Bully (2018, directed by Santino Campanelli)

Sixteen year-old Jimmy Mulligan (Tucker Albrizzi) is a nice kid with a big problem.  His high school is ruled by a gang led by a bully named Miles (Jack DiFalco) and the overweight and quiet Jimmy has become the gang’s number one target.

Miles has decided that Jimmy owes him a hundred dollars.  Even though Jimmy has never borrowed any money from Miles and is obviously not from a family that would have a hundred dollars to just toss around, Miles insists that Jimmy is in his debt.  When Jimmy refuses to pay, Miles beats the poor kid while he’s walking home from school.  However, the beating is observed by a retired boxer named Clarence “Action” Jackson (Ron Canada).  Action runs off Miles and then he makes Jimmy an offer.  He’ll help Jimmy learn how to box as long as Jimmy agrees to only use his skills for self-defense.  At first Jimmy and his parents are reluctant but, after he gets beaten up for a second time, it’s time to go to Manny’s Gym!

Manny (Danny Trejo!), who is a legendary trainer, takes Jimmy under his wing and teaches him how to throw a punch and avoid a jab.  Soon, Jimmy is losing weight, gaining confidence, and even going out on a date with a supercool goth girl named Adrian (Elanna White).  But Miles still wants his money and eventually, Jimmy is going to have to put his training to use.

In many ways, Bully is every bullied kid’s dream.  Not only does Jimmy learn how to throw a punch and get a girlfriend but he also gets to hang out with Danny Trejo!  Manny is a tough but funny guy with a rough past but a good heart and he is using his skills to try to make the world a better place.  The same can be said for Danny Trejo himself, so he’s the perfect choice to play Manny.  Ron Canada is also good as Action Jackson, bringing a lot of quiet dignity to the part.  Tucker Albrizzi does a good job of going from being insecure to being confident.

It’s just too bad that the film itself isn’t better.  Bully has good intentions but the execution is lacking.  The movie kept suggesting that there would be a scene where Jimmy had to chose between using his new skills for revenge or just for self-defense but it never happened.  There were too many scenes that did not seem to go anywhere and, for all of the build-up, the final fight between Jimmy and Miles was anti-climatic and confusingly filmed.  During the final 15 minutes, several new characters show up and suddenly become central to the story.  Somehow, the Mafia finds out about the fight and takes an interest in whether or not Jimmy is going to be able to beat up Miles.  On the one hand, it’s cool because Vincent Pastore is one of the gangsters but on the other hand, what’s going on?  Why are they there?

Danny Trejo’s cool, though.  That counts for a lot.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Dead in Tombstone (dir by Roel Reine)

In the 2013 film, Dead in Tombstone, Danny Trejo plays Guerrero De La Cruz, an old west outlaw who is loyal to his family, who has no problem robbing banks, but who also is not a fan of unnecessary bloodshed. Even though the film opens with Guerrero and his gang gunning down a posse of men, that’s just because they were saving the life of Red (Anthony Michael Hall), who just happens to be Guerrero’s half-brother. No sooner than you can say, “In what world could Danny Trejo and Anthony Michael Hall possibly be related?,” Red is asking Guerrero to help him pull off a daring robbery.

Guerrero helps Red because Guerrero is all about family. Unfortunately, Red is all about money and, not wanting to share the loot after the robbery, he promptly guns Guerrero down. Not only does Red shoot Guerrero but he insists that each member of the gang shoot him as well, implicating all of them in the crime.

Guerrero dies and promptly goes to Hell, where he’s met by Lucifer (Mickey Rourke). Guerrero doesn’t want to go to to Hell. He wants to get revenge. He offers to send a lot more souls down to Hell if Lucifer gives him a chance to return to the world of the living so that he can kill Red and the former members of his gang. Amused, Lucifer agrees but with a condition: Guerrero only has 24 hours to kill all six of his killers and Guerrero has to do all of the killing himself. He can’t hire someone else to do it or ask anyone for help. Guerrero agrees.

Unfortunately, as Guerrero soon discovers, he’s not the only one who wants Red dead. He’s going to have to move quickly if he’s going to kill all the members of the gang before Calathea (Dina Meyer), the wife of a sheriff killed by Red, gets a chance to do it herself!

Dead In Tombstone is one of those films that sounds a lot more interesting than it is. The concept behind the film is actually a pretty neat one and I like the idea of Guerrero actually having competition. This isn’t one of those westerns where everyone patiently waits their turn to go after the bad guys. The entire world wants these guys dead! Plus, who wouldn’t be excited about the idea of watching Danny Trejo and Mickey Rouke act opposite each other? With his weathered features and stoic demeanor, Danny Trejo is the perfect choice to play an outlaw and, for that matter, Rourke’s gravelly whisper and permanent smirk are put to good use in the role of the Devil. And while Anthony Michael Hall might seem like an odd choice to play Danny Trejo’s half-brother, he’s still properly villainous and loathsome in the role of Red.

