Monday 28 February 2011


BBC4 has now reached the halfway point, ten episodes, of the exceptional Danish crime drama The Killing. It follows in the wake of the Scandinavian crime boom, the Swedish and British Wallander shows, the Millennium films, and the best-sellers by Mankell, Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and others. But in fact, it's already nearly four years old, first shown in Denmark in 2007, and while it shares many of the characteristics of its Nordic peers, The Killing has a lot more in common with a number of Danish films, and some other European series, than with that new wave of Scandicrime.

A high-school girl is found raped, tortured, and murdered, in a car sunk into a lake outside Copenhagen. The car belongs to the city's leading opposition political party, who are beginning a reform campaign in the mayoral elections. The case is picked up by detective Sarah Lund, on her last day on the job before moving with her son to Sweden, to live with her boyfriend and work in the Swedish police. It's a simple story, which begins to take on multiple layers of complexity and emotion.

Of course the first thing that stands out is the format, 20 one-hour episodes, like a Bizzaro version of 24, which allows those layers to develop. What this amount of time provides is the opportunity to approach the one thing which is hardest to do in the television format: inner feelings, and also allows the programme to deal in the 'real-time', or longer term, effects of the crime. Which by the way is what the Danish title, Forbrydelsen, means, not 'the killing'. This allows one of the three main strands of the narrative, the story of the family of the teenaged girl who's been killed, to carry equal weight with the other two: the search for the killer, and the effect of the crime on the politics of Copenhagen, especially as the reform mayoral candidate, Troels Hartmann, becomes a suspect.

The police procedural part conforms best to the nordic crime mould, especially since Lund (Sofie Grabol) is a good cop, both thorough and instinctive. Grabol is able to appear both inspired and overwhelmed at the same time, a rare talent in an actor, and is completely believeable as a cop, even when wlaking around in that Faroese sweater that apparently has become a fashion item in Demark. When the show begins, she is partnered with her successor, Jan Meyer, who appears to be neither of those things. She is also obsessive, to the detriment of her family; she is Martin Beck or Wallander. What is interesting is the way each relationship in each strand in the film is put under pressure: Lund's with her Swedish police psychologist boyfriend (as well as her new work partner); the victim's parents with each other in their grief, and Hartmann's with his girlfriend and campaign manager Rie.

The format makes it an actors' series, and the actors do not disappoint. They have the advantage of looking real, never like actors playing roles, which was the biggest fault with the BBC Wallander. Bjarne Henricksen and Ann Elenora Jorgensen, as the parents of the murdered Anna Birk Larsen, are spectacularly believable, which makes both her grief, and his ill-judged vengeance in the early episodes, powerfully moving. Crime dramas don't often stay focused on the families of the lost, unless revenge is the reason, and in this case the internal family crisis is every bit as much of a thriller as the hunt for the killer. There is also the subtle parallel with the single-mother status of Lund, whose son does not want to move to Sweden, whose ex has just reappeared on the scene, and whose mother appears to consider her a totally unfit parent.

The Swedish boyfriend was a figure of some humour, if I'm picking up on the use of accents—the precise formality of Swedish against the sing-songy, clipped words and slurred contractions of Danish. But his analysis of the killings, that they are the work of someone who has killed before, and who has planned carefully, is what provides the real depth of the second-half of the story, or at least will when Lund finally gets around to acting on the ideas (as of episode 12 she has still ignored what is presuemably evidence of other murders by the same killer).

It is also what makes Lars Mikkelsen's performance as Hartmann so stunning, because he has established himself as a decent man, as a cunning manipulator, as a put-upon victim and as a viable suspect, all in the space of four episodes. Mikkelsen is probably the most, if not only, familiar face to most English viewers, from Flame and Citron, Island of Lost Souls, or The Kings Game (all of which I reviewed, from the London Film Festival, for Crime Time) and in fact it is as if he has stepped out of The King's Game, a seriously over-looked political thriller. Because politics lies at the heart of everything the Hartmann does, and, we suspect, everything that is happening to him. In that, his relationship with Rie (played by Marie Askehave with some glamour, which in the context makes her immediately suspicious) is perfect: she is a political insider, her father is a power-broker, her glamour suggests the lack of ideals which Hartmann professes, but may psychopathically be betraying.

