It's a shame that Robert Rodriguez is trapped in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino. After Grindhouse it felt like together they were Wham! and apart one was George Michael and the other was the guy who put up with George Michael's fame. Comparing Rodriguez to Andrew Ridgeley might actually be unfair. I can name all of Rodriguez's films. But Grindhouse confirmed their divergent handle on junk. Tarantino's half, Death Proof, gave you the '70s road thriller as feminist revenge comedy. At 76 or so minutes, it was miniskirt moviemaking: short, tight, and wow. Rodriguez's half, Planet Terror, was an extra-large caftan scribbled on by feral kindergarteners and ripped up by wolves: fun, ragged, ugly, in need of a timeout.
When Rodriguez's bad taste can bite into politics or a flavorless genre, he comes alive. You see something like 2010's Machete, and you feel like Rodriguez finally found his calling as a shlock editorialist. The movie came during the height of our country's immigration debates and opted for guerrilla lunacy to attack racism and oppression and U.S.-Mexico relations. Most of his throw-it-all-at-the-wall filmmaking actually stuck. You could tell the ideas meant something to him. And the exuberance in Machete turned out to be a perfect twin for the shock radicalism fueling Tarantino's Django Unchained. The Tarantino is disciplined where the Rodriguez is wild. But both are grisly, dangerous, and violent. Machete you could dismiss as a cartoon. It didn't seem to disturb the peace the way Django did. That's too bad. It has the same gonzo force.
Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
How nice it would be to report that the second teaming of Refn and Ryan Gosling has produced something as ecstatic and electrically nasty as their first. But the nastiness this time isn't nice. It's just ... nasty. This isn't Drive. It's a rib cage rolling on human heads for tires. Gosling is a dude who operates a muay thai gym in Bangkok and dreams of having his hands sliced off. He's not wrong to be scared. Vithaya Pansringarm plays an ex-cop who, starting with Gosling's rapist-murderer brother, hacks his way through anyone who exploits or kills anyone's daughters — or anyone related to Gosling.
Refn usually works on the border between classicism and formal chaos. His shotmaking and choreography are pristine, even when the images are splattered with blood. The film editing is precise. The sound design imaginative. The art direction museum-quality. This is more of the same — the Crayola color would be "viscera" — but all that craftsmanship is put to obvious, indulgent ends. It doesn't take long to deduce that the vengeful slicing and hacking of limbs and the like are Refn living out some kind of castration nightmare. (At 89 minutes, the movie lasts as long as a bad nap.) To put too fine a point upon that dread, along comes Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling's slum queen with a dirty mouth and filthier intentions. Her participation is as much a stunt as any of the sword work. (The most loving, if grotesque, image happens not to be phallic but vaginal.)
Every week there are five new gossip magazines covering the same mostly imaginary stories. We scan them for you and select the choicest bits. Consider this your primer for the water cooler.
This week's best almost-definitely-fabricated "Exclusive" is in Star magazine and it claims Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux eloped in Mexico. Aniston already denied it, so no dice. She even said that her recent minuscule weight gain that the mags have pounced on as evidence of a pregnancy was the result of having recently quit smoking (good 4 u girl!). Looks like Aniston has finally learned how to play the tabloids and win. The other rags focus on Kim Kardashian's "rocky" marriage to Kris Humphries, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and Dancing With the Stars fan favorite J.R. Martinez. The best picture that gained weird meaning from appearing repeatedly in different magazines was a very staged Vegas photo op of Kim K. and Kris Humphries posing over a cake shaped like the two of them driving a convertible. Strangely revealing, yet empty of real import, a bit like Ms. Kim K. herself.
Jason Sudeikis has joined Dog Fight, the Jay Roach-directed comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival candidates in a small South Carolina congressional district. This continues a string of big comedies for Sudeikis, who was originally hired as a writer only on Saturday Night Live before breaking out as a performer. Just goes to show you, professional writers: You, too, could have had a rich life of public fulfillment, if only you were are as handsome as Jason Sudeikis. Grade: B [HR]