And yet, the overall film itself is a bit uneven. The film looks good (especially for a straight-to-video project) but it never really seems to develop any sort of narrative momentum and there’s more than a few slow spots. At times, the film seems to be unsure of just how seiously it wants to take itself and, as a result, the story exists in a kind of limbo between being a straight western with supernatural elements and send-up of the whole genre. The end result is pretty uneven but the dream combination of Rourke and Trejo still makes it worth watching.

Book Review: Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo

As I sit here, preparing to write a few words about Danny Trejo’s autobiography, I find myself tempted to refer to him as being a “horror star.”

That’s just because it’s October and I’m in a horror mood.  The truth of the matter is that Danny Trejo has appeared in all sorts of films.  He’s done comedy.  He’s done action.  He’s done drama.  Not surprisingly, given his background, he’s appeared in a ton of crime films.  He guest-starred on two episodes of Baywatch.  On King of the Hill, he lent his voice to the character of Enrique.  He starred as Machete in two movies.  And yes, he’s done his share of horror.  He was killed by a giant snake in Anaconda.  He was killed by Michael Myers (or “Mikey” as Danny’s character called him) in Rob Zombie’s Halloween.  He battled both a multi-headed shark and a murderous ghost for SyFy.  Danny Trejo has appeared in all sorts of films, to the extent that you never really know where or when he’s going to show up.

That’s something Trejo addresses in his autobiography, which is itself simply called Trejo.  He writes about getting asked whether or not he minds appearing in so many B-movie and his reply is that even a B-movie will give people jobs, put food on the table, and perhaps provide some joy to someone who watches it.  In another passage, he points out that one bad day on a movie set is still better than the best day in prison.  He makes a good point.  A lot of movie snobs could learn a lot from Danny Trejo’s attitude.

As for the book, it’s as straight-forward as the actor himself.  Trejo talks about his early life of crime, the time he spent in prison, his struggle to get off drugs, his career as a no-nonsense drug counselor, and finally, his current status as a pop cultural icon.  Trejo doesn’t hold much back, discussing not only the crimes that he committed when he was young and incarcerated (A lot of the people who love Danny Trejo the character actor would have been terrified of Danny Treo the violent criminal, including myself) but also his subsequent struggles to be a good and responsible father.  Maturing is a theme that run through the entire book and Trejo admits that, even as he closes in on his 80th birthday, he’s still learning and growing.  What makes the book truly effective is that Trejo never avoids responsibility for his mistakes nor does he attempt to deflect blame.  He’s as honest about his sins as he is about his subsequent redemption and it’s that honesty that makes his story so inspiring.

If you’re hoping for a lot of Hollywood gossip, this book might disappoint you.  With a few notable exceptions involving Edward James Olmos’s attempts to make a movie about the Mexican Mafia, Trejo focuses on the positive when he discusses his film career.  One gets the feeling that he loves his life and he loves his unique place in the entertainment universe.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Trejo takes a great deal of joy out of the fact that he’s survived and it’s hard not to share that joy.  It’s also hard not to be touched by Trejo’s efforts to keep others from making the same mistakes that he made.

Trejo is a good and inspiring read.  Check it out and give thanks for Danny Trejo.  He’s a survivor and the world is better for it.

Horror Film Review: American Nightmares (dir by Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff)

I’m always a little bit cautious about anthology films.  There’s been a few that I’ve liked.  (I recently enjoyed Tales From Parts Unknown, for instance.)  But most of the time, horror anthology films tend to leave me feeling rather disappointed.  The good segments always seem as if they’re too short while the bad segments seem to go on forever and it’s hard not to feel that the only reason the film was made was because the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to come up with a full-length story.  Plus, there’s always some wrap-around segment and, more often than not, it’s usually kind of stupid and it leaves you feeling as if the film wasted the talents of whoever it was they hired to host the film.

And that brings us to American Nightmares.

In American Nightmares, two dorky guys who might as well have millennial tattooed on their foreheads, find their perusal of internet porn interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Malevolent (Danny Trejo), who proceeds to introduce not one, not two, not three, but SEVEN stories about terrible Americans getting their just deserts.  The two dorky guys are rather blase about it all, being more concerned with watching twerking videos than really considering Mr. Malevolent’s stories about hypocritical people getting what they deserve.