It's a rich mixture, whose intelligence makes it compelling viewing. The Killing appears to be gaining the kind of word of mouth traction that channels like BBC4 are supposed to provide. In much the same way as the Swedish Wallander and the exceptional first series of the French Spiral, it proves that there are all sorts of approaches to the crime genre, and that many of old formulae which have carried British TV for so long are no longer automatically 'the best TV in the world' as I've heard echoed for decades by people who appear ever to have seen a foreign show unless it were American. And of course, speaking of America, there have already been comparisons made to The Wire, but The Killing is a very different thing. Yes, both shows essay a novelistic approach, but the means are different, the formats are different, the societies are different, and the portrayals of corruption are different; it is less endemic in The Killing, as if the society still harbours hope behind its political corruptions. In The Wire, the killings were part of a more total breakdown. In The Killing, it may be only the suggestion of the fissures starting to show.

This article will also appear at Crime Time (

Friday 25 February 2011


My obit of Joanne Siegel, wife of Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel and model for Joe Shuster when he drew the original Lois Lane, is in today's Indy, you can link to it here. Joanne really was like Lois Lane, who as a reporter was actually far more Hildy Johnson than Torchy Blane; she had what my mother would have called 'pizzazz' and was at the centre of Siegel and Shuster's copyright battles with DC, Warner Bros, and Time Warner right from the start.

It might have been nice to discuss Lois Lane a little more; for such a sharp woman, she seemed incredibly blind not to see that Clark Kent was Superman in glasses and with the spit-curl combed up. Of course, that was a neat bit of role reversal, the 30s and 40s stereotypes of girls in glasses, think of Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep, but it was also a reflection of the perennial dream life of adolescent boys: if she only knew that behind this mild-mannered exterior lurks a real super man!

I also mentioned that, if Marlon Brando had indeed judged the costumes at the Cartoonists Ball where Joanne and Jerry re-encountered each other, it was a considerable coincidence that Brando would decades later waddle onto screen as Superman's Kryptonian father. And of course, despite the outwardly sexier versions of Lois that have appeared on screen in the past 30 years, Noel Neill, to me, remains the definitive screen Lois Lane. Though Joanne Siegel would probably give her a run...

Wednesday 16 February 2011


There's one great line - just one, so make it last - in the nasty, cheap low budget western The Man Who Came Back, released in 2008.Reese Paxton, Civil War veteran and gentle family man, has escaped from prison to seek revenge on the men who framed him and sent him there, the same men who later murdered his wife and son. He enters a saloon/brothel late at night and helps himself to some whiskey. The madam discovers him and asks who will pay for the drink. Reese, now cold-blooded and determined, replies, simply, "Everybody pays."

It's a nice moment, setting up the film's second half, in which Reese sets out to take down the whole damn dirty town. But it doesn't work, because it's in the wrong spot; the scene, which exists to set up the impending revenge, comes after Reese has started that revenge, not before. By this point, we've already had a fire and a murder, both Reese's doing. The coming storm has already arrived, and there's no point now of leading up to it. The scene fails.

The Man Who Came Back is riddled with moments like this, some pieces that must've sounded clever on paper, but fall apart in execution. Other parts work on their own but can't connect - or flat-out just don't fit - with the rest of the movie.

Most glaring is the representation of the Thibodeaux Massacre of 1887, a mass slaughter of striking plantation workers; it earns its own title card at the end, asking us to mull over a dark day in history, even though the movie's not about the massacre, barely shows the massacre, and is only tangentially related to the massacre. But writers Glen Pitre (who also directs) and Chuck Walker seem dead set on including a tribute to those who were killed in the incident, never mind dramatic logic. And actually, for all the talk of the massacre and its victims, the movie doesn't have much use for black characters, and rarely knows what to do with them. The former slaves of this film spend too much time either fawning over our hero or being brutalized by the villains. The film shows little interest in their side of the story, but then, it also shows little interest in the actual facts of the massacre, figuring "striking blacks" and "lots of gunfire" equates an accurate portrayal of history. How can a movie spend so much time touting itself as a tribute to history, but get that history so wrong?

On the swampy surface of things, this would have seemed a perfect project for Pitre, a Cajun filmmaker with an edgy filmography, who's worked with Tavernier on Confederate Ghosts, and he would seem the perfect choice to direct it. In movies there is always a lot of change between concept and finished product, and in this case my suspicion is a lot of changes and compromises were made. The result is like a Larry Cohen movie trying to be something 'better' but having no idea how to do that.

