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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It’s your of end the week movie news non-filibuster

While Bernie Sanders did his thing on the floor of the senate today, Hollywood liberals, and a few conservatives too, we’re busy doing their thing so that the guys who owned all the studios would have all the more money to save from their big, big tax break. To wit…

* Robert Rodriguez and the other makers of  the modestly budgeted “Machete” got a nasty surprise from the Texas Film Commission, which appears to be reneging on $1.7 million in tax rebates. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, It has something to do with a law against providing the incentives to films portraying Texas and/or Texans negatively. Every film portrays people negatively. This reeks of political selectivity, probably related to the film’s deliberately nonpartisan lampooning of anti-immigrant hysteria and demagogic politicians. “Machete” goes out of its way to avoid naming the evil politician played by Robert De Niro as a member of either party, in fact.

If Texas doesn’t change it’s tune, and fast, I agree for once with the L.A. Times‘ Patrick Goldstein and seriously hope nobody from outside the state shoots a single foot of film in Texas until such time as the state seeks to elect non-mouthbreathers to statewide office. They have, indeed, fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Danny Trejo is

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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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“Despicable Me”: the bad guy wins big, but it’s a weekend full of winners.

Despicable Me

Complaints about summer box have evaporated with the release of well-marketed movies that people seem to actually like. Weird. Leading the pack is the PG-rated animated family comedy, “Despicable Me,” which starring voice Steve Carell has been madly promoting everywhere. The zany villain-centric tale has also benefited, as per Anthony D’Alessandro, from the usual cross-promotional synergies which are as diabolical yet effective as the words are annoying to write/read.

The 3-D animation nearly doubled the already healthy amounts that I mentioned Friday and scored a weekend estimate of over $60.1 million today according to Box Office Mojo. It’s a much needed break for troubled Universal which is launching a new animation division with the film from two French first-time feature directors.

Coming in at #2 was a quite decent second weekend for Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” The PG-13 rated female tween-teen-young-adult attracting flick suffered an average drop of about 48% and brought home about $33.4 million worth of estimated bacon.

Adrien Brody and Alice Braga in The blood quotient rises considerably for the third genre flick in this week’s lineup, “Predators.” The action-horror pic, which according Jason Zingale, contains an unlucky character who is literally filleted, is apparently being greeted as a bloody good time for action/horror/creature-feature fans and brought in $25.3 million, just a tad higher than the higher end of expectations. That’s especially good considering the remarkably low budget by current action-film standards, $39 million, thanks to the cost-cutting genius of producer Robert Rodriguez and, one assumes, the efficient work of director Nimrod Antal.

(Some of us geeks will remember the praise Joss Whedon generated from making his space-action flick, “Serenity” for $40 million — and shooting the movie entirely in the greater Los Angeles area — back in 2005. Us “Firefly” fans would have been a whole lot happpier with $25 million  than the very disappointing $10 million it’s first weekend actually generated. Damn you people for thinking the movie had something to do with spas or adult diapers.)

Following close behind is the latest leggy smash from Pixar/Disney. “Toy Story 3” generated $22 million in its fourth week, having already earned $140 million over its admittedly enormous (but no longer unusually large) budget of $200 million. I’m sure a lot of that is largely probably due to one of the highest paid voice casts in entertainment history, considering not only the status of Tom Hanks and, to a vastly lesser extent, Tim Allen, but also the enormous success of the prior films. Also, this level of CGI animation appears to be a pricey proposition, still.

Last week’s very successful #2 film, the critically-loathed and C Cinemascore family-action pic, “The Last Airbender” dropped 57% in its second week to this week’s #5 spot. That is actually a fairly typical, though not great, drop for a genre film. Still, with a $150 million budget, critical nightmares of this TV-animation adaptation becoming a long-running live-action film series may remain the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, expectations are also being exceeded in limited release. “The Kids are Alright” got the best per-screen average not only of the week but of the year with a whopping per screen of over $72,000 on seven screens. Also opening this week in a very large for limited 110 theater release was the second film of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which is quickly emerging as something of an international Harry Potter phenom for over-educated grown-ups. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” made it to the #11 spot with $965,000 estimated despite muted reviews. “Cyrus” continues to do very well, also.

John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill as

There’s more. As usual, the details as compiled by Peter Knegt are over at Indiewire.

  

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Movie news for now people

Get hip, hepcats and hepkitties.

* Somewhere between a rumor an an actual story, the ‘net geek movie item of today has to have been the flurry of speculation around the notion of Harry Potter director David Yates taking on the two-film directing gig on “The Hobbit” recently vacated by Guillermo del Toro. The Playlist claims to know that Yates has actually been offered the position though, even if true, in Hollywood there are a millions slips twixt cup and lip, so to speak, and the fun debates over who would be available and appropriate for the job continue. My first response was that Yates, a highly competent craftsman, wasn’t really enough of a visionary for the gig but, considering that del Toro and Peter Jackson remain pretty deeply involved, perhaps they’ve got visionaries enough on that project.

* On a somewhat similar note, Robert Rodriguez has possibly been offered a shot at directing a Deadpool movie. Since I missed the Wolverine movie and haven’t read Marvel Comics in a very long time, I have no idea what this actually means. I’ll learn.

Deadpool_Wallpaper_by_Vulture34

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