Some of the stories are okay but there’s seven of them so it’s hard not to feel that the film is overstuffed.  Plus, when you’ve got seven stories in one film, it just takes one or two clunkers to make the whole thing feel pointless.  For instance, the first story — which deals with the perfect man and what he turns out to be — is okay and the second story — about a D.A. getting bitten by karma — is cartoonish but crudely effective.  But then you hit the third story — which is about racists going to a fantasy world where “no blacks” are allowed — and the story is so heavy-handed, poorly acted, and slow that you kind of tune out.  You end up ignoring several of the stories that come after because that third one was so dumb and poorly executed.

Danny Trejo is not a bad choice to play the host of a horror anthology.  As is always the case with Danny Trejo, he brings a lot of energy to the role and he seems to be having a great time.  His co-host is Nicelle Nichols, of Star Trek fame.  She doesn’t get to do much other than nod approvingly as Trejo introduces each story.  The stories themselves are full of familiar faces, though the film could hardly be called “all-star.”  Instead, it’s more like, “Here’s a bunch of people who you might recognize and who needed the money.”  In other words, the film is full of people like Jay Mohr, Chris Kattan, Vivica A. Fox, and Brendan Sexton III.  Most of them give rather broad performances, as if they want to make sure you know that they’re just appearing in this movie as a favor to someone and not because they were desperate for work.  It’s a bit like Movie 43, just with a less prestigious cast and more dead babies.

Anyway. American Nightmares is not particularly good.  It’s overstuffed with stories and none of the stories are really as clever as the film seems to think that they are.  Danny Trejo, though, is a badass.


Wedlock (1991, directed by Lewis Teague)

This HBO film opens with a shot of an urban skyline and a title card that reads “somewhere in the future.”  However, the city looks like a present-day city and the cars don’t fly and all of the clothing is 90s fashionable and the people in the movie use pay phones.  Since Wedlock was made in 1991, I guess the movie takes place in … 1992?  Maybe 1993.

Frank (Rutger Hauer), Noelle (John Chen), and Sam (James Remar) are professional thieves who have just managed to make a big score.  They’ve stolen several million dollars worth of diamonds.  Unfortunately, Sam tripped an alarm during the theft so Frank had to make off with the diamonds.  After he hides them, Frank goes to the rendezvous point to meet up with Sam and Noelle.  His partners betray him, shooting Frank and, after discovering that he doesn’t have the diamonds him, leaving him for dead.

However, Frank survives.  He ends up getting sent to Camp Holliday, a prison run by Warden Holliday (Stephen Tobolowsky, who you’ll recognize as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day). The Warden explains that his prison is more progressive than most.  Not only is the prison co-ed but prisoners are allowed more freedom to move around.  The only catch is that all the prisoners wear an explosive dog collar.  Each prisoner has a randomly selected mate, someone to whom they are wedlocked, if you will.  Move more than 100 yards away from your partner and boom!  Both collars go off and two prisoners end up losing their heads.

The Warden wants to know where the diamonds are hidden so he sets about torturing Frank (who has been given the prison name of Magneta) but he soon discovers that it won’t be easy to break Frank Warren.  Even after Frank gets locked in a sensory deprivation tank, he just laughs and says the diamonds are with Santa at the North Pole.  Another prisoner, Ivory (Mimi Rogers) approaches Frank and says that she’s figured out that she’s his partner.  She wants to escape and she needs Frank to come with her.  But can Frank trust her and, if she’s wrong, won’t both of their heads explode?  Then again, who in the near future of the 1990s would turn down a chance to run off with Mimi Rogers?  Meanwhile, Frank’s partners are waiting for him to escape from the prison so that they can follow him to wherever the diamonds are located.

Though the plot may be ludicrous, Wedlock works because it has a good cast (even Danny Trejo has a small role) and it was directed by Lewis Teague, who started his directorial career under Roger Corman and who has always understood how to put together a good B-movie.  The prison scenes are more interesting than the scenes that take place in the outside world but the exploding head effects are cool and Rutger Hauer, James Remar, and Mimi Rogers are always enjoyable to watch no matter what they’re doing.

Cinemax Friday: The Last Hour (1991, directed by William Sachs)

Because Eric (William Sachs) is a wealthy stockbroker who has just stolen five million dollars from the mafia, mob boss Lombardi (Bobby Di Cicco) sends a group of his enforcers to get both Eric and the moeny.  However, when they arrive at Eric’s home, they discover that he’s not there but his wife, Susan (Shannon Tweed), is!  After they kidnap Susan, they take her to an abandoned skyscraper and they wait for Eric to show up with the money.  However, Susan’s ex-husband, Jeff (Michael Pare), is a tough cop who is not going to let anyone get away with holding his ex-wife hostage.  After reluctantly teaming up with Eric, Jeff infiltrates the skyscraper and takes on the kidnappers, one-by-one.

