total of 19.2 million.) Assuming all that’s true, it’s just possible that the adult-oriented thriller could outgross the roughly $32 million “Vampires Suck” has made so far, perhaps there is a movie God, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Danny Trejo is
All of this is not to say that this weekend’s tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation geek fave starring the very cool Danny Trejo, “Machete,” did at all badly on this somewhat underwhelming weekend. It was outgrossed slightly by this weekend’s predicted #1 film, “Takers,” which netted an estimated $11.45 million in its second weekend. It’s $11.3 million really isn’t that bad, however even if it is ranked at #3. I don’t have a budget for the film, but Nikki Finke’s argumentative commenters were throwing around a $25 million figure — a bit high for Robert Rodriguez but quite cheap for a movie with this kind of all-star supporting cast, including Jessica Alba and Robert DeNiro. Considering the way movies like this tend to have a long and healthy life on DVD, that strikes me as a very good start. And that’s not counting the inevitable New Beverly Cinema double-bill with “Black Dynamite.”

“The Last Exorcism,” as predicted, suffered a large 62.5% drop in its second weekend, perhaps largely due to an ending most audience members hated, with an estimate of over $7.6 million. I’m convinced it was the vagueness of the premise that did in this week’s week’s third wide new release, “Going the Distance.” The raunch-infused rom-com came about Justin Long and Drew Barrymore having a long-distance relationship, I guess, wheezed across the finish line at the #5 spot with an estimate of slightly under $6.9 million. Yeah, I know, I wrote “6.9.” Grow up already.

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try

  

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Summer to end with a bang-bang and some kiss-kiss, but perhaps not so many bucks

Say what you will about this labor day weekend’s cinema offerings, you can’t complain that they haven’t covered the twin cinema poles of traditional gender preferences. For mega-manly geeks, Danny Trejo finally gets his big Hollywood close-up courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and “Machete.” For more refined males who like their action thrillers to be a bit more arthouse than grindhouse, we have the latest vehicle for George Clooney. Set in Italy, “The American” sounds as dry as a Bunuel martini’ and likely to be about as popular with the masses when set against the cinematic Long Island ice teas and daiquiris usually served during this time of year. Finally, we have a romantic comedy broadly (and, Dave Medsker says, awkwardly) spiked with raunchy gags, “Going the Distance,” testing the box office appeal of stars Drew Barrymore and relative newcomer Justin Long.

None of these movies are expected to burn up the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio seems to figure that last week’s narrow box office winner, “Takers,” will take this weekend as well. (Presumably, the #2 “The Last Exorcism” is expected to suffer the usual large drop for horror pictures, exacerbated perhaps by disappointment in the film’s ending.) Still, assuming everyone kept their budget nice and low things shouldn’t be too disastrous. I’m guessing that director Rodriguez’s famed gift for squeezing his pennies combined with some support from the underserved and powerful Latino audiences as well as the geek-American community should assure a reasonably profitable outing for the the tongue-in-cheek quasi-parody, “Machete.” I’m feeling less confident for “Going the Distance,” which seems to suffer from a vague premise and marketing campaign.

George Clooney IS
“The American,” which was released on Wednesday to no particular box office earthquake,  is splitting critics in a way that makes me want to see it even more than I already do. In any case, it is almost inherently a small audience picture in a marketplace this strongly geared to younger viewers not known for their patience with thrillers stronger on atmosphere than action or plot. It’s title might be dull, too, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where it at least outgrossed “Vampires Suck”?

  

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Happy Cinco de Mayo, kind of, from “Machete”

Residents of a certain southwestern state take note…

This is obviously a newly recut trailer with that special message from the awesome Danny Trejo — not, I admit, nearly as funny/cool as the one in “Grindhouse.” On the other hand, we now have glimpses of Robert De Niro doing exploitation for pretty much the first time in his career, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, the great Cheech Marin, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan (on the comeback trail?), and “introducing Don Johnson.” Heh.

H/t Topless Robot.

  

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