Your Labor Day Weekend at the Movies

09/03/2010 8:55 AM |

Danny Trejo prepares to give the Best Man speech at Jesse Hassengers wedding.
  • Danny Trejo prepares to give the Best Man speech at Jesse Hassenger’s wedding.

Don’t look now, but Labor Day looks like one of the better new-release weekends of the next few months, contingent upon the almost-assured awesomeness of Machete.

Machete: So I’m getting married this weekend, and I consider Machete a wedding present from the universe, or at least Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez didn’t exactly direct this unlikely Grindhouse spinoff (unlikely in the sense that Grindhouse was a financial flop, and Machete stars perennial grizzled support man Danny Trejo), but rather shepherded the project with his faithful editing-room cohort Ethan Maniquis. Now that The Expendables fell short of being the most unbelievably fucking awesome kickassery in the history of movies, it’s all up to Machete, which comes equipped with an arguably starrier and more eclectic cast than the Stallone opus: Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez (who seems to be making a tour of directors whose movies you’d really assume she already appeared in), Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan, and Robert DefuckingNiro. It also may supply a weirdly progressive antidote to Stallone’s boilerplate nation-destroying-and-building-and-mostly-destroying, with an intentionally misleading but still-promising May Day trailer making immigration-rights intimations. If we can get Machete against Arizona, this will surely be the greatest liberal coup since Jigsaw came out in favor of the public option.

The American: I wasn’t a huge fan of Anton Corbijn’s first film, Control, save for the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography that, really, should’ve been a given with Corbijn’s years of experience as a professional photographer. His Ian Curtis biography felt a little like a haunting photo spread come only about halfway to life, but in The American, his stark compositions have a striking immediacy, maybe because they offer contrast with beautiful Italian landscapes and villas, or maybe because they’re suffused with hushed but constant paranoia. George Clooney, suppressing every smile and head-bop in his arsenal, plays an assassin hiding out in Italy after some messy business in Sweden, awaiting orders. Yes, The American is a one-last-job hitman movie—and it’s a version so meditative that the last job itself isn’t even all that exciting; there are a lot of scenes of Clooney building a gun (“you have the hands of a craftsman,” a friendly priest observes). But this dead-quiet anti-thriller generates a kind of fascination out of observation, as well as Coribjn’s eye: The assassin meets his female counterpart, makes terse phone calls to his boss, and visits a prostitute. You can see him drifting away from the solitary lifestyle: he hides out where he wants; he cautiously but surely makes friends with that priest; when the hooker wants to go on a real date, he accepts. You can accuse this approach of uneventful shallowness masquerading as art, or you can enjoy a rogue-assassin movie that doesn’t depend on heating up Bourne in the microwave.

Going the Distance: Okay, so this movie doesn’t look very good, but as far as Labor Day rom-com castoffs go, it looks a lot more tolerable: Justin Long can be amusing and Drew Barrymore is our most charming actress who isn’t that great at acting. It helps that someone at Warner Brothers finally cut a better trailer, which I think I saw before The Switch last weekend, a scant two weeks before Distance‘s opening; in this version, the jokes look a little funnier and the emotional stuff looks a little more resonant. So who knows. The director, Nanette Burstein, made the documentary American Teen; that movie was more MTV’s True Life than it would’ve liked to admit, but that’s also to say it was Hollywood with a little more scrap and heart. For a Drew Barrymore movie, that would really hit the spot (and, come to think of it, it did when she directed her own, Whip It, last fall).