What do we have with this movie?  We’ve got an abandoned skyscraper.  We’ve got a group of flamboyant hostage takers.  We’ve got a beautiful woman being held prisoner.  We’ve got a hero who is a tough cop and who loses his shirt early in the movie.  You probably think this is a Die Hard rip-off but consider this!  In Die Hard, the main bad guy was a European terrorist.  In The Last Hour, he’s an American mafioso.  Otherwise, this is totally a Die Hard rip-off.  It’s Die Hard with a much lower budget and with a wooden Michael Pare serving as an unconvincing stand-in for Bruce Willis.

However, The Last Hour does have two things that Die Hard could have used.  First off, it’s got Danny Trejo as one of the hostage takers.  Any movie with Danny Trejo is going to automatically be cooler than any movie without Danny Trejo.  Of course, this movie asks us to pretend that Michael Pare vs Danny Trejo would be a fair fight but we all know that, in the real world, Danny would totally win that battle.  The other thing that this movie has that Die Hard doesn’t is Shannon Tweed.  Shannon doesn’t get to do a lot.  If you want to see a Die Hard rip-off where Shannon really gets to show what she can do, watch No Contest.  Still, just as with Danny Trejo, any film with Shannon Tweed is automatically better than any film without her.

The Last Hour is no Die Hard, no matter how much it tries.  But if brings together Danny Trejo and Shannon Tweed and for that, late night Cinemax viewers everywhere give thanks.

Music Video of the Day: Angel in Blue Jeans by Train (2014, dir by Brendan Walter and Mel Soria) (Happy Birthday, Danny Trejo!)

Happy birthday, Danny Trejo!

Today’s music video of the day features Danny Trejo riding a motorcycle through the desert and doing other badass, Danny Trejo-type things.  I know that a lot of people will watch this video and think to themselves, “My God, he can sing too!”  However, believe it or not, Trejo is just lip-syncing.  I know.  I was shocked to find that out, too.  That said, Trejo does a pretty good job lip-syncing and it’s possible that he may have been singing during the filming.

Seriously, who doesn’t love Danny Trejo?  Not only is he a good actor who appears to sincerely want to improve the lives of other people but he’s got a pretty inspiring personal story too.  So today, we happily wish the best of birthdays and we invite you to….



Here’s The Trailer for Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo

There haven’t been many trailers to share, lately.  That’s largely due to the uncertainty that’s surrounding COVID-19 and when — if ever — certain films are going to be able to get a theatrical release.  That said, there is a new trailer out and I think that a lot of our readers are going to be interested in it.

So, without further ado….

Inmate #1 is a documentary about how all-around badass Danny Trejo went from being a convict to being a cultural icon.  As anyone who has ever seen Trejo interviewed can tell you, he’s got an inspiring life story and he’s also a wonderful storyteller.  I’m looking forward to seeing this documentary, which will be released in the United States on July 7th.

Dilemma (1997, directed by Eric Larsen)

Delfina, a precocious ten year-old, desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.  Unfortunately, the only available donor is Rudy Salazar (Danny Trejo), a sociopath who is currently sitting on Death Row.  (We’re told that Rudy is the only possible donor because both he and Delfina are “half-Mexican, half-Greek.”  I’m not a medical expert but I imagine there’s probably more to finding a donor than just that.  And, even if it was that simple, surely Rudy and Delfina are not the only two people of Mexican-Greek ancestry living in Los Angeles.)  Lydia Cantrell (Sofia Shinas), who works for the governor, arranges for Rudy’s death sentence to be commuted to life in prison in return for him donating his marrow.  At the hospital, Rudy stages a violent escape and soon, he and his old gang are on a rampage.

It falls to renegade Detective Quin Quinlan (C. Thomas Howell) to track down Rudy and bring his rampage to an end.  The only catch is that Rudy has to be captured alive because Delfina still needs that transplant.  Complicating matters is that Quinlan really enjoys shooting the bad guys.

If the plot of Dilemma sounds familiar, you may be one of the handful of people who remember an old Michael Keaton/Andy Garcia film called Desperate MeasuresDesperate Measures may have had the same plot as Dilemma (along with a bigger budget and bigger stars in the cast) but it didn’t have Danny Trejo.  Trejo appears without his trademark mustache and he really plays up the idea that Rudy Salazar is one evil dude.  Rudy’s so evil that he even laughs at shooting people in the back.  When a member of his gang is wounded in a shootout and begs, “Don’t leave me, dawg!,” Rudy takes one look at him and says, “You’re of no use to me.”  Only Danny Trejo can make a line that work.  With the rest of the cast not making much of an effort one way or the other, Danny Trejo is the best thing about Dilemma and one of two reasons to watch the movie.  The other reason is to watch in amazement as both the police and the criminals fire thousand of bullets at each other without ever having to stop and reload their guns.  Luckily, they’re all terrible shots who only have good aim when its convenient for the plot.

There’s no dilemma about skipping this one.

Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)

In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.