At times, it seems as if they just are not bothering. Billy Zane is cast as the meek new sheriff in town. The film is packed with guest stars out of place - George Kennedy, Carol Alt, Sean Young, Armand Assante - but none are more miscast than Zane, who turns his role into comic relief. Fine, except Zane achieves this comic relief not by bringing out the cowardice of his character, but by stubbornly repeating his trademark laid-back, smart-ass style, all blasé mannerisms and bemused asides. He's too casual, too smarmy for this movie, and no one seems to care it's out of touch with the tone of the story.

And on it goes. Convinced that the film deserves a graphic love scene between Reese and the madam, and unhindered by the fact that the two characters do not share a romantic relationship, we are shown a daydream fantasy, like a softcore porno, in which the madam imagines herself writhing atop the hero in sexual bliss. It's such a bizarre cutaway that even those who will rent the film for all its R-rated blood and breasts will roll their eyes.

It's a brutal movie, ugliness abounds here, but the filmmakers never quite know how to translate such bitter energy into engaging storytelling. The movie sits in an uncomfortable neutral zone between wanting to have the feel of a 1970s exploitation film and feeling guilty about it not being more somber, in which cheap violence and sex were less glorified. At times, you can feel the filmmakers pushing for a frank portrayal of what's lost within a man when he is consumed by revenge and a thirst for nasty violence. At other times, you can falmost hear them saying, 'Hey, we can show boobies.' Usually, the boobies win out.

In mid-movie, a villager, regretting his part in wrongfully convicting Reese, is murdered by his co-conspirator, while in the next room, the man's money-grubbing wife (Young, as ever, typecast) prostitutes herself to a hired thug. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in the film, the pretense of earnest conflict disintegrates into gross exploitation. Is the cross-cutting between the almost sexual murder and the violent intercourse a dark punchline meant to illustrate some clever parallel, or is it just there for tasteless thrills? Does her grubbing for coins in the mud make a further point? I'm not sure the movie even knows.
And there's something else off at the very core of the film. Eric Braeden, the twenty year veteran of an American soap opera The Young and the Restless, stars as Reese. On the surface, this is fine casting; Braeden's craggy face suggests a man who's lived through too much, while his soft, restrained voice suggests a hero of few words, boiling with rage on the inside, cool on the surface. But Reese Paxton is a role requiring great physicality, and the sixty-something soap star cannot oblige. Choppy editing is employed to hide Braeden's stiff moves in every fight scene, but we're not fooled. His performance is filled with awkward poses passing as physical struggles. Both Braeden and his production company Gudegast (his original family name) Braeden are credited as executive producers, and perhaps the aim of the project is to simply create the situations for him to be highlighted.

In the end the film seems clumsy, with a bland badly-paced TV movie feel, and a talented cast turned into characters who stumble their way through the plot, turning exploitation into melodrama. The Man Who Came Back is a mess, bloated and brutal in all the wrong places.

Tuesday 15 February 2011


Larry Ott was a loser, an awkward child growing up, a horror-addicted bookworm disappointment to his garage-owning father. Not athletic or handy with tools, certainly inept with girls, he possessed none of the currencies of manhood in rural Mississippi. One night, Larry went out on a date, and the girl disappeared, and was never found. Ostracised, his father's garage lost its business and Larry went away, only to return eventually to Chabot, where he now runs his father's empty garage, drives his father's truck, and lives in his parents' house, alone and reading.

Silas Jones was, at one point, Larry's only friend. But Silas was black, living with his mother in a cabin on the outskirts of the Ott's land. Their friendship foundered after a fight; Silas went on to be a baseball star, and returned to Chabot to be the town's constable. Now, years later, another teenaged girl has gone missing, Silas is investigating, and Larry, inevitably is the number one suspect.

It is a wonderful, if not unusual set up, but what makes Tom Franklin's first crime novel (after the admirable reconstruction-era tale Hell At The Breech) is the quality of the story-telling and characterisation. Franklin actually name-checks Stephen King in here, but this story has much more in common with the Southern traditions of Flannery O'Connor or Carson McCullers, the novels of writers like Pete Dexter or Michael Malone. This is the south of traditional American literature, the Faulknerian south, but told with a modern sensibility that reflects the massive changes since the days of Faulkner or McCullers, but also the unchanging realities beneath those changes. There is a sense that the traditions of Southern gothic were maintained in the style known as 'dirty realism', the writing-workshop stories that make working people the horror-creatures, their brand-named accessories props that signal a sub-human essence. In effect, that style was ironic comment on Stephen King, and what Franklin does without ever striking a wrong note is to reclaim the materials of Southern gothic for real characters, straightforward as King, but in the end much closer to Daniel Woodrell, just a few hundred miles east.

If this all sounds like great praise, that's how it's intended. Larry Ott's character is built with overwhelming compassion, but with just enough distance to allow us to consider the awful possibilities. The weaving of past and present is deft, and of course the secrets that lay hidden, while somewhat obvious to the careful reader, are delivered with a moving sensitivity that gives them the space to work. All the while, the reality of growing up in Mississippi, the 'crooked letter' spelling of which provides the book's title, and the reality of living there now are both sketched out in great and subtle depth. It is one of those stories that wraps you in its setting, ties you to its characters, and imprisons you until its end. One of the best books of the year, whatever else happens in the next 10 months.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Macmillan £11.99 ISBN 9780230753051
This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Friday 11 February 2011


The Leopard opens with Harry Hole in Hong Kong, losing himself after having triumphed over the Snowman, but having lost his love, Rakel, and her son Oleg in the process. But there's another serial killer on the prowl in Norway, and they need Harry back. The lure of the chase doesn't get Harry to return, but the impending death of his father does, and he heads back to Oslo to find himself caught in the middle of a battle for control of the investigation, between his boss Hagen, and the Kripos boss, Mikael Bellman. Meanwhile, the bodies keep turning up.

Jo Nesbo has pulled out all the stops for this one, though in some ways more is less. There are three continents, a chilling execution device, and an action-packed finale that almost screams out for film adaptation. If this is an opening, or widening, of Hole's appeal, it's a brave thing to do, because Nesbo is already being compared, inevitably, to Henning Mankell, and by setting parts of the book in Africa, and titling it The Leopard, he invites such comparisons (recall The Eye Of The Leopard). In fact, the Harry Hole who returns from Hong Kong, and must stay sober rather than lose himself completely is much closer to Wallander than the Hole of earlier books; less abrasive, more vulnerable, more sympathetic. There's also an element of homage to Thomas Harris here, not just with the arcane torture devices, but also as Hole goes back to the Snowman, and to Katrine Bratt, the brilliant but twisted cop from that book, to help him find this new killer.

But it's also uniquely Nesbo. The plot involves many aspects of rural Norway, and in effect offers two villains, but the most interesting battle is not between them and Hole but between Hole and Bellman, who is the most chilling of all the villains in the novel, even though (or perhaps because) he is a cop. As the labyrinthine plot moves forward, the chess game between Hole and Bellman proves in some ways more suspenseful and dangerous than the pursuit of the killer—the affinity between Harry and the killers he pursues is far closer than that to cops like Bellman.

This conflict brings out the most abrasive parts of the Hole who won so many followers originally, and they may be disappointed in a kinder, gentler Harry. Though, since Nesbo's now billed on the cover as 'the next Stieg Larsson' perhaps Harry needs to be as irresistible to women as Mikke Blomqvist? His relationship with Kaja Solnes, the cop sent to bring him back to Norway from Hong Kong, isn't totally convincing, but it does offer its own shadowy twists, and their last scene is an absolutely brilliant piece of writing. Which in the end is what it's all about, and though this is a typically long novel, Nesbo has the ability to keep complicated plot lines going, keep characters in conflict, deal with red herrings, and even in translation make it all feel immediate. He's not the next Stieg Larsson, though he deserves to be that successful, but he does have some of the same ability to convey a wider perspective on the Norwegian world. He's more like, as I suggested earlier, a cross between Mankell and Harris, though Hole is a character either would envy. And in the final scenes of The Leopard, I again thought of Thomas Harris, with a strange echo of Hannibal Lecter and new directions for the character. With Nesbo on top form, that's something to look forward to. It something the very seductive cover of the German edition suggests...

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
Harvill Secker, £12.99, ISBN 978184655401

NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Tuesday 8 February 2011


My obit of Maj. Dick Winters, the central figure in Band of Brothers, is in today's Indy; you can link to it here. My criticism of the TV mini-series was that it seemed to emphasize the idea that the soldiers were fighting for their buddies, for each other, to the exclusion of any other motivation--the idea I think being that when men are actually at war that's what it boils down to. I'm not sure that was totally fair to that generation and their motivations. But in any case, the film did a wonderful job of showing the basic decency of men like Winters being stretched beyond limits, and in his case in particular, the way he rose to that challenge with simple unassuming dignity. Damian Lewis did a brilliant job of catching just those qualities. The series resonated with me in the special sense of admiration for my father's generation, one against which I in many ways rebelled, but one whose ultimate resilience, dedication, and deceny I still admire.

Monday 7 February 2011


My obituary of Jack LaLanne is in today's Independent; you can link to it here. It's hard to describe exactly how weird it was, as a kid in the Fifties, to watch Jack on TV primarily because there was little else on (Capt. Kangaroo? Gimme a break!) and to understand instinctively that he was promulgating a culture that didn't fit (if you'll pardon the pun) into our meat-and-potatoes, highballs with dinner, culture. I'm always amazed we don't see the housewives in Mad Men exercising to Jack and Happy. But it worked for him, all the way to 96, which somehow got lost from the top of the piece...RIP, Jack.

Friday 4 February 2011


I was saddened, with the untimely death of Maria Schneider, who after all was younger than me, to see the way her obituaries tried to build a parallel, if not a cause and effect relationship, between her sometimes unhappy life and the role she played in Last Tango In Paris. Most of the obits referred to her as 'voluptuous', which was fair enough, although she was more 'large-breasted' than voluptuous in a Jayne Mansfield/Gina Lollabrigida sense. One even called her 'pillow-lipped', like some collagened porn star, as if confusing the film's reputation with some modern day interpretation.

The truth was that Schneider's appeal lay in the open innocence of her face, the wide eyes and child-like mouth, quick to pout, which contrasted with the lush softness of her body, as if it were not yet fully-formed. In that sense, she was a Shirley Temple for the Seventies, and in a sense that was what her role in Last Tango was all about. It is indeed a shame that what people remembered was the butter scene, though it's not surprising because the anal rape is meant to be shocking in its humiliation of her. It's sad that this image stuck with her all her life, forcing her to be defined by that moment of raw emotion disguised as explicit sex.

Schneider's Jeanne enters the film in literally full plumage; we have seen Brando (Paul) as a tormented character from a Bacon painting, all twisted up on himself; Jeanne is a creature of fantasy—already indulging her film-maker boyfriend, and trying to be what he wants her to be. Sadly, Jean-Pierre Leaud seems to want nothing from the real Jeanne. Thus the relationship she begins with Brando, for all its anonymity, is one whose desires are 'real', and come from his inside, not from her boyfriend's camera. Much of the movie is a gradual stripping of the plumage from Jeanne, and only after she has broken their rules and he has reduced her completely does Paul realise (or decide, or convince himself) that he is in love.

I'm never sure whether Bertolucci was saying that love is a tango, or that Paul's perception of love is a tango—a ritual whose steps must be followed precisely—but either way it works. If it is Paul's ritual, then we are talking about generational difference, which is the way I felt when I first saw the film in Sweden in 1973. If it's not, it benefits from a brilliant score by Gato Barbieri, which starts in the pain of jazz and blends it into the traditional mystery of the tango. Of course I was rooting for the younger generation, and 'free love', but I was aware that Paul's values, which may have driven his wife to suicide, could also be seen as American, as opposed to European. I've come to think that Bertolucci's intent may have been to make a more general point about love, but here he was caught in the perfect way Schneider fit the role, and the way in which he as a director combined the Leaud and Brando characters when it came to her.

Originally Dominique Sanda, slightly older than Schneider (in fact virtually exactly the same age as I am) was going to play the role, but she would have been more mature, more sophisticated, more an equal rather than an opposite to Brando. Schneider inhabits the role in a way that became dangerous...and the problem went deeper than just her sense of being abused by the director (and to a lesser extent, Brando). Bertolucci the director was far more Brando than Leaud with her, and the confusions that created must have made the role difficult for her. Her obits would have you believe she never played in another serious film after Antonioni's The Passenger, and she did make some shlock, but part of the problem is many of her films were never seen in the English-speaking world, and the bigger part of the problem was that she was not really an actress but a star who never got starring roles. Directors saw in her something they could use, that she could give or have bullied out of her, but she wasn't able to project beyond that something; not that she was given many chances.

The Passenger is almost eerily like like Last Tangoas if Schneider's presence, not Jack Nicholson's, were defining the film. Nicholson, like Brando, loses his identity while with Schneider; she exists primarily as a way to root his new identity, to create an option he doesn't necessarily realise he wants to take, because it might be following down the same route as his previous life. When I saw it again on its re-release last year I was struck by how restrained Schneider's performance seemed to be, as if she were not being asked to do much, as if Antonioni were satisfied by her mere presence. She did Rene Clement's The Baby Sitter in 1975, but quit Luis Bunuel's The Obscure Object of Desire (1977), which may have been because he too had a precise vision for her; so precise Bunuel famously needed two actresses to replace her.

By her own account, Schneider wasn't ready to be an international sex object, a second Sylvie Kristal or someone like that. With her erratic upbringing-- her actor father, Daniel Gelin, wouldn't acknowledge her until she was 15, by which time she was a model and extra and had been taken in by Brigitte Bardot. I can recall photos of her after a fight at a lesbian bondage club in the 1970s, stories about drugs and her being committed to institutions (once to be near a lover) and her obits made a big deal about her never revealing the gender of her long-term partner at the end of her life. The last film I saw her in was Zefferelli's Jane Eyre, where Charlotte Gainsbourg, another French 'wild child' whose career has worked out far more successfully, played Jane, and Maria was Mrs. Rochester—suitably mad when she finally made her appearance, but still intriguing enough to make you wonder what she'd seen in William Hurt (ironic, that name) and what Hurt's Rochester had done to her. Or perhaps whether she wasn't just Jeanne living out life as it might have been with Paul, or indeed even with her director boyfriend. The real sadness of Maria Schneider's life was that we never got the chance to see her rise beyond that first iconic role, and we'll keep her locked in that unfurnished apartment in Bir-Hakeim forever.


I've done an essay on artist film and documentary, which you can link to here, for the online magazine APEngine, where it's been paired with a piece by Michael Avatar about his experiences working as an artists' coach with Steve Jackman on his film about the choreographer Jeremy James. I begin with a quote from Robert Creeley, end with one from Anais Nin and discuss films as disparate and excellent as Lucy Walker's Waste Land, my favourite of the films I wrote SIDF catalogue copy for, Clio Barnard's The Arbor, Mary Lance's Agnes Martin: With My Back To The World, and Ed Harris' Pollock. There's even a one-line dissection of the link between Andy Warhol and all of Sam Taylor-Wood. You can also find my bit excerpted at Untitled: Perspectives, here.

Tuesday 1 February 2011


Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for. Machete, of course, began as a trailer as part of Grindhouse, the parody exploitation film(s), he co-directed with his low-budget emanuensis Robert Rodriquez. It follows almost slavishly the same formula, and with both its knowing pseudo-cheapness and its often referential humour, it's basically very enjoyable. But it's a shallow kind of enjoyment, one tempered by the cloak of irony, of self-awareness, that hangs over the film, like a semiotic critic about to go semi-idiotic on it.

Otherwise, though, what you see is what you see, lots of action, lots of soft-core sex, and some real humour, leavened by some performances by big name actors playing off or with their image, or sometimes hamming it up—and of course Lindsay Lohan as more or less herself.

Machete (the iconic Danny Trejo) is a Mexican cop, lured to a trap by drug kingpin Steven Seagal, who sees his wife murdered and is left for dead in a burning house. When we see him next, he is in Texas, looking for day labour like all the other illegals. He's hired to assassinate a right-wing state senator (Robert DeNiro) but is actually shot himself, while DeNiro is wounded by the same shooter. Aided by his brother (Cheech Marin), a priest, and by local activist Luz (Michelle Rodriquez), and avoiding immigration agent Jessica Alba, Trejo basically uncovers a plot by business man Jeff Fahey, the brains behind DeNiro, to enflame the immigration issue to allow for total border control, which somehow will allow Seagal to dominate the drug trade. And did I mention Don Johnson leads the border vigilantes, and shoots Michelle Rodriquez through the head, a wound whose only consequence is that she gets to wear a cool eye patch?

Along the way Machete gets his vengeance, which includes a mother-daughter threesome on camera with Fahey's wife and drug-addled internet celeb daughter (Lohan, as I said, playing herself). The ultimate shootout is the over-the-top confrontation you'd expect, although Lohan in a nun's suit shooting on the side of the good guys may be too much for the suspension of disbelief to take hold! Rodriquez and co-director, his longtime editor Ethan Maniquis keep the action moving, though characters do morph at will from capable to not. Cheech gets to have fun with his priest wielding two shotguns, and though Alba at times seems to be expecting a more serious role, Michelle Rodriquez really steals the chick side of the film. It's true in spirit to the era of Grindhouse, and it's fun on its own terms. And it's certainly worthwhile to see Danny Trejo get not just the girl, but all the girls. And the best line: 'Machete don't text.' If only we weren't supposed to take it so